Latin Numbers

Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance


Latin Numbers is a work of performance history, examining the way in which Latino actors on the twentieth-century stage and screen communicated and influenced American ideas about race and ethnicity. Brian Eugenio Herrera looks at how these performances and performers contributed to American popular understanding of Latinos as a distinct racial and ethnic group. His book tracks the conspicuously “Latin” musical number; the casting of Latino actors; the history of West Side Story; how Latina/o performers confront stereotypes; and the proliferation of the gay Latino character in the AIDS era. With a flair for storytelling and a unique ability to see the deeper meanings embedded in popular culture, Herrera creates a history that will appeal to popular culture enthusiasts, theater aficionados, and those interested in the cultural history of Latinos. The book will also delight readers interested in the memorable (and many of the lesser-known) Latino performances on stage and screen.


“In this extremely well-polished and captivating historical account, Brian Herrera documents the deep tradition of playing Latino and performing Latinidad — in contrast to the popular presentation of Latino presence as new, novel, or emergent…. As a Latino Studies project, this is an extremely urgent and needed intervention.”

— Isabel Molina-Guzmán, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Latin Numbers is the breakout book of the year, and its impact will be significant. Brian Herrera, one of the most interesting contemporary voices in American studies and in theatre and performance studies, writes with intelligence and wit… His book transforms our knowledge of Latino popular culture as it introduces new ways of understanding the history of Latinos in the United States.”

— David Román, University of Southern California, author of Performance in America: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the Performing Arts

“Herrera shows that just when one thinks one has the position of the Latina/o pegged, that position is undermined by a number of different movements for change, some outside entertainment media, some inside its power structures, and some represented by individual actions on the part of Latina/o performers themselves… Recommended.”

— A.J. Barlow, Choice

“Latin Numbers is an impressive and engaging work that makes a significant contribution to Latina/o performance scholarship by deeply examining the key roles Latina/os have played in shaping racial and cultural consciousness through U.S. popular performance.”

— Anne García-Romero, Modern Drama

“A thoroughly compelling ... significant, provocative book that will impact multiple fields and raise new questions for years to come.”

The Drama Review

“Sumptuous... Herrera’s appealing critical voice – witty, averse to jargon, and brindled with narrative side-eyeing – the writing revels in the ludic nature of its objects of study and also draws readers close with adroit word play that often delivers one more twist of the knife to his perspicacious critiques.”

— Irma Mayorga, Latino Studies

“An ambitious and greatly needed book... The book will undoubtedly affect the work of future scholars, who can pick up from where Herrera has now brought us.”

— Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, Theatre Survey

“Herrera skillfully and passionately explains, deconstructs and theorizes [the] cultural codes, meanings and processes in popular culture, while ‘keeping the rhythm’ in an engaging narrative, flowing from one act to the other... I very much enjoyed reading Latin Numbers with its rhythm as fast and as addictive as that of the conga.”

— Moshe Morad, Ethnomusicology Forum

“[A] fascinating and detailed history of Latina/o practitioners and representations of Latinidad in popular performance traces the cyclical nature of infatuation and disregard that American culture has had with Latina/os.”

— Carla Della Gatta, Theatre Research International

“Deftly interrogates lesser-known ‘Latin numbers’ in a manner that expands the scholarly historical imaginary of Latina/o popular performance, and that encourages us to reassess how Latina/o ethno-racial identity has been performed and received across time.”

— María Elena Cepeda, Theatre Annual


  • 2016 John W. Frick Book Award, Honorable Mention, American Theatre and Drama Society
  • 2015 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism (co-winner with Chris Jones)
  • 2014 Brooks McNamara Publishing Subvention Award, American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR)