For Ray Suárez, now is a good time to start integrating the stories of Latinos in the United States into American history.

"Over time, as the numbers continue to change, it will be unthinkable to ghettoize or ignore Latino history," Suárez said in a telephone interview. "It is American history."

Suárez, a senior correspondent for the "PBS Newshour," wrote the companion book for "Latino Americans," a three-part, six-hour documentary series scheduled to air on PBS starting on Tuesday.

The series is being billed as the first major documentary for television that chronicles the rich and diverse history and experiences of Latinos, who have helped shape the United States over the past 500 years and have become the largest minority group in the country, with more than 50 million people.

"These stories are not about people who wanted to remain separate," Suárez said. "Everything about our history suggests that we are working really hard to just be like anybody else, to have the same rights, the same experiences, the same access to success in this country."

The documentary series producers invited Suárez, 56, to assemble the companion book and to help plan the different episodes.

"Is it the entire story? No. You couldn't do that in six hours or in a 250-page paperback book," Suárez said. "This will be a great place to start. If you take a look at the show and read the book you'll feel like you have a secure grasp of the history, both of America and of Latinos in America."

"Latino Americans" relies on historical accounts and personal experiences to tell the stories of Latinos from the 1500s to the present. The series also illustrates how an influx of arrivals from Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Central and South America created a new American identity.

The series has been well received among Latinos who have seen all or parts in advance. The film's producers had a screening at a recent meeting of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists on the West Coast.

"There was a feeling that most Americans don't know this history or don't know it well. It is not taught well or thoroughly in schools," Suárez said. "There was a strong positive reaction, that this will be at least part of the effort to change that."

Beyond the national broadcast, there are plans for a major bilingual public education campaign, a bilingual website, social media platforms and the development of a school curriculum.

Suárez is convinced the series and book will also help Latinos learn more about their own and other people within the Latino community.

"I start my story two centuries earlier (than the broadcast series does), when the first permanent Spanish settlement moves into what is now the United States," Suárez said.

Actor Benjamin Bratt narrates the series, which features interviews with a variety of individuals, including:

-- Entertainer Rita Moreno, the Puerto Rican star of "West Side Story" and winner of Academy, Tony, Grammy and Emmy Awards. (Moreno was a recent guest at the Plaza Classic Film Festival.)

-- Dolores Huerta, who co-founded with César Chávez the National Farm Workers Association, later known as the United Farm Workers of America. (Huerta will speak Oct. 18 at El Paso Community College.)

-Cuban singer and entrepreneur Gloria Estefan.

-- Mexican-American author and commentator Linda Chávez.

Emmy Award-winning series producer Adriana Bosch said in press materials that "it is time the Latino American history be told." The Cuban-born filmmaker's previous PBS projects include "Latin Music U.S.A." and documentaries for the series "American Experience."

"Latinos are an integral part of the U.S., and this series shares the stories of a rich collection of people coming from so many different countries and backgrounds," Bosch said. "It is the story of Latinos, and it is the story of America."

In one episode, José Ángel Gutiérrez, the Chicano activist who founded the Raza Unida Party in South Texas, puts it bluntly: "This is who we are. We are America."

Lori Ann Herrera, general manager of KCOS-TV, recently scheduled an El Paso screening of "Prejudice and Pride," an episode dealing with the creation of the Chicano identity and efforts to organize farm workers in California, and the efforts of activists demanding a better education for Hispanics. A panel discussion followed the screening.

"It's nice to see how, why and where our journey began and the trailblazers who pioneered and set the footprints for us to follow," Herrera said.

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, one of the panelists, pointed out that wide disparity still exists in the public school system.

"It's a wonderful documentary," Escobar said. "It's important to be connected with your identity."

Overall, the series and book tell viewers and readers that Latino Americans, the largest and youngest growing sector of the American population, will determine the success of the United States in the 21st century.

Suárez suggests that "without a lot of finger-pointing, you can tell a story about America that says the past is what it is. It got us to today. If you want to understand today, you've got to know something about the past."

"That's the modest proposition that both the series and the book make to viewers and readers," he said.