Hispanics in the United States

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Hispanics in the United States

"Hispanics" or "Latinos" in the United States trace their ancestry to one of twenty-two Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the Latino population at 42.7 million people, or 14 percent of the general population—up from 14.5 million in 1980—making it the fastest-growing population in the United States. These figures do not include the 3.9 million residents of the commonwealth, or estado libre asociado (free associated state), of Puerto Rico, who are U.S. citizens and can travel freely to the United States; nor does it include the ten to fifteen million people from Latin America estimated to be working in the United States undocumented. Immigration accounts for the rapid population growth of the Latino population (53 percent were born outside the United States), and the Census Bureau projects that with continued immigration and natural increase, the Latino population will reach 102.6 million by 2050.

The term "Hispanic" was first used by the Census Bureau in the 1970s and has become a common term of reference in U.S. popular culture. The term is used regularly by writers and journalists, by governmental and educational bureaucracies, as well as in day-to-day conversation. The terms "Latino"/"Latina" have also become increasingly popular in reaction to the term "Hispanic," which some feel privileges the Spanish ancestry of this population at the expense of its African and indigenous origins. However, studies show that most Hispanics/Latinos prefer to identify themselves according to their national ancestry or ethnic or regional identification (e.g. those who trace their ancestry to Mexico usually identify as Mexican-American or Chicano/Chicana while those from Puerto Rico might identify as Boricua, puertorriqueño, or Puerto Rican).

Whereas the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are convenient when referring to this large population as a whole, they mask the very real differences that exist within and across these various groups, not all due to national ancestry. Some Latinos are first-generation immigrants to the United States, while others trace their families' presence in the U.S. back several generations, some as far back as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some have come to the United States as immigrants, others as refugees or temporary workers. Racially they identify as white, black, Asian, Indian, or multiracial. The majority are at least nominally Roman Catholic, but they are also mainline and evangelical Protestant, Jew, Buddhist, and believers in syncretic religions such as santería. The experiences of Latinos and Latinas in the United States vary, shaped by factors such as citizenship and political status, race and indigeneity, class and employment, gender and sexuality, religion, and the region of the country in which they settle. In sum, they reflect the diversity of the Latin American countries from which they trace their ancestry, as well as the diversity of the societies to which they migrate in the United States. Even the ways they speak Spanish and English are different, reflecting the national and regional variations of the Spanish and English languages. Some 31 million Latinos five years of age and older speak Spanish at home, making the United States the third-largest Spanish-speaking nation in the Americas, but with each generation in the United States, acculturating Latino families prioritize English at the expense of Spanish. Consequently, it is not unusual for many self-identified Latinos to speak only English. Similarly, thousands of the immigrants categorized as "Latino" by the U.S. government do not speak Spanish at all because they are indigenous peoples, speaking a wide range of indigenous languages.


Latinos are a young population. The median age is 27.2, compared to 36.2 for the U.S. population as a whole. Socioeconomic levels of the Latino population tend to lag behind that of the general population. In 2006, 58 percent of Latinos age twenty-five and older had at least a high school education (86 percent for the general population), and 12 percent at least a bachelor's degree (28 percent for the general population). According to census figures, the Latino median income was less than $36,000 per year ($46,326 for the general population) and close to 22 percent lived below the official government poverty line (12.6 percent for the general population). Income and poverty rates are correlated with youth, limited educational opportunities, and the first-generation status of more than half the population. But figures vary from one group to the next, and by generation: second-generation Cuban Americans, for example, have among the highest rates of postgraduate education, exceeding that of the general population; whereas Puerto Ricans in the U.S. and Mexican Americans have among the highest high school dropout rates. Socioeconomic indicators reflect upward mobility the longer Latino families remain in the United States. However, due to the changes in the U.S. economy since the mid-1970s, from an industrialized to a more service-oriented economy, Latinos face challenges that immigrants who arrived earlier in the century did not: that is, limited opportunities for the higher wages and economic mobility open to skilled labor. Most Latino immigrants realize that if they are to stay and make a life for their families in the United States, then education and/or self-employment is key to this mobility. The number of Latino-owned businesses grew 31 percent between 1997 and 2002, compared to the national average of 10 percent. In 2002 there were 1.6 million Latino-owned businesses that generated $222 billion in revenues.

Aspiring politicians often speak of—and pander to—the "Hispanic vote," but Latinos do not consistently identify with one specific political party. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans have historically voted Democratic because of that party's greater commitment to civil rights and the rights of the working poor, whereas Cuban and Nicaraguan Americans, many of whom are refugees, have tended to vote Republican because of that party's perceived stronger stance against left-wing regimes. But as Latinos assimilate culturally and structurally, they are more likely to identify with class or localized interests than ethnic interests. Journalists frequently refer to the Latino population as the "sleeping giant," especially during election years, because of the potential influence its votes may have on local, state, and national contests, but in reality this influence is tempered by the youth of the population and the low naturalization and voting participation rates. Only 38 percent of immigrants had naturalized by the year 2000, compared to 60 percent of other immigrants. And in 2004, only 7.6 million Latinos, or 47 percent of registered Latino voters, reported voting. However, history has demonstrated that when mobilized, Latino voters can serve as a formidable voting bloc. As of 2007 there are 24 Latinos serving in the U.S. Congress, including Puerto Rico's resident commissioner (a nonvoting member).

At 64 percent, Mexican Americans are the largest Latino population, followed by Puerto Ricans (10 percent) and Cubans, Salvadorans, and Dominicans (each 3 percent). The remaining 17 percent trace their ancestry to other countries. Some Latino groups are associated with particular regions of the United States. Mexican Americans, for example, are historically associated with the southwestern states, the territory that was "acquired" from Mexico as a result of the Texas revolution (1836), the Mexican War (1846–1848), and the Gadsden Purchase (1854). Puerto Ricans are associated with the New York metropolitan area because of the "Great Migration" of the post-World War II period, which brought more than a million people to work in the factories and shipyards of the New York City boroughs. Similarly, Cuban Americans are associated with southern Florida, and especially its largest city, Miami, where more than half of the post-1959 migration settled. But these and other groups have moved beyond these traditional strongholds and reside in towns and cities across the country. In the early twenty-first century, Mexican immigrants are the largest Latino population in Washington Heights in Manhattan, a New York City neighborhood once associated with Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Central Americans outnumber Cubans in Miami's Little Havana.

Forty-nine percent of Latinos are concentrated in just two states: California and Texas; 35 percent of the population of each is Latino (12.4 million and 7.8 million respectively). Thirteen states have Latino populations of half a million or larger, and in nineteen states they constitute the largest minority group. In the last census, the southern state of North Carolina registered the largest growth in Latino population, mostly from Mexico and Central America.


