“I did not plan to write a book about Latina women and politics,” states Carol Hardy-Fanta at the beginning of her fascinating study. But during two years of fieldwork and more than 60 interviews of Latino men and women in Boston, gender emerged repeatedly as a crucial factor in determining political attitudes and actions. As a result, Latina Politics, Latino Politics is a study of a “vision of Latina women based on connectedness rather than personal advancement; collective methods and collective organization rather than hierarchy; community and citizenship generated from personal ties rather than from formal structures; and consciousness raising rather than a response to opportunity” (p. 188).

Hardy-Fanta draws on the voices of Latinos and Latinas from a variety of national backgrounds, classes, and personal circumstances. Among them, she deftly interweaves discussion from political science and feminist theory. In the process, she convincingly argues that constrained definitions of politics and citizenship in both political science and public discourse have rendered Latina politics invisible. The stereotype of the passive Latina is turned on its head by dozens of stories of women coming to political awareness and organizing to better their communities.

Through these case studies, Hardy-Fanta argues that not only have women provided the sense of personal and political interconnectedness that has helped to elect Latino candidates; they have also been the most crucial advocates and organizers of improved housing, health care, bilingual education, and other services for Bostons Latino community. She asserts that Boston’s Latinas practice a politics based on survival needs, in which the betterment of the community as a whole takes precedence over personal advancement.

Hardy-Fanta is careful not to oversimplify her analysis. While she suggests that Boston’s Latinos and Latinas tend to take different approaches to politics, she acknowledges numerous exceptions. Moreover, she successfully incorporates culture and class into her analysis. Although she speaks of the Latino community as an entity, she makes the reader aware of the differences between the personal and political experiences of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Central Americans. She demonstrates both cooperation and tension between la gente profesional and la gente del pueblo. She frames her intra-Latino portrait with an analysis of structural conditions that constrain Latino participation in the larger political arena, including obstacles to voter registration and the drying up of funds for community organizations.

This otherwise admirable book suffers from two major omissions. First, it makes virtually no mention of the importance of the church in the development of community networks and leadership roles for women. Yet the Catholic church, its cursillos and societies have been school and springboard for women’s public activities in all Latino communities that I know of. The same holds true for Pentecostal and other Protestant sects, where women are often found in leadership positions.

Second, it would have been helpful if the book had started out with a brief historical sketch of Latino politics in Boston. Instead, the reader finds out about key events and organizations only as individuals and political processes are discussed. The puzzling use of pseudonyms for organizations adds to the confusion about who the players are and when events took place.

All in all, however, Latina Politics, Latino Politics is an exceptionally sensitive, nuanced, and well-written book. I highly recommend it for students of both political science and Latino studies, as well as for community activists.