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Washington, DC  

Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy

Since its founding as the nation’s capital in 1800, Washington, DC, has been typified by an atypical urban history—a city that was home to the federal government and a diverse population of local inhabitants. This local–federal dynamic has shaped nearly every aspect of its history. The central industry has always been the federal government, local governance has ebbed and flowed, and federal officials have exerted authority in moments of political strife. Washington is the only major US city devoted to administration rather than commerce, industry, or finance. At times, policies in the nation’s capital were envisioned as programs that could be implemented across the country, while at other moments, Washington fell behind other cities. As the nation’s capital, Washington has attracted a diverse group of residents, giving the city a distinctive, cosmopolitan presence. Washington began as a Southern city, and then shifted to become a Northern one, and by the mid-20th century, it became national and global. Since its founding, multiracial Washingtonians waged sweeping campaigns for social justice, often inspiring national movements but were tempered by the persistent lack of statehood, an ongoing struggle.

Article

New York City  

Matthew Vaz

The contemporary city of New York, comprising the five boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, covers three hundred square miles and contains almost nine million people. Often described as the center of the world, the city is home to the headquarters of the United Nations and is a hub of global media and finance. Yet New York is also a city of neighborhoods, animated by remarkably local concerns. The dense population, the complex government, the vast wealth, the archetypal urban poverty, and the intricate and impressive built environment have all taken form through a layered series of encounters among groups over the course of four centuries. The Lenape Indians, the original settlers of the area, encountered Dutch colonizers in 1624. The English seized control from the Dutch in 1664. Both the Dutch and the English imported enslaved Africans in large numbers. The natural advantages of the harbor propelled the area’s growth, attracting settlers from elsewhere in North America in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Human-created infrastructures like the Erie Canal spurred economic growth after 1825 that attracted European immigrants from western and northern Europe in the mid-19th century and Europeans from southern and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1898, five counties were consolidated and created the five boroughs of New York City with a population surpassing three million. African Americans from the US South and Latinos from the Caribbean migrated to New York throughout the 20th century; by 1950, the city’s population was 7.8 million. After 1980, the population began to climb again with new waves of immigration from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. For more than four hundred years, the processes of conflict and cooperation have been animated by schisms and tensions of religion, ethnicity, race, and class. As groups and individuals competed for resources and power in the city, politics and governance confronted conceptual issues such as calibrating the extent of public services, the role of religion in public life, the rights of workers, and the value of living in a multiethnic and multiracial society.

Article

Latin Jazz and Salsa  

Raúl A. Fernandez

Latin jazz derives from a combination of the rhythms of Caribbean popular dance music with the harmonies and timbres of various US jazz styles. It was the result of decades of interaction between American and Cuban music styles. Salsa refers to a new approach to Afro-Caribbean dance music that emerged in the 1980s, a mixture with deep roots in Afro-Cuban music and other musical dance forms from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. It later became an umbrella term to reference a wide variety of Latin music styles. Salsa was viewed at its birth as a manifestation of a growing Latino identity in the United States.

Article

The Chicana and Chicano Movement  

Rosie Bermudez

The Chicana and Chicano movement or El Movimiento is one of the multiple civil rights struggles led by racialized and marginalized people in the United States. Building on a legacy of organizing among ethnic Mexicans, this social movement emerged in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s to continue the struggle to secure basic human needs and the fulfillment of their civil rights. To be Chicana and Chicano during this era represented an assertion of ethnic and cultural pride, self-determination, and a challenge to the status quo. Those who claimed this political identity sought to contest the subordinate position of people of Mexican origin in America. They responded to the effects and persistence of structural inequalities such as racism, discrimination, segregation, poverty, and the lack of opportunities to rise out of these conditions. Militant direct action and protest were hallmarks of this sustained effort. A flourishing intellectual and creative atmosphere existed within the movement that included the proliferation and combination of multiple ideological and political positions, including cultural nationalism, internationalism, feminism, and leftism. A major facet was rooted in historical recovery, analysis of conditions, and cultural awareness, represented within a wide-ranging print culture, and various forms of expression such as political theater, visual arts, poetry, and music. Constituted by several organizations and local movements, El Movimiento participants varied in age, generation, region, class, and sexuality. Several long-standing issues, including labor and land disputes that were directly linked to a brutal history of exploitation and dispossession, were grappled with. A lack of political representation and substandard education fueled struggles for an alternative political party and education. Further struggles stemmed from poverty coupled with police violence and suppression. Others took on anti-war efforts, and still others tackled gender inequality which reverberated throughout.