The United States as a nation emerged out of the thirteen predominantly English colonies on the Eastern Seaboard. But decades before the English established their first colonial settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth, the Spanish had explored parts of North America, and settled in the territories that are now Florida and New Mexico. Francisco de Garay, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, Juan Ponce de León, Pánfilo de Narváez, Hernando de Soto, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca are among the many men who explored these northernmost reaches of the empire before they became American territories. The first Spanish settlement, consisting of 600 colonists, was founded in present-day Georgia in 1526 by Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón of Toledo and called San Miguel de Guadalpe but within months the settlement was abandoned, the colonists decimated by the harsh weather and by disease. In 1565, Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the first successful Spanish settlement at Saint Augustine, Florida, as a means of protecting the territory against French encroachment. It remains the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States. In 1598, Juan de Oñate established the first Spanish capital of New Mexico at the site of a Tewa village he renamed San Juan; in 1609, Governor Pedro de Peralta moved the capital to Santa Fe. By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, a network of Spanish missions, presidios, and settlements extended from the Florida peninsula to California.

Spain's control over this southern section of the United States ended during the period 1819 to 1821. In 1819 Spain ceded Florida to the United States as part of the Adams-Onís Treaty, which established a clear boundary between Spanish lands and the Louisiana Territory. Florida remained a U.S. territory until 1845, when it officially became a state of the union. In 1822 Joseph Marion Hernández of Florida became the first Hispanic to serve in the U.S. Congress, as a representative of the territorial government. The first territorial census in 1825 counted 15,000 residents, including slaves, and the majority were descendants of Spanish colonists; but Anglo-American immigration to Florida increased, and by statehood the Spanish population was only a fraction of the estimated 85,000 people living in Florida. Nevertheless, the Spanish heritage of this region continues to be evident in the names of cities and geographic landmarks, and in the cultural pageants, food, folkways, and lexicon of the state's residents.

In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain, and the southwestern settlements were automatically incorporated into states and provinces of Mexico's republic. Over the next two decades, various U.S. administrations tried to acquire the southwestern territories as part of a national campaign to expand its boundaries to the Pacific coast, and thus expand the nation's commerce, trade, and political influence. To thwart U.S. expansionism, as Mexico granted the first of its empresario (land agent) grants in 1821 as a means of populating and establishing greater control over its northern boundaries, especially Texas. Disagreements between the American settlers who settled in increasingly larger numbers in this area and the Mexican government that tried to control their allegiances and activities culminated in the Texas Revolution of 1835–1836. When the United States annexed the republic of Texas nine years later, and claimed the Rio Grande as its southern boundary, the stage was set for a military confrontation between the two countries that would result in even greater territorial losses for Mexico.

The descendants of the Spanish colonists of North America, many of whom also claimed African and/or Indian heritage, identified themselves in many different ways according to their race, sex, class, and station in life. After Spanish settlements became American or Mexican territories, a distinct Spanish identification became less and less common. In the southwestern territories, for example, most increasingly identified as mexicanos rather than criollos, gente de razón, or any of the other social and political designations typical of Spanish colonial life.

However, despite Spain's loss of influence in North America, over the next two centuries Spaniards continued to settle in the urban and rural areas of the United States. From 1820 to 1900, an estimated 42,000 Spaniards migrated to the United States; and from 1900 to 1924, 174,000 migrated to the United States (although some 70,000 returned by the 1930s). By the mid-twentieth century, Spanish immigrants had a wide geographic distribution. Galicians worked as shopkeepers and factory workers in New York City and as steelworkers in Pennsylvania and Ohio; Andalusians were recruited to work in Hawaii's sugar plantations; Asturians worked as cigar makers in Ybor City and Tampa, Florida, and as coalminers in West Virginia; Basque sheepherders settled in rural areas of Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. Wherever they settled they established cultural institutions, and newspapers and other publications, some of which continue to operate. In the early twenty-first century, the U.S. Census counts fewer than 400,000 self-identified Spaniards in the United States, most of them located in large metropolitan areas such as Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. Although they are popularly regarded as "Hispanics," they are more likely to identify with other European immigrants than with the immigrants from Latin America.


The close to 30 million Latinos of Mexican ancestry represent several models of migration and accommodation to U.S. society: The first became Americans by conquest; since 1848, Mexicans have migrated to the United States as refugees, immigrants, and as braceros (temporary workers).

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846–1848 ceded to the United States close to half of Mexico's territory, out of which were carved the present-day states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah and Colorado. (Texas became an independent republic in 1836 and was annexed by the United States in 1845.) The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Protocol of Queretaro guaranteed the rights and privileges of Mexicans in the conquered territories, but during the second half of the nineteenth century, the approximately 80,000 tejanos, californios, hispanos, and others of Mexican descent living in those territories in 1850 struggled to defend and assert those rights.

There was no one typical "Mexican American experience" in the postwar Southwest, but certain general patterns can be distinguished. As American settlers moved into the southwestern territories to reinvent their lives and establish economic and political control over the new territories, they clashed with the original inhabitants, especially over property rights. Because the Spanish-Mexican land grants had no fixed boundaries, and in some cases had not been officially registered (or the titles and registries had been destroyed), the boundaries and claims were easily challenged by squatters. In each state and territory, land commissions were appointed to adjudicate existing titles. Some cases took years to decide, and in the meantime landholders could not dispose of their land; had to pay for legal representation, interpreters, and other assorted court costs; and had to defend their lives and property from those who lay claim to their land. Even when the land commissions ruled in their favor, the high cost of litigation forced families to sell part or all of their land. Exemplifying this process was the Californio General Mariano Vallejo, one of the eight Californios who participated in the state's constitutional assembly. In 1846, his estate stood at an estimated 175,000 acres; by the time of his death in 1890, his homestead was only 200 acres.

In some communities, merchants, bankers, lawyers, and politicians conspired to raise taxes, increase foreclosures, and bar access to goods, resources, and services, all in an effort to drive Mexican Americans from their farms, ranches, and businesses, and from political office. In California, for example, the Foreign Miners' Tax of 1850, a $20 monthly fee for the right to mine, was applied to Mexicans born in California, even though they were U.S. citizens; and the state antivagrancy law (the so-called "Greaser Law") restricted their movement in towns. Violence and intimidation were also commonly used to drive people from their homes. In Texas, for example, the Texas Rangers became the agents of American cattle barons such as Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy and helped them expand their economic interests by intimidating Mexican families into selling or abandoning their properties. Vigilante groups used lynching as a form of social control: There are 282 documented cases of lynching of tejanos alone between 1848 and 1928, although the number of casualties was probably higher due to the press's tendency not to report such events. State and territorial governments also played a role in the disenfranchisement of Mexican Americans, seizing communal lands, most notably in New Mexico and Arizona, to establish state or federal park lands, or as entitlements for railroad companies and other private interests.

Mexican elites were sometimes able to protect their economic and political interests by aligning themselves through marriage with the new American order, most commonly by marrying their daughters to influential members of the Anglo community. Elite hispanos used such connections and were appointed to political office and other influential positions well into the twentieth century. In New Mexico, for example, Octaviano Larrazola was elected governor in 1918 and served as U.S. senator in 1928 and 1929, and Soledad Chacon, the first woman elected to public office, was elected secretary of state in 1922. But in most areas of the Southwest the odds were against Mexican Americans. Even those who were able to retain their property into the twentieth century found it increasingly difficult to compete in the changing capitalist economy of the Southwest that relied on large-scale commercial agriculture and ranching, and on the restrictive enclosure of large tracts of land. Spanish-Mexican inheritance practices that distributed land equally among family members made it difficult for families on increasingly smaller homesteads to engage in anything other than subsistence farming.

With the loss of land came a further loss of influence, respect, and prestige in a society that already devalued all things Mexican. Historians such as David Weber, Rodolfo Acuña, Arnoldo De León, and others have examined the ways the "Black Legend" about Spanish character shaped American experiences of borderland peoples during the early nineteenth century. The Texas Revolution and the Mexican War only exacerbated anti-Mexican sentiment. In newspapers, journals, travel diaries, and fiction, white settlers justified their political and economic domination by portraying Mexicans and Mexican Americans as the descendants of two inferior cultures that produced a lazy, apathetic, conniving, amoral, and intellectually deficient population that could not be trusted to understand or participate in democratic institutions.

Legal historians have noted that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo rendered the Mexicans of the Southwest "white" by virtue of the fact that only whites could be citizens in 1848, but nineteenth-century social attitudes and state policies relegated them to a second-class citizenship. Discriminatory hiring practices limited opportunities, which resulted in Mexican Americans' becoming concentrated in unskilled labor and excluded from managerial positions and membership in trade unions. "White primaries," literacy tests, poll taxes, and gerrymandering prevented the majority of Mexican Americans (and other Latinos) from exercising an effective political voice until well into the twentieth century when the 1960s civil rights legislation finally abolished many of these practices. From 1900 to 1953, only two Tejanos were elected to the Texas state legislature, both from the border city of Brownsville, which had a majority Mexican American population. Likewise, in California no Mexican Americans were elected to the state assembly from the 1880s to 1962. Segregation in housing, education, and public areas such as theaters, restaurants, pools, and even churches and cemeteries was enforced by custom if not by law. The 1876 Texas Constitution, for example, provided for separate schools only for white and black students, but by the 1940s segregated "Mexican schools" were established in 122 districts in fifty-nine counties throughout the state.

Mexican American history, then, chronicles this loss but also the many ways that Mexican Americans empowered themselves in a society that limited their opportunities. The legal histories of the nineteenth century borderlands document how Mexican Americans used the courts to assert their political and economic rights in a changing society. And when the vehicles for legal redress were limited or failed them, Mexican Americans did not hesitate to forcefully defend their families and communities. During the period 1850 to 1920, "social bandits" such as Juan Nepomucena Cortina, Catarino Garza, Tiburcio Vazquez, Gregorio Cortez, and groups such as las Gorras Blancas (the White Caps) physically challenged the individuals and institutions responsible for their people's displacement. Their "lawlessness" is celebrated in folklore and corridos. Rebellions such as the 1857 Cart War, the Salt Wars of the 1870s, and the Plan de San Diego (1915–1917), as well as the labor strikes in factories, agricultural fields, mines, and other industries during this period further challenged the stereotypes of a docile and apathetic population.

During the Porfiriato and the Mexican Revolution, more than a million Mexicans migrated to the Southwest, facilitated by the expansion of the railroads and the reality of a poorly patrolled border. By 1930, an estimated one million displaced Mexicans had migrated to the United States. The Mexican populations of Texas and New Mexico doubled. Towns such as San Antonio, Los Angeles, and El Paso tripled in size. Many of the Mexican exiles did not come to stay in the United States permanently; they hoped to return once political conditions in their country stabilized. They published a number of Spanish-language newspapers, including La Prensa in San Antonio and La Opinion in Los Angeles, to keep their people informed of the latest events in Mexico, and to interpret social realities in their host country. It is impossible to ascertain how many actually returned voluntarily once political conditions stabilized in Mexico. Many of those who did return to Mexico in the 1930s were forcefully "repatriated" by the U.S. government as part of a campaign to rid the country of "foreigners" who they claimed competed with Americans for jobs and relief in the Depression-era economy. The United States government, working with settlement houses, churches, and other institutions, as well as with Mexican consulates in the United States, pressured Mexican nationals to return to their country with the promise of land and jobs in northern Mexico that in many cases never materialized. Thousands of others were forcefully rounded up and deported, sometimes without regard for citizenship. Asmuch as 40 percent of the population (estimated at 1.5 million in 1930) may have been repatriated or deported during the 1930s, many of them U.S. citizens and the American-born children and spouses of Mexican nationals.

By 1930, then, the Southwest had a diverse population of Mexican Americans. Some had been "Americans" for several generations; others were recent arrivals, immigrants and refugees with strong political and cultural ties to Mexico. Others were transnational workers who moved back and forth across the border with ease, spending part of their working lives in each country.

In communities across the country, from San Antonio and Los Angeles to Chicago and Detroit, Mexican Americans created numerous forums for political expression in the first half of the twentieth century: the mutualistas and benevolent associations that educated them about, and instilled pride in, their Mexican heritage; the congresos that brought people together to address common issues and concerns; labor unions such as the Confederación de Uniones de Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos (CUCOM), representing more than 5,000 workers; the civil rights organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which provided legal counsel for some of the most important civil rights cases of the twentieth century; and the veterans groups such as the American G.I. Forum, which represented the hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans who have served their country in the armed forces since the Spanish-American War.

World War II marked a turning point in the history of the Mexican American population. As Americans of all races and ethnicities went to fight overseas, high-paying skilled jobs in factories and war industries suddenly became available to men and women who remained on the home front. Thousands of Mexican Americans relocated to the industrial centers of the country to take advantage of these higher-paying jobs. With higher salaries came a higher standard of living: the opportunity to buy better homes, automobiles, and consumer goods; and the opportunity to be trained in skills that might be used after the war. It also produced a large-scale migration outside the southwestern border states, especially to the Midwest and Great Lakes region.

Over 300,000 Mexican Americans (500,000 Latinos in all) enlisted or were drafted to serve in the armed forces during World War II. They distinguished themselves in battle: Twelve soldiers received the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military distinction, and many more received the Bronze Star, Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, and other military distinctions. Mexican Americans who served overseas were especially affected by their experience. For many, military service provided the first opportunity to leave their segregated communities. Wherever they were stationed, local townspeople regarded them as just another group of American GIs and not second-class citizens. When on furlough they did not have to enter restaurants through back doors or sit at segregated lunch counters, nor were they forced to sit in theater balconies reserved for people of color. When they used public transportation, they could sit in any section. When they returned to the United States, the GI Bill allowed many to attend college for the first time or have access to loans for homes and businesses. These opportunities gave them a glimpse of what full citizenship could actually mean.

However, as veterans of other wars discovered, military service did not always guarantee respect and appreciation once they returned home. One of the saddest episodes of this period involved Private Felix Longoria of Three Rivers, Texas, who died in the Philippines. When Longoria's body was sent back to his home town for burial, the only funeral parlor in town refused to allow his family to use its premises for a memorial service or to bury his body in the local cemetery, both of which were reserved for "whites." The American G.I. Forum, the leading Mexican American veterans' association, was unable to persuade the owners of the funeral parlor. In the end, Congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson intervened and arranged Longoria's burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Even Medal of Honor winners, such as Macario García, of Sugar Land, Texas, soon learned that service to one's country did not change the circumstances of day-to-day living. Despite his many honors, one local diner refused to serve García a meal.

The labor shortages created by World War II led to the creation of the Mexican Farm Labor Program Agreement, popularly known as the bracero program. Over the next two decades, various such agreements were negotiated with the Mexican government. By the time the program was terminated in 1964, approximately 4.6 million Mexican workers had been brought in to work throughout the United States, primarily in agriculture. However, in the 1950s, Mexican workers were once again deported in large numbers, some as part of Operation Wetback (1954), a campaign to crack down on illegal immigration. Estimates of the number of deportees range from half a million to 1.3 million. One of the great ironies of the 1950s, then, was that as the bracero program imported hundreds of thousands of workers from Mexico, the INS was actively deporting hundreds of thousands of those who were undocumented. Since 1990, the H-2A visa program established by that year's Immigration Act has served as a type of bracero program, allowing growers to bring in agricultural workers if they can prove that a labor shortage exists and that these workers will not lower wages for American workers.

Not surprisingly, it was the World War II generation that was at the forefront of the decisive civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s. In the years following the war, legal cases such as Mendez v. Westminster (1946) and Delgado v. Bastrop (1948) successfully challenged the segregation of Latino children in public schools in California and Texas; in cases decided by the Supreme Court, Hernández v. the State of Texas (1954) challenged the exclusion of Mexican Americans from juries and Escobedo v. Illinois (1964) addressed criminal procedure and affirmed the right to counsel. Mexican Americans created a host of new political organizations in the post-war years such as the Viva Kennedy clubs, the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), and the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO), among many others, to encourage voter registration and voting. By 1964, five Mexican Americans had been elected to the U.S. Congress (four to the House of Representatives and one to the Senate), at the time the largest electoral representation of Mexican Americans in national politics in the twentieth century.

Some of the most important accomplishments in civil rights came in the late 1960s and the 1970s, through a series of events collectively known as El Movimiento or the Chicano Movement. Inspired by the Black Civil Rights Movement and especially the Black Power Movement, young activists held rallies, sit-ins, walkouts, and other mass demonstrations to call national attention to the poverty, high school dropout rates, and discrimination faced by Mexican Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities. This generation of activists reappropriated the terms "Chicano" (which had once been a pejorative) and la raza, and drew on Mexican and indigenous symbols and mythology to signify their new cultural identity and political consciousness. To call oneself "Chicano" or "Chicana" meant that one was culturally aware and committed to social justice. Among the most popular symbols of this cultural and political movement was the myth of Aztlán, the belief that the U.S. Southwest was the geographic area from which the first Mexicas originated. Chicanos, it was argued, were thus the true heirs of the Southwest.

A number of individuals and organizations were at the forefront of the civil rights struggles of this period. Cesar Chavez, Gil Padilla, and Dolores Huerta organized the National Farmworkers Association in California (later renamed the United Farmworkers) to strike for better wages and working conditions for the agricultural workers of California and other parts of the Southwest. Reies López Tijerina and the Alianza Federal de Mercedes Libres occupied the Kit Carson National Forest and the county courthouse at Tierra Amarilla, both in New Mexico, to call attention to the intense poverty that resulted from land loss. Rodolfo "Corky" González and the Denver-based Crusade for Justice organized a national conference for Chicano youths in 1969 where they drafted the "Plan Espiritual de Aztlán" to articulate the goals of Chicano activism in the next decade. Chicano college students founded organizations such as the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) to call for educational reforms including a new curriculum that would incorporate the histories of racial and ethnic minorities; the creation of Chicano Studies programs in colleges and universities; and the hiring of Chicano teachers and administrators. José Ángel Gutiérrez and Mario Compean founded a political party, La Raza Unida Party, in 1970 to make the political system more responsive to Chicano needs and concerns. Its first national convention drew over 1,500 participants; and in the 1972 Texas gubernatorial election, the LRUP candidate received 6 percent of the popular vote, a notable accomplishment for a recently-formed third party.

The Chicano Movement saw a corresponding renaissance in the arts and letters. Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino inspired the creation of community theater groups across the southwest to educate and entertain through productions of original works as well as classic Spanish and Latin American works. Alurista (Alberto Urista), Tomás Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Cherrie Morraga, Evangelina Vigil Piñón, Rosemary Catacalos, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, and Carlos Morton are just a few of the many writers and poets who received international attention for their work during this period. Chicano artists, inspired by the works of Mexican muralists Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, used posters and painted on the walls of public buildings to make their art accessible to a broad audience and to celebrate family, community, history, and tradition. Others, such as Santa Barraza, Carmen Lomas Garza, Amado Peña, and Luis Jimenez used more conventional media such as canvas and sculpture. Because "mainstream" institutions rarely published or exhibited the work of Latinos, writers and artists created their own literary journals, newspapers, publishing houses, theaters, and art galleries to showcase their work. Their critical and commercial success eventually forced institutions to take interest. In the early twenty-first century, the works of Chicano and Chicana writers are published by the largest publishing houses and are translated into more than a dozen languages, and their art is exhibited in the leading museums and cultural institutions around the world.

The conservative political shift of the 1980s and 1990s made it difficult to sustain the political activism of the previous two decades. Many of the organizations at the forefront of the Chicano Movement disbanded and their members dispersed, some in disillusionment and frustration, others to take advantage of the new opportunities generated by their activism. Acuña and others have referred to the 1980s as the "Hispanic decade," a reactionary period when Chicanos became more complacent, satisfied by reform rather than revolution, and lost the cultural nationalism they had regarded as essential to addressing the social and economic problems that continued to challenge their communities. However, Chicano activism did result in significant opportunities for a new generation and a growing Latino presence in education, the news media, government, and business. At the same time, there were many signs that each succeeding generation would need to recommit itself to the struggle for equal opportunity: in 2000, one generation after El Movimiento, 44 percent of Latino young adults born outside of the United States (and 27.8 percent of U.S.-born Latinos) had dropped out of school, and Latinos remained overrepresented on the nation's poverty rolls. A new generation of activists continues to address these challenges.


Puerto Ricans, the second-largest Latino group in the United States, are the only Latin American population that migrates to the country as U.S. citizens. As residents of a dependency, or "commonwealth," of the United States, they are exempt from visa requirements and immigration quotas. Given the long American political and cultural presence on the island, some Puerto Rican migrants are also at least nominally exposed to the English language and U.S. political culture before they migrate to the continental United States.

Long before Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory, a small Puerto Rican population lived in the United States, predominantly in the Northeast, consisting of a few thousand merchants, students, and agricultural and factory workers. During the nineteenth century, some of Puerto Rico's leading intellectuals and revolutionary leaders spent part of their adult lives in self-imposed or forced exile in the United States, including Ramón Emeterio Betances, Eugenio María de Hostos, Lola Rodríguez de Tío, and Sotero Figueroa. Many joined forces with Cubans and other Caribbean immigrants to work toward the independence of their countries. Puerto Ricans played a prominent role, for example, in José Martí's Partido Revolucionario Cubano. The poet and exile Lola Rodríguez de Tío described Puerto Rican and Cuban revolutionary causes as "two wings of the same bird."

Even though Spain had granted Puerto Rico autonomy the previous year, the United States acquired it in the 1898 Treaty of Paris that concluded the four-month-long Spanish-American War. The United States established a military government on the island and rejected all appeals for self-rule or for statehood. In 1900, the Foraker Act allowed Puerto Ricans to elect representatives to a House of Delegates, but the president appointed the governor and all top administrators. For the next seventeen years Puerto Ricans were neither citizens of the United States nor citizens of an independent sovereign nation. The Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 finally gave the Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and established a locally elected bicameral legislature. However, the governor continued to be appointed by the president of the United States until 1948, and Congress continued to exercise veto power over all legislation passed by the Puerto Rican legislature. The Jones Act also made Puerto Ricans eligible for the military draft, and Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. armed forces since World War I. It was not until 1948, under pressure from the United Nation's decolonization campaign, that the United States finally permitted Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín, the head of the Partido Democrático Popular (PDP), was elected that year. Four years later, Puerto Ricans drafted their commonwealth constitution.

With the American presence on the island came a radical restructuring of Puerto Rican agricultural production and a transformation of the economy in general. U.S. sugar companies established plantation-style agriculture, displacing small farmers from their lands, and making coffee and tobacco production less important. Sugar production offered employment, at best, for a few months of the year. Many of those who could not find employment in the fields and sugar mills migrated to San Juan and other coastal towns in search of employment in service industries or in the island's small manufacturing sector, where they joined the large unemployed and underemployed population in these cities; others migrated to Cuba, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and the continental United States. More than 6,000 went to Hawaii (then a U.S. territory) during the first decades of the twentieth century as contract labor on sugar cane plantations, but the largest number of migrants went to the continental United States. By the 1920 census, forty-five states reported residents of Puerto Rican heritage. In the continental United States, Puerto Rican men and women established economic niches working in garment and cigar factories, docks and shipyards, and building the infrastructure of American cities.

Migration continued and increased as a result of World War I. The Department of Labor authorized the hiring of some 10,000 temporary contract workers from Puerto Rico to offset labor shortages causes by the war, and at the conclusion of their contracts many stayed in the United States. Until the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans were subject to the immigration laws, but after they received U.S. citizenship their migration was greatly facilitated. Puerto Rican labor became all the more desirable after Congress passed a series of restrictive immigration laws from 1917 to 1927, which essentially barred the migration of Asians and southern and eastern Europeans, and forced American industrialists and employers to look for alternative sources of cheap labor.

While many Puerto Ricans returned to the island during the 1930s, the Great Depression and the drop in world sugar prices only encouraged outmigration because it exacerbated the many problems on the island. By the end of the decade an estimated 36 percent of the population on the island was unemployed. Seven out of ten persons were illiterate and only half of Puerto Rican children attended schools. Life expectancy was forty-six years. Puerto Rican migration to the continental United States increased, especially to New York City. There they settled in the Lower East Side, Chelsea, and Brooklyn, but also established a foothold in East and south central Harlem, henceforth referred to as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio (the District). This largely working class population created dozens of organizations: mutualistas (mutual aid societies), trade unions, cultural and political organizations. Ironically, as residents of the island, they had no right to vote for president or congressional representatives, but once they established residency in the United States they were eligible to do so. Puerto Rican political clubs—both Democratic and Republican—sponsored and endorsed candidates for office, organized voter registration drives, and campaigned for issues important to the community. In 1937, Puerto Ricans elected their first representative to the New York State Legislature, Oscar García Rivera, a Republican from East Harlem. At the same time, Puerto Rican residents of New York continued to maintain an active interest in the politics of their homeland, and actively discussed issues at social and political gatherings, and in press editorials.

Eighteen thousand Puerto Ricans served as members of the American armed forces during World War I, mostly in racially segregated units in Europe or stationed at the Panama Canal. They have served in every war since then. From 1940 to 1946, more than 65,000 Puerto Ricans served in the armed forces, most notably as part of the 295th and 296th Infantry Regiments of the Puerto Rican National Guard, which served in the Pacific Theater. Some 200 Puerto Rican women served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), where some served as linguists and cryptologists. Later, 43,434 Puerto Ricans served in Korea. The 65th Infantry Regiment distinguished itself in battle, receiving a Presidential Unit Citation, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and two Republic of Korea Unit Citations. Individual members of the unit received one Medal of Honor, four Distinguished Service crosses and 124 Silver Stars.

The so-called "Great Migration" of Puerto Ricans began in the wake of World War II and continued for two decades, facilitated by the rise of affordable air transportation and installment credit, and encouraged by the economic developments on the island. Under the guidance of the four-term governor Luis Muñoz Marín, Puerto Rico experienced a radical economic transformation—popularly known as Operation Bootstrap—that benefited some sectors of society but compelled others to leave for the United States. During this period, the Puerto Rican government lured hundreds of U.S. companies to the island through Section 936 of the federal tax code, which offered tax exemptions to Puerto Rican subsidiaries of U.S. companies. The island's ports, transportation and communication networks were developed in preparation for the projected increase in production and trade. By the 1970s Puerto Rico had became one of the top revenue-producers for American companies in Latin America, but Muñoz Marín's goal of diminishing poverty on the island had less spectacular results. For those fortunate enough to find employment in one of the new factories that dotted the landscape, incomes and living standards improved. But a large number of those who migrated to the towns and cities in search of steady employment never found the opportunities they sought, and instead capitalized on the new transportation networks to facilitate their travel to the continent.

By 1960, more than one million Puerto Ricans lived in the continental United States. Once again, New York City was the most popular destination (inspiring the popular term "Nuyorican"), followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, Camden, and other northeastern cities. By the 1950s the migration to the Northeast was so institutionalized that the Migration Division of the commonwealth's Department of Labor established offices in New York City and Camden, New Jersey, to provide referral services to Puerto Rican migrants, as well as to provide information on the island and its population to potential employers, business investors, and labor unions. The Migration Division published a number of reports and brochures for these various constituencies, including the eighty-page illustrated booklet "New York and You" that was distributed to migrants traveling to the city, providing basic information about housing, employment, transportation, medical services, taxes, military service, and legal assistance. The 1960 brochure "How to Hire Agricultural Workers from Puerto Rico" was distributed to growers throughout the United States.

The growth and concentration of this population in New York City in a relatively short period of time generated controversy, and citizens groups unsuccessfully lobbied to restrict further migration into the city. As early as 1949, the mayor's office established an advisory committee on "Puerto Rican affairs" to assist in addressing perceived problems created by this population, and to improve community relations. Puerto Ricans inspired the popular Broadway musical West Side Story (made into a Hollywood film in 1961), which even in the early 2000s, despite its one-dimensional portrayals, continues to be the dramatic work most associated with the Puerto Rican community in the continental United States.

However, a more accurate representation of the experiences of Puerto Rican migrants can be found in the works of the writers and musicians who settled in New York City, Chicago, and other American cities before or as part of the Great Migration. These writers and musicians spoke to an experience that drew on and yet was distinct from the experiences of Puerto Ricans on the island. While many of Puerto Rico's best-known authors used the United States as a setting for some of their novels and short stories, it was not the central setting for all of their work. But for essayists such as Bernardo Vega and Jesus Colón, and later, the writers and poets who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s, such as Piri Thomas, Pedro Pietri, Tato Laviera, Miguel Piñeiro, and others, it was their experience as (im)migrants and ethnic minorities that preoccupied them. Race, class, inequality, language, and puertorriqueñidad acquired new meaning for them as Nuyoricans living in the center of the country that colonized them. Likewise, musicians such as Rafael Hernández composed traditional folk music—the danzas, bombas, and plenas that were popular on the island—but adapted these forms to the unique challenges of life in the United States. Others, such as Tito and Johnny Rodríguez, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, and Johnny Pacheco were among the many Puerto Rican musicians who contributed to the Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz styles that were popular in New York in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and which inspired a distinct musical style that became known as salsa.

For most Americans during the first half of the twentieth century, it was music and sport that first exposed them to Puerto Ricans on and off the island. This was especially true of baseball. Baseball was introduced on the island by Puerto Ricans who had learned the game in the United States. By 1897 Puerto Rico had established its first professional team (Cuba had teams by 1872), and over the next decades, Puerto Rican and Cuban teams competed regularly against American teams. By 1905, baseball players from Puerto Rico were hired to play in the Negro Leagues in the United States. In 1942 Hiram Bithorn became the first Puerto Rican to play major league baseball. Since 1942 approximately 220 players from Puerto Rico have played professional baseball in the United States (one hundred are currently active). Among the early players who distinguished themselves in the sport were Roberto Clemente, who became the first Latino to have 3000 hits and the first to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; Rubén Gómez, the first Puerto Rican player to pitch in a World Series game and win a championship; and Willie Hernandez, the first Puerto Rican to win both the Cy Young award and the American League's Most Valuable Player Award. Many major league players return to Puerto Rico after their regular season to play in Puerto Rico's winter leagues.

Despite their U.S. citizenship, Puerto Ricans faced as many challenges as other immigrants—and perhaps even more, because of the changing economy of New York in the final decades of the twentieth century. By the 1950s there was a grassroots leadership tackling a host of problems that confronted the Puerto Rican population in the United States, from the exceptionally high dropout rates among school students (estimated at 80 percent in 1960) to the high poverty rates to the need for vocational and language training for the changing U.S. labor market. Scores of young, idealistic, and bilingual graduates of universities and professional schools returned to their communities and created organizations to advocate on their behalf, among them the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA); the Puerto Rican Forum; ASPIRA; the Puerto Rican Family Institute; and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. The educator Antonia Pantoja played a key role in the creation of most of these organizations.

By the late 1960s, organizations with a more radical agenda emerged in New York City and Chicago, inspired by the national liberation movements around the world and the civil rights struggles of other racial and ethnic communities at home. According to Andrés Torres, et al. (1998), the core of the new Puerto Rican Movement consisted of eight organizations: the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party U.S. branch, El Comité-Puerto Rican Nationalist Left Movement (MINP), the Puerto Rican Student Union, the Movement for National Liberation, the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN), the Nationalist Party, and the Puerto Rican Independence Party. Most of these organizations focused on both U.S. and island politics, but their goals and strategies varied according to their self-identification. For some groups, it was their nationality as puertorriqueños that was most important, and thus they dedicated their energies to working for Puerto Rican independence. For others it was their status as members of an ethnic/racial minority in the continental United States that was most important, and such organizations concentrated on issues such as discrimination and poverty in their local communities.

The Young Lords was perhaps the best example of an organization that fused both causes. This political organization was founded in Chicago in the 1960s, drawing on the membership of a well-known street gang by the same name that had operated in the city for many years. Most of its members were second-generation children of Puerto Rican agricultural workers who had eventually settled in the immigrant enclaves of Chicago. Inspired by Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers, José "Cha Cha" Jimenez took on the political education of the youths associated with the Young Lords. Among their first activities were protests and demonstrations against the proposed destruction of traditional Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Chicago in the name of urban renewal (which some nicknamed "urban removal"). Over the next decade, chapters of the Young Lords were opened in New York and other major cities to raise the political consciousness of Puerto Rican youth. Working with the Black Panthers and various Chicano organizations, the Young Lords called attention to issues ranging from police brutality to the lack of affordable housing and health care. The organization also provided a number of services to its communities including street cleanup campaigns, legal aid and health clinics, and public information sessions. At the same time, it worked with pro-independence groups on the island, such as the Nationalist Party, to demand an end to Puerto Rico's colonial relationship with the United States, which they argued contributed to the poverty of Puerto Ricans on and off the island.

The most controversial group by far, however, was the FALN, which operated most actively during the period 1974 to 1983. FALN members placed bombs at sites they associated with the oppressors of the Puerto Rican people: the military, the government, and the U.S. capitalist economy. Most of the eighty bombings attributed to the FALN during this period occurred in New York City. The FALN was not the first of the pro-independence organizations to use violence to call attention to its cause, but the fact that the FALN's targets were in the United States rather than on the island drew unusual media coverage. Not since the 1950 attack on Blair House and the 1954 attack in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives by Puerto Rican nationalists had the U.S. press shown any interest in the Puerto Rican independence movement. Dozens of FALN members were eventually arrested and convicted for conspiracy.

As happened with the Chicano Movement, by the mid-1980s, the Puerto Rican Movement was essentially over. The idealism and energy required of activism was hard to sustain over an extended period of time, especially when organizations came under government surveillance. Activists grew weary, fearful, and disillusioned. Infighting was common when members disagreed about goals and strategies. In the early twenty-first century some organizations such as the Young Lords continue to have a visible presence in many communities, but by the 1990s they had lost the media attention or following they had once commanded. Their legacy endures, however. Many community activists were trained in one of these organizations. The emergence of bilingual education programs to help children stay in school, the hiring of Latino faculty and administrators, the growing political clout of Puerto Rican constituencies, the election of Puerto Ricans to public office, the rise of new political and cultural institutions, and the emergence of Puerto Rican and Caribbean studies programs by colleges across the Northeast are all testimony to the social activism of the period.

The literature, music, and popular culture created by Puerto Ricans in the continental United States continues to generate international attention, as voices and forms distinct from those on the island. The list of writers who are read and taught around the world has grown to include Nicholasa Mohr, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Tato Laviera, Sandra María Esteves, Esmeralda Santiago, and Edward Rivera, among many others. Likewise, Puerto Rican jazz, pop, hip-hop, and reggaetón have crossed borders and influenced musical styles around the world.


The majority of the 1.4 million Cuban Americans currently in the United States arrived after 1959, when revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro assumed control of the Cuban government. Over the next forty years, more than one tenth of Cuba's present-day population migrated to the United States, and thousands more to other countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.

The pattern of Cuban migration to the United States was established several centuries earlier, however, the product of commercial ties and geographical proximity. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Cuban merchants and businessmen conducted business and established homes in cities as diverse as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. Criollo elites sent their children to boarding schools and colleges and universities in the United States rather than to Europe. Over time these expatriates established local ties, assumed U.S. citizenship, and even advocated for Cuba's annexation to the United States.

As a result of the Ten Years' War (1868–1878) and La Guerra Chiquita (1879–1880) a larger and more diverse migration from Cuba occurred during the final decades of the nineteenth century. The wars caused massive destruction of property and life, and the drop in world sugar prices in the years after the wars further devastated Cuba's colonial economy. While the Spanish Crown offered some political and economic concessions in the aftermath of these revolutionary wars, including the emancipation of Cuba's slaves, the political and economic turmoil pushed thousands of Cubans of all races and social classes to the United States.

The expanding cigar industry in the U.S. provided employment to thousands of these displaced Cuban workers. Florida, Louisiana, and New York, in particular, became important production centers in the American tobacco and cigar industry and attracted large numbers of Cuban workers. By 1895 distinct Cuban communities existed in Key West, Tampa, Martí City (in Ocala, Florida), Jacksonville, New Orleans, and New York City. Tampa and its cigar factory district, Ybor City, had the largest concentration and became the heart of the Cuban expatriate community. Interestingly, the first Cuban elected to public office in the United States was elected in the nineteenth century, not in the twentieth as is generally believed: Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Castillo, the son of the Cuban insurgent leader, was elected mayor of Key West in 1876. All in all, more than 100,000 Cuban expatriates are believed to have settled outside of Cuba by 1900, the majority of them in the United States by the end of the nineteenth century.

Migration continued even after Cuba achieved independence. Because of the close proximity between the two countries, and the higher wages across the Florida straits, it was not uncommon for some Cuban workers to spend at least part of their adult working lives working in the United States. Records show that from 1920 to the eve of the Cuban revolution, an estimated 130,000 Cubans migrated to the United States, although these figures are probably an undercount. They came from all different classes, motivated by a variety of political and economic concerns, and most migrated with the intention of one day returning to their homeland to enjoy the hard-earned fruits of their labor in the United States. Joining these transnational workers were thousands more who came temporarily to the United States to vacation, to study, to invest or transact business, all contributing to the Cuban presence. By the eve of Castro's revolution, there were dozens of daily flights linking Havana and Miami alone. Just one airline, Pan American, scheduled twenty-eight daily flights between the two cities, and during peak travel periods, flights left every twenty minutes.

Cubans influenced American popular culture as much as Americans influenced theirs—in food, music, sports, and dance. From the music and dance rhythms of the mambo and cha cha crazes in the 1940s and 1950s to the baseball and boxing greats who inspired young boys around the country, Cubans left their mark on American popular culture. Entertainers such as Frank "Machito" Grillo and his Afro-Cuban band, Beny Moré, Desi Arnaz, and Chano Pozo found welcoming fans in the United States. The roster of Cubans who distinguished themselves in American sports during this period was equally impressive, from Minnie Minoso and Camilo Pascual in baseball to Kid Chocolate and Kid Gavilán in boxing.

After 1959 Cuba's historic ties to the United States once again made it logical that Cuban exiles would turn to the United States for political and economic refuge. Cuban migration to the United States occurred in distinct waves. The first wave occurred between January 1, 1959, to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and brought a quarter million Cubans to the United States. Whereas the first to leave were those who were in some way connected to the old regime, the majority of the exiles were members of the disaffected middle class who became increasingly alienated by the social upheaval and the political and economic transformation that followed Castro's rise to power. Agrarian and urban reform laws changed the character of ownership and production and placed most properties under the control of the state. Basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly were restricted, and the monitoring of the population became common under the watchful eyes of neighborhood committees called CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). Shortages in basic food staples and consumer goods, brought on by the restructuring of the Cuban economy and later by the trade embargo imposed by the United States and several other nations, also affected Cubans across society. These and other factors proved to be decisive in forcing many people to leave their country. For those who left Cuba, the general feeling was that their popular nationalist revolution had been betrayed in favor of a communist one.

The migration out of Cuba followed a logical socioeconomic progression. The elites were the first to leave, followed by members of the middle and working classes. By 1962 the majority of émigrés were office and factory employees, artisans, and skilled and semi-skilled laborers. Arriving in the midst of the Cold War, the Cubans became powerful symbols for Americans of the clash between democracy and authoritarianism, between free enterprise and communism. Laws were bent or broken to facilitate the Cubans' entrance into the United States and to accommodate them once they had arrived.

Most Cubans who traveled to the United States did so under the assumption that they were exiles and not immigrants in the traditional sense of the term, and that they would soon return to their homeland. Because of the United States' long history of involvement in Cuban affairs, and in other parts of Latin America, they believed that it was only a matter of time before the United States intervened to depose Castro. They were correct: In 1960 the CIA began planning an invasion to overthrow the revolutionary government, an effort that culminated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Until they could return home, the majority of exiles settled in South Florida because of its geographic proximity, its familiarity, and the existence of a resident Cuban population of some 30,000. South Florida's similarity to Cuba in topography and climate was an added bonus.

Under the Kennedy administration the federal government assumed a more assertive role in refugee relief efforts. President Kennedy established a Cuban Refugee Program within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that provided Cubans with monthly relief checks, health services, job retraining, adult educational opportunities, surplus food distribution, and resettlement to other parts of the country where jobs were more plentiful than in South Florida's tourism-based economy. The program also oversaw foster care for the more than 14,000 Cuban children who arrived in the United States unaccompanied as part of operation Peter Pan. By the time the program was phased out in 1975, it had spent $957 million for resettlement, relief, and other services.

Air traffic between the two countries ceased after the missile crisis, but during the next three years approximately 60,000 Cubans still found a way to reach the United States. The majority came via third countries, particularly Spain and Mexico, arriving with immigrant visas acquired at the U.S. embassies in those countries, or they sailed clandestinely from Cuba on small boats, rafts, and even inner tubes.

A second wave of Cuban migration began in September 1965 when Fidel Castro announced that Cubans with relatives in the United States who wished to leave the island would be permitted to do so. He designated the small fishing port of Camarioca as the port of departure for would-be emigrants and urged Cubans in the United States to return to the island by their own means to transport their families out of Cuba. The Johnson administration reacted quickly to exert control over the migration. Castro's announcement coincided with the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, and President Johnson announced that the United States was willing to accept more refugees from Cuba but wanted greater say in determining who migrated and in what numbers. Representatives from the two countries met and negotiated a "memorandum of understanding": The United States agreed to send chartered planes to the seaport town of Varadero each day, transporting between three and four thousand Cubans each month. The flights continued until April 1975 when the Castro government once again halted emigration to the United States. By then 3,048 "freedom flights" had carried three hundred thousand refugees to the United States.

The end of the freedom flights did not stall Cuban migration to the United States. Several thousand more Cubans emigrated to the United States. over the next few years via third countries or by sailing illegally to the Florida shore. By September 1977 the total number of Cubans to arrive in the United States since January 1, 1959, through legal and illegal channels reached 665,043. Unlike undocumented immigrants from other countries, Cubans who arrived illegally were allowed to stay in the United States.

The third and most controversial wave of migration of the Castro era occurred during a five-month period in 1980. Echoing his actions fifteen years earlier, Castro announced in April of 1980 that all who desired to leave Cuba would be permitted to do so, and once again he invited Cuban exiles to sail to Cuba—this time to the port of Mariel—to pick up their relatives. Hundreds of exiles took him up on his offer and sailed across the Florida straits to pick up their relatives and any other compatriots who wished to leave the island. 124,776 Cubans arrived in the U.S. from April to October 1980 in what became known as the "Mariel boatlift."

However, in contrast to the previous two waves of migration, the Castro government dictated the terms. As the migration was underway, it became clear that the Castro government was using the boatlift to rid the country of people it considered undesirables. Cuban police removed citizens from hospitals, jails, and other institutions and forced them to board boats against their will. Cubans navigating the vessels were forced to take extra passengers whether they wanted to or not. As they sailed back to Key West, many sailboats and yachts sank from the additional weight, and passengers had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

An estimated 1,500 of those who arrived in South Florida suffered from various mental and physical disabilities. Some 26,000 reported criminal records. Estimates varied, but of these 26,000, approximately 2,000 had committed serious felonies in Cuba, and once identified, most of these were sent directly to prisons in the United States to await deportation. The majority of the offenders had served time either for lesser crimes or for activities not criminalized in the United States. Under Cuba's ley de peligrosidad (law of dangerousness) Cubans could be incarcerated for gambling, drug addiction, homosexuality, prostitution, buying or selling on the black market, and promoting "subversive" ideas. The news media in the United States concentrated on the sensational news that the Castro government had "unloaded its undesirables" on the American people. The Cubans of Mariel were branded and stigmatized.

In the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assumed responsibility for coordinating refugee relief efforts. Finding sponsors became an especially difficult task because close to half of the Cubans had no friends or family in the United States, and the negative publicity scared away many potential sponsors. The federal government opened up three military camps to house the refugees: Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania; and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Almost half the Mariel immigrants, 65,541 people, waited for sponsorship in one of these camps; some stayed a few days, others remained for more than a year.

Demographically, the Cubans of Mariel were different from the Cubans who had arrived during the 1960s. The Mariel population was disproportionately male, younger by about ten years (averaging thirty years of age), contained a higher percentage of Blacks (roughly 20 percent), and reflected a wider geographic distribution. Despite these differences, the Cubans of Mariel had much in common with the working-class Cubans who emigrated during the freedom flights, especially in their occupational history. In education, they rated slightly higher, having completed more years of schooling than their earlier working-class compatriots.

The Mariel migration was most distinctive, however, in how it was perceived by the federal government and the larger society. Unlike the Cubans who immigrated from 1959 to 1973, the Cubans of Mariel were not considered legitimate refugees. The Justice Department determined that under the terms of the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act (which came into effect a month before the boat-lift), the Cubans did not qualify for refugee status nor for the special assistance offered to those who held that status. This marked the first time since the Cold War began that the government denied refugee status to individuals leaving a communist state. For the next four years they held the ambiguous status of "entrant: status pending." It was not until 1984 that the Cubans of Mariel were able to regularize their status.

During the 1990s, the number of Cubans who sailed clandestinely to the United States increased dramatically as a result of the worsening economic conditions after the fall of the Soviet bloc. Soviet subsidies—estimated at $6 billion per year—evaporated; and a series of agricultural crises caused even greater shortages in basic consumer goods. Cubans, desperate to improve their economic situation, took to the seas on homemade rafts. During 1990 alone, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 467 balseros (rafters), but their numbers increased steadily over the next few years. In 1993, the Coast Guard picked up 3,656 balseros, prompting Cuban American pilots to form an organization called Hermanos al Rescate (Brothers to the Rescue) to patrol the Florida straits by helicopter and small plane, to alert the Coast Guard and assist with the rescue missions.

The balsero crisis peaked during the summer of 1994. Despite warnings from the Clinton administration that balseros would henceforth be redirected to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base on Cuban soil, the balseros kept leaving the island. During the last two weeks of August 1994, the U.S. Coast Guard picked up an average of 1,500 each day. With no end to the migration in sight, the Clinton administration was forced to negotiate another migration accord with the Castro government. Under the terms of the 1994 agreement, the United States committed itself to accept a minimum of 20,000 per year, and the Castro government finally agreed to intercept any balseros, and to accept the Cubans detained at Guantanamo without reprisals. However, the 1994 accord has not stopped illegal boat traffic to the United States or to other countries.

Cuban Americans are often portrayed as one of the most successful immigrant groups in recent history. In the course of just one generation they came to occupy important positions in key institutions of South Florida society: colleges and universities, labor unions, political parties, the news media, and city government. Beyond South Florida, they are well-represented in the Florida state capital at Tallahassee; in Washington, D.C.; Wall Street; Hollywood; and even Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The roster of Cuban Americans who are immediately recognizable in American popular culture include actors Andy García and Cameron Díaz, singers Gloria Estefan and the late Celia Cruