Latino Americans are currently considered the largest minority groups in the U.S.A. They went through a lot of periods, setbacks and activities before reaching this stage. The paper explores the events of the years between 1900-1950, 1950-1970, and 1980-2012. It discusses how these events helped shape the history and impacted the lives of the Latino Americans.
When Porfirio Diaz became Mexico’s president in 1884, he prioritized foreign imperialists interests (Acuna 162). The country fell into debts to foreign governments and banks. The situation caused dissatisfaction among the Mexican citizens and led to the breaking out of a revolution. The civil war lasted ten years. Consequently, it set off a great migration of Mexicans across the border to the U.S.A. They settled in the South Western states such as Texas, which had experienced an enormous economic growth, especially in cotton production. The immigrants provided the labor force needed for the farms and industries.
In the 1930s, the depression caused a downward turn of the U.S. economy. Consequently, it led to shortages in food and employment opportunities. As unemployment spread throughout the nation, antagonism towards the Latino- American workers increased. The U.S. government started a project of sending back to Mexico Latino American immigrants. William Doak, the then U.S. Secretary of Labor, organized sensational raids to deport immigrants (Mintz par.4). They used railway transport to cross the border to Mexico. While some went of their own free will, others were coerced to go back. Some Latino Americans chose to remain behind hooping they could still find work in farms. However, as the landowners had reduced the number of permanent workers they needed, the immigrants could not get work. They decided to migrate and trek the freeways in pursuit of employment. They settled in security camps established by the government that served as safe havens to protect them against violent attacks by U.S. citizens (Mintz par.6).Here the different Latino American families started organizing themselves in groups discussing labor issues. It cemented the future for civil rights organizations that would later emerge.
After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, the U.S joined the war fighting the Axis countries composed of Japan and Germany. Latina Americans in significant numbers enlisted to fight for the U.S. During this period, most Latino Americans who were not fighting in the war moved to cities such as Chicago. A Zoot Suit riot erupted in 1942 in the streets of Los Angeles (“Latino Americans par.6). The suit was a cloth common among Latino American men consisting of suits with broad shoulders, lap-length coat, and wide pants with cuffs. A brawl started between some sailors on leave and the teenagers in suits. As revenge against the teenagers, sailors and marines began roaming streets attacking any Latino Americans. The media portrayed the sailors as heroes suppressing a Mexican crime wave. The situation led to cultural anxiety that activated activism among the Latino American community (Acuna 184).
During the World War II period, another notable event in the lives of Latino Americans was the Bracero program (Latino Americans par.8). The program was started due to shortages of farm labor as American residents had gone to fight in the war. Known as the Labor Importation program, it was a carefully negotiated bilateral labor agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments. It imported Mexican male laborers to work for minimum wages and standards of housing. The program also increased the number of illegal immigrants to the U.S.A. Unfortunately, the illegal immigrants did not have the leverage to push for the realization of the agreement as they were afraid of being deported back to Mexico.
The war also changed the Latino American identity of the immigrants. They felt that they were entitled to be identification as Americans and not Latinas as they had proved their patriotism in the war (Latino Americans par.8). Latino Americans were awarded World War II medals of Honor after the war. Unfortunately, they still faced discrimination. They started creating civil rights movements such as the American G.I. forum to fight for their identity and rights (Acuna 250).
In 1953, the U.S. government launched operation wetback. It was a large deportation campaign against Latino Americans intended to take them back to Mexico. Over two million people were taken to Mexico (Acuna 248). Just like the deportation campaigns during the Great Depression, this time, the campaigns also used deportations as a weapon against labor immigrants. A wave of propaganda followed the operation blaming Latino Americans for the social and economic problems the country was undergoing. Unfortunately, innocent American citizens were also affected by the program as they were rounded up and deported on suspicion of being Mexicans. However even with the ill-treatment and deportations, Latino Americans continued migrating to the United States. The migration was partly due to the continued impoverishment of Mexico.
In the 1960s, Latino Americans made their fight for equal opportunity more noticeable. They started waking up to the comprehension of their rights. In 1962, an activist, Cesar Chavez established the National Farm Workers Association, which later evolved to the United Farm Workers. The group was a hybrid between civil rights and labor organizations (Acuna 211).The association initiated strikes and boycotts of agricultural produce as a means of operation in complaining about the work and living conditions of the Latino American farm workers. They were also protesting the farmers' employment of undocumented Latino American immigrants as strikebreakers as this undermined their efforts towards fair treatment and payment of wages as workers. The movement improved the labor and living conditions of farm workers by gaining collective bargaining and lobbying for legal reforms (Acuna 211). The association focused the attention of national media on their issues. It won the support of journalists, activists, consumers, religious and political organizations. Although unsuccessful at first, the movement was strengthened when the U.S. government officially ended the Bracero program. It resulted in reduced workers for farmers who became desperate for employees. The movement, therefore, had the upper hand and could effect the necessary reforms.
Also known as El Movimiento, the movement was a political and cultural association that helped raise awareness of the Latino Americans history (Acuna 301). During this period, the Latino Americans became more aware of the injustices in the education system. Only about 25 percent of them graduated from high school (Acuna 301). Most ended up dropping out of school and seeking cheap labor like their parents. The youth were also conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War where they were dying at fast rates. They, therefore, saw the need for reforms in the discriminatory education system. The Latino American students walked out of high schools and universities demanding educational reforms such as the hiring of Latino American teachers and counselors. They also advocated for the integration of Latino American history courses into schools' curricula (Acuna 302). The students did not stop at educational reforms. Some formed militia groups such as the Brown Berets (Acuna 304). Others formed the Raza Unida Party as they saw the need for a third political party. The available parties were the Democratic and Republican parties that did not cater to the needs of the Latino Americans. Their new party brought Latino Americans values and needs under one political roof. Even though the party failed, it nevertheless, paved way for Latino Americans to enter the political scene in future (Acuna 330). One of the movement’s leaders Cruz Bustamante later became California state governor from 1999 to 2007. However, not everyone was satisfied. The Latino American women felt that the movement did not cater for solutions to problems affecting them. In 1970, they formed the Comision Mexicana Nacional. It was a political party catering for their issues and coming up with practical reforms (Acuna 332).
The Texas-based Raza Unida political party established to formalize the Latino American's political activism finally collapsed in the early 1980s(Acuna 331). Its leaders such as Willie Velasquez began engaging in democratic politics. He organized the southwest voter registration and education project. Consequently, the project contributed to an increase in the number of Latino-American political candidates in the South West states. In 1999, Cruz Bustamante, a former leader of the Chicano movement, was elected the governor of California while Antonio Villaraigosa was elected the mayor of Los Angeles in 2005(Acuna 341). Villaraigosa was the first Latino American in more than a century to hold this prestigious post. In 2010, Marco Rubio, an American of second generation Cuban origin was elected Florida’s senator. Latino Americans have not only succeeded in the political arena but also in legal and other public arenas. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Federico Pena as Secretary of Transportation. He also appointed Henry Cisneros as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. They were the first Latino Americans to hold these positions. President Clinton also appointed Norma Cantu, a former director of the Latino American Legal Defense and Education Fund, as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (Acuna 362). Perhaps the biggest achievement for the Latino American community was the swearing in of Puerto Rican Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina Supreme Court justice.
In 1980, Fidel Castro, Cuban President announced that its citizens who wished to leave the country for the U.S.A may do so. It led to the migration of Cubans to South Florida (Acuna 354). With time, these Latino Americans became more geographically dispersed. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. It granted amnesty to nearly three million immigrants, mostly of Mexican heritage who had entered the U.S. through ships during the 1970s and 1980s (Acuna 296). In 2003, Latino Americans were considered to be U.S.A.s largest minority community. They currently surpass the population of African Americans in the country (Acuna 393). According to a 2007 U.S. census data, highly-skilled Latino Americans legal immigrants have become essential in any economic sectors (Acuna 393). With the U.S. citizens who are in the baby boom generation reaching the retirement age, demographers predict that the pressure to recruit highly educated and skilled immigrants will continue to increase. In 2012, Latino Americans made about one-sixth of the U.S. population. Their population is expected to reach almost 127 million by the middle of the century. It is nearly 30 percent of the projected population of the country (Gutierrez 4).
States in the U.S.A have enacted a series of measures designed to pressure unauthorized Latino American immigrants to leave their jurisdictions. As an example, California passed laws that criminalized the hiring of illegal day laborers and banned the public use of languages other than English. Eliseo Medina, a Mexican-American activist, filed lawsuits criticizing the regulations. These laws were ruled unconstitutional because only the federal government has the authority to regulate immigration (Gutierrez 4). In 2004, Arizona organized a group of volunteers known as the Minutemen to patrol the border. The situation brought anti-immigrant emotions to a tipping point (Gutierrez 4). In 2010, the state passed laws requiring local law enforcers, teachers, and social workers to verify the citizenship of any people they encountered in their official duties (Gutierrez 4). Georgia seems to be following the Arizona way as in 2011 the state enacted its version of anti-immigration laws. Any person found in the state without a driver's license or any proof of residency is to be handed over to immigration authorities and to be charged with being in the state illegally (Gutierrez 4).
From the Mexican Revolution to the current political representation, Latino Americans have gone through a lot of periods and activities that had an impact on their lives. In situations of harassment such as the immigration laws in some states, they have proven that they are willing to fight for their rights. With the continuing need for Latino Americans’ educational and labor skills and their rise in population, they continue to be the largest minority group with an expected future increase in population.