Article

Asian American Youth and Mexican American Youth in Los Angeles before World War II  

Isabela Seong Leong Quintana

Though relatively little is known about them when compared with their adult counterparts, the experiences of Chinese American youth and Mexican American youth in Los Angeles were significantly shaped by living in the developing urban city. More independently as they became older, these ethnic youth navigated social structures that informed the racial, gendered, and class orderings of the city. As both Asian American and Mexican American adult populations in the Los Angeles area boomed before World War II, so did their youth populations, reflecting wars, changes in immigration law and policy, and the steady growth of the region’s railroad, manufacturing, and agriculture industries. With lives intimately tied to adults’ lives, both Asian American youth and Mexican American youth were a mix of recent arrivals from outside the United States and individuals who were born within its national borders. Their presences overlapped with those of their parents and other adults, in both private and public spaces where paid and unpaid labor took place. In ways that reflect the cultures of their respective communities of the era, young people utilized city spaces in different ways as they attended school, worked, socialized, and participated in community events and activities. Excluded from white-only institutions and social organizations, Asian American and Mexican American youth formed their own respective organizations and clubs. They brought dynamic life to Angeleno spaces as they navigated social and community expectations along with rapidly changing cultural and consumer trends.

Article

Guest Workers in U.S. History  

David Griffith

Guest workers have been part of the economic and cultural landscapes of the United States since the founding of republics across the Americas, evolving from indentured servants to the use of colonial subjects to foreign nationals imported under a variety of intergovernmental agreements and U.S. visas. Guest worker programs became institutionalized with the Bracero Program with Mexico, which ran from 1942 to 1964, and with the British West Indies Temporary Alien Labor Program, which began in 1943. Both of these programs were established under the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program to address real and perceived labor shortages in agriculture during World War II. Both programs were structurally similar to programs employed to import colonial subjects, primarily Puerto Ricans, for U.S. agriculture. Although the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture oversaw the operation of the programs during the war, control over guest workers’ labor and the conditions of their employment increasingly became the responsibility of their employers and employer associations following the war. Nevertheless, U.S. government support for guest worker programs has been steady, if uneven, since the 1940s, and most new legislation addressing immigration reform has included some sort of guest worker provision. Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, H-2A and H-2B visas were created to import workers primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean for low-wage work in agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) seasonal employment. In the Immigration Act of 1990, H-1 visas were added to import guest workers, primarily from India and China, for work in computer programming, higher education, and other skilled occupations. Although an unknown portion of the guest worker labor force resists the terms of their employment and slips into the shadow economy as undocumented immigrants, the number of legal guest workers in the United States has increased into the 21st century.

Article

Latinx Criminality  

Max Felker-Kantor

Latinx criminality was a product of racialized policing and policies that constructed various Latinx groups as foreign threats over the course of American history. Crime was not an objective category but one produced by policing, vigilantism, border enforcement, and immigration policy, all of which both relied on and produced dominant beliefs of Latinx criminality. Latinxs were racialized as criminal and foreign enemies to be variously eliminated or contained beginning before the Mexican-American War and continuing with the integration of immigration enforcement and criminal justice, known as crimmigration, in the 21st century. The intertwined process of racialization and criminalization evolved over time, from the conquest of Mexico driven by Manifest Destiny to colonial projects in Cuba and Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War to the Texas Rangers’ assaults on Mexicans during the Mexican Revolution; from the repatriation campaigns in the 1930s to the social movements of the 1960s; and from the refugee and asylum crisis in the 1980s to the antiimmigrant nativism of the 1990s and 2000s. In each of these eras, policing practices built on the deep racial scripts that were deployed to construct different Latinx groups as potential criminals. While ethnic Mexicans in the Southwest bore the brunt of racist policing and criminalization during the 19th and first half of the 20th century, demographic changes resulting from new migration streams, American imperial ambitions in the 1890s, and Cold War interventions ensured that other Latinx groups, such as Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Haitians, Cubans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans, were subjected to racialized policing and criminalization. In the process, the logic of racist assumptions about the criminality of people of Mexican descent born out of America’s ideological belief in its Manifest Destiny easily translated to the criminalization of other Latinx groups. The framework of racial scripts explains this common process of racialization and criminalization. Although the nature of policing and criminalization shifted over time and targeted different Latinx groups in different ways, Anglo-Americans continually displaced their fears of “foreign threats” onto racialized others, making Latinxs into “criminals” through punitive policies, scapegoating, and policing.

Article

The Bracero Program/“Guest Worker” Programs  

Ana Elizabeth Rosas

On August 4, 1942, the Mexican and US governments launched the binational guest worker program most commonly known as the Bracero Program. An estimated 5 million Mexican men between the ages of nineteen and forty-five separated from their families for three to nine-month cycles at a time, depending on the duration of their labor contract, in anticipation of earning the prevailing US wage this program had promised them. They labored in US agriculture, railroad construction, and forestry with hardly any employment protections or rights in place to support themselves or the families they had left behind in Mexico. The inhumane configuration and implementation of this program prevented most of these men and their families from meeting this goal. Instead, the labor exploitation and alienation that characterized this guest worker program and their program participation paved the way for fragile transnational family relationships. The Bracero Program grew over the course of its twenty-two-year existence, and despite its negative consequences, Mexican men and their families could not afford to settle for unemployment in Mexico nor pass up US employment opportunities of any sort. The Mexican and US governments’ persistently negligent management of the program coupled with their conveniently selective acknowledgment of the severity of the plight of Mexican women and men consistently required Mexican men and their families to shoulder the full extent of the program’s exploitative conditions and terms.

Article

Police and Crime in the American City, 1800–2020  

Simon Balto and Max Felker-Kantor

The relationship between policing and crime in American history has been tenuous at best. In fact, policing and crime are imperfectly correlated. Crime is understood as a socially constructed category that varies over time and space. Crime in the American city was produced by the actions of police officers on the street and the laws passed by policymakers that made particular behaviors, often ones associated with minoritized people, into something called “crime.” Police create a statistical narrative about crime through the behaviors and activities they choose to target as “crime.” As a result, policing the American city has functionally reinforced the nation’s dominant racial and gender hierarchies as much as (or more so) than it has served to ensure public safety or reduce crime. Policing and the production of crime in the American city has been broadly shaped by three interrelated historical processes: racism, xenophobia, and capitalism. As part of these processes, policing took many forms across space and time. From origins in the slave patrols in the South, settler colonial campaigns of elimination in the West, and efforts to put down striking workers in the urban North, the police evolved into the modern, professional forces familiar to many Americans in the early 21st century. The police, quite simply, operated to uphold a status quo based on unequal and hierarchical racial, ethnic, and economic orders. Tracing the history of policing and crime from the colonial era to the present demonstrates the ways that policing has evolved through a dialectic of crisis and reform. Moments of protest and unrest routinely exposed the ways policing was corrupt, violent, and brutal, and did little to reduce crime in American cities. In turn, calls for reform produced “new” forms of policing (what was often referred to as professionalization in the early and mid-20th century and community policing in the 21st). But these reforms did not address the fundamental role or power of police in society. Rather, these reforms often expanded it, producing new crises, new protests, and still more “reforms,” in a seemingly endless feedback loop. From the vantage point of the 21st century, this evolution demonstrates the inability of reform or professionalization to address the fundamental role of police in American society. In short, it is a history that demands a rethinking of the relationship between policing and crime, the social function of the police, and how to achieve public safety in American cities.

Article

Mexican Americans in the United States  

Iliana Yamileth Rodriguez

Mexican American history in the United States spans centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spanish Empire colonized North American territories. Though met with colonial rivalries in the southeast, Spanish control remained strong in the US southwest through the 19th century. The mid-1800s were an era of power struggles over territory and the construction of borders, which greatly impacted ethnic Mexicans living in the US-Mexico borderlands. After the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), the passage of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo allowed the United States to take all or parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Ethnic Mexicans living in newly incorporated regions in the mid- through late 19th century witnessed the radical restructuring of their lives along legal, economic, political, and cultural lines. The early 20th century witnessed the rise of anti-Mexican sentiment and violence. As ethnic Mexican communities came under attack, Mexican Americans took leadership roles in institutions, labor unions, and community groups to fight for equality. Both tensions and coalition-building efforts between Mexican Americans and Mexican migrants animated the mid-20th century, as did questions about wartime identity, citizenship, and belonging. By the late 20th century, Chicana/o politics took center stage and brought forth a radical politics informed by the Mexican American experience. Finally, the late 20th through early 21st centuries saw further geographic diversification of Mexican American communities outside of the southwest.