Hispanics / Latinos in the 20th Century Pamela Oliver

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Hispanics / Latinos in the 20th Century

Pamela Oliver

Sociology 220

Hispanic – Latino Population

Race” (self-reported) of Hispanics-Latinos

Locations in US

  1. Chicanos, Mexican Americans mostly live in the southwest (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado) but also elsewhere, Chicago etc.

  2. Cubans mostly in Florida

  3. Puerto Ricans mostly in New York, New Jersey.

  4. But all are fanning out.

  5. Immigration from other Latin American counties is growing.

Names (part 1)

  1. In the US, Latino or Hispanic refers to a person in the US who is of Latin American origin. Nuances in meanings of words, but referring to same groups. Brazilians are in this group, although they do not speak Spanish.

  2. (Spaniards are Hispanic, but not understood to be part of the group called Hispanic or Latino in the US.)

  3. In Latin America, Latino (Ladino) often refers to a person who is culturally Hispanic rather than Indian (Indio)

Names (part 2)

  1. Mexican American = a US citizen of Mexican descent; as identity, a US ethnic group

  2. Mexican = a Mexican citizen (in Mexico or US); as identity, a person from Mexico

  3. Chicano = a self-identify of SOME Mexican Americans (not all).

  4. Origins as radical, racialized identity (indigenous American)

  5. Now many Mexican Americans use it because they don’t identify with Mexico

  6. Mexicans NEVER identify as Chicano

Class Origins and Well-Being

  1. A major predictor of an immigrant group’s “success” in US is CLASS

  2. CLASS = education, business/professional skills, financial resources.

  3. Pre-WWII, white Catholics less successful than Protestants.

  4. Used to be a lot of talk about how “Catholic culture” held people back

  5. Took 3 generations for immigrant class differences to dissipate, but they are gone now.

  6. Today White Catholics & Protestants are educationally & economically comparable

Class, Immigrant Status, Well-Being

  1. Success” of immigrants & their children depends largely (not exclusively) on what they bring with them: education, business & professional skills, money, English

  2. Economic & political factors in “sending” country + immigration factors affect class mix of immigrants to US

Politics & Immigrant Flow

  1. Class of refugees motivated by political violence depends on the regime they are leaving: Are lower class or upper class people being threatened?

  2. Refugees from rightist regimes tend to be poor & uneducated + political leftists

  3. Refugees from leftist regimes tend to be from business & professional classes

  4. US politics influences how refugees from different regimes are treated

Race in the Americas

  1. Substantial indigenous (Indian) population remains in Mexico, Central America, Andes, interior of Amazon, Alaska & Canada, southwestern US

  2. Substantial African population in northeastern Brazil, southeastern US, Caribbean area (slavery)

  3. Substantial post-colonial European migrations to US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, & northeast South America

  4. Significant Asian migration to many South American countries as well as US, Canada, Mexico; but still a minority

Skin Color and Class in the Americas

  1. Colonialism, conquest by Europeans (white skin) left their descendents in higher class position (economic, political) throughout the Americas

  2. The indigenous people (the native Americans) were conquered and subordinated. Their descendents are mostly still poor, subjugated

  3. The African people were mostly slaves, their descendents are still poorer than the former masters

Consequences of Colonialism & Politics

  1. Latin American migrants who are poorer & less educated are more likely to be of indigenous or African descent

  2. Refugees from leftist regimes are more likely to be white, well-off & educated, and receive favorable treatment in US immigration policies (Cuba, Nicaragua)

  3. Refugees from rightist regimes are more likely to be poor, indigenous or Black, and treated unfavorably in US immigration policies (Haiti, Central America)

Cuba and Puerto Rico
Caribbean Islands
Central America


Cuba Historical

  1. Spanish, Columbus 1492, largely exterminated the 50,000 Indians.

  2. Sugar plantations; population is mixed European and African descent.

  3. Spanish-American War 1898, independent but US dominated

  4. US troops leave 1902 but retain control of Guantanamo Bay as naval base, dominate economy

  5. 1959 Cuban revolution, Castro overthrows Batista (harsh dictator); originally supported by US, but then opposed when in 1960 Castro declares the country communist. US embargo still in effect

Cubans in US

  1. Upper & middle class Cubans flee Castro. 1 million immigrate between 1960 and 1980. (Current Cuban population is about 10 million.)

  2. Early refugees are educated, White; create "little Havana" in Florida, militantly anti-communist, 2/3 vote Republican. Despite initial hardships, most are doing well economically in US.

  3. Later refugees are less educated, darker, having more problems, but obscured by statistics. Cuban connections help.

Puerto Rico

  1. Spanish colony, plantations, mixed European & African. (Indians mostly killed, but many claim Indian descent)

  2. Becomes US colony 1898, Spanish-American War.

  3. English required in schools. US under-develops, as a colony

  4. 1917 Jones Act, Puerto Ricans are citizens of US.

  5. 1948 PR made a Commonwealth, Associated Free State. Part of US, but not a state, less subordinate than a colony.

  6. Status a continuing issue: stay commonwealth, become US state, become independent?

Puerto Ricans

  1. All Puerto Ricans are US citizens

  2. In 2000 3.4 million Puerto Ricans in US mainland; 3.8 million in PR.

  3. 99% of those in PR consider themselves Hispanic.

  4. 80% in PR say they are White, 8% Black, 7% “other,” 4% 2+ races.

  5. On the mainland, many who are “White” in PR are considered “Black”

  6. Easy migration between Puerto Rico & mainland (all part of US)

  7. New Yoricans” & other identity issues

Other Caribbean Islanders

  1. Dominicans (Dominican Republic) Spanish

  2. Haitians (French)

  3. Jamaicans (English)

  4. Smaller islands (varies)

  5. Population mostly African-European descent, some Asian (Indian especially): colonial mix

  6. To Whites, those not White blend in to the “Black” population, but cultural/ethnic differences are significant

Caribbean Map

Central Americans

  1. Nicaraguans – fled Sandanistas (Communists). Largely white, largely well-educated.

  2. Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans. Indian peasants violently forced off the land. To US-ians, blend in to “Mexican” population, but may not speak Spanish, are culturally & ethnically distinct. Typically very poor.

  3. Refugees travel through Mexico, enter US as part of “Mexican” illegal immigration

Central America

Mexican Americans & Mexicans

  1. Mexican Americans = born in US, identify as Americans of Mexican descent.

  2. Many speak only English. Others are partly or fully bilingual. Others, especially migrant workers in southern Texas, grow up speaking mostly Spanish (or Spanglish)

  3. (Chicano a political self-identity of a subgroup of Mexican Americans, more oriented to US)

  4. Mexicans = migrants from Mexico.

  5. Some are settlers, bring families, plan to stay

  6. Many are sojourners, working here, sending money home, no interest in staying


  1. Little migration into US until 20th century. Population depletion from colonialism

  2. Political instability: 1876 Portofio Diaz reactionary coup, 1910-1922 Mexican Revolution. Some political refugees.

  3. Population less than 10% European, about 60% mestizo, 30% indio (Mayans etc. who do not speak Spanish, not culturally Mexican)

  4. Creation of mestizo identity in the Mexican revolution. La Raza.

1910s, 1920s

  1. European immigration shut off, Mexican migrants encouraged as a source of cheap labor;

  2. No immigration quotas, no "papers" required, no real distinction between legal and illegal.

  3. Class & Race

  4. New Mexico, southern California, parts of Texas: some Spanish (White Mexicans) are landowners, parts of the upper class. Mexicans treated as “White”

  5. Other parts of Texas, Arizona, sometimes central valley of California, Mexicans are lower class, landless, treated as a separate race, segregated


  1. Depression, economic collapse, high unemployment: "get rid of foreigners."

  2. Forced deportation of “Mexicans”. Majority are US-born citizens unable to prove citizenship.

  3. Social Security provisions enacted in 1930s exempt agricultural and domestic work; explicitly meant to exempt Mexicans and African Americans.

  4. LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), English-oriented, civil rights: the "Mexican American Generation." Not Spanish, full rights as US citizens.


  1. WWII, workers needed,

  2. joint programs with Mexico to import workers, bracero program;

  3. Mexican supervision means that Mexican workers often treated better than US citizens of Mexican descent.

  4. Temporary workers, leave families in Mexico.

  5. Zoot Suit riots of 1943 in Los Angeles:

  6. Anglo sailors & sailors vs. Mexican Americans.

  7. Each side blamed the other, but historians generally blame the Anglo sailors.

1950s, 1960s

  1. Operation Wetback: attack on Mexican workers, less than 2% have formal proceedings before expulsion.

  2. Urban renewal tears up MexAm settlements, creates crowding; migration increases.

  3. GI Forum, LULAC, MAPA (Mexican American Political Association): emphasis on citizenship, full civil rights, integration.

  4. Mexican American generation” – de-emphasis on Spanish.

Education in Texas (1)

  1. Segregation of Mexican children: language as justification, but really racial. Effectively, children are learning no language

  2. MexAms support English instruction, struggle for equality and real education

  3. Other White” strategy through 1960s.

Education in Texas (2)

  1. Lawsuits for bilingual instruction a consequence of past failures with English-only

  2. Shift to “racial” self-designation in wake of integration (whites want to “integrate” by mixing Mexicans and Blacks)

  3. Source: Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. "Let All of them Take Heed": Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas, 1910-1981.

Late 1960s-1970s

  1. Chicanos become defined as distinct racial group for purposes of desegregation, a response to White actions

  2. 1965 change in immigration law effectively lowers “legal” quotas from Mexico.

  3. Reies López Tijerina, Alianza de Pueblos Libres, to win back land grants in New Mexico, occupies areas in national forests, violent confrontations with authorities, eventually imprisoned.

Farm Workers Movements

  1. Mexicans and Mexican Americans are major pool of migrant farm workers

  2. Long history of labor struggle, especially in California and Texas

  3. California struggles involved Mexicans & Asians; racial divisions as well as alliances

  4. Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers 1960s-1970s. Ethnic images.

  5. Outside allies: Grape, lettuce boycotts.

Chicano Movements

  1. Increasing militancy and nationalist pride among MexAms, inspired by Black movement: “Brown Power”

  2. MAYO (Mexican American Youth Organization), La Raza Unida party, Brown Berets

  3. "Chicano" identity created; myth of Atzlan (Radical connotations)

  4. El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA)

La Raza Unida

  1. Part of Chicano movement. Reject prior assimiliationist, civil rights approaches

  2. Identify with Mexican culture. Chicano, myth of Aztlan. Radical, militant

  3. Crystal City (Cristal): garden area of Texas. Home of migrant workers.

  4. MAYO: School walkouts. Prom, education

  5. La Raza Unida: a Mexican American party. Political strategy. Third party politics

Source: Ignacio M García,. United We Win: The Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party.

Raza Unida

  1. Jose Angel Gutiérrez, La Raza Unida Party, son of Mexican nationalist, separatist political strategies. “Kill the gringo” speech.

  2. Raza Unida wins in some predominantly-Mexican American areas

  3. Governor election in Texas, substantial loss

  4. Lessons of ethnic parties, third parties

  5. Nationalist militancy

Chicano Movements

  1. Rodolfo Gonzales, charismatic urban politico from Denver, epic poem I am Joaquín. Represented the barrio youth punished for speaking Spanish, confusion of idenitity.

  2. See I am Joaquin

I Am Joaquin
Rodolfo (Corky) Gonzales

  1. Epic poem published 1967 in English and Spanish.

  2. Speaks to the urban Chicano (Mexican American) who does not know his history, faces the challenges of discrimination and assimilation

  3. Interweaves a retelling of Mexican history and identity with current conditions & issues

  4. Fragments from the much longer epic give a flavor of it


  1. Economic crisis in Mexico forces many north to look for work.

  2. New immigration laws reduce Mexican quotas, force more migrants into "illegal" status.

  3. Civil wars in Central American create refugees, often seen as Mexican in US, but don’t speak Spanish, poor

  4. Bilingual education in response to past discrimination, neglect: lawsuits, laws require “appropriate” education for all children.

1980s - 1990s

  1. Continuing poverty, turmoil in Mexico, Central American lead to continuing “push” for immigration north.

  2. Late 1990s-2000, low unemployment in US -> high need for low wage labor from Mexico, widespread employer violation of immigration rules.

  3. Growing Latino/ Mexican /Central American population in US Southwest (former northern Mexico).

  4. Congressional relief on immigration quotas for technical workers (mostly Asian), but no action on low wage workers.

Late 1990s – 2000s

  1. Political movements to require English, to suppress bilingualism.

  2. Political movements to bar welfare to legal immigrants

  3. Amnesty for existing illegal immigrants coupled with greater enforcement against new illegal immigrants.

  4. Conflicts between Hispanic/Mexican-Americans and immigrants from Mexico or Central America.

  5. NAFTA: moving industry from US into Mexico

  6. Vicente Fox elected, ends PRI rule. Proposes open migration of workers. GW Bush has positive response prior to 9/11, which shuts down discussions.

Language Issues

  1. Most Mexican immigrants with children want them to learn English. Many who want English also want to retain Spanish (bilingual)

  2. Past record of high drop-out rates, poor education in “English immersion” led to bilingual movement

  3. English Only: kid’s responsibility to show up speaking English. Not the schools problem.

  4. English immersion does not work well where only the teacher speaks English

Immigration Issues

  1. Sojourners a major part of the Mexican migrant flow. Families in Mexico, no desire to immigrate permanently.

  2. Wage differentials.

  3. Need for Mexican labor in the US economy. “Surplus labor force”

  4. Illegal immigration largely a product of laws reducing legal immigration

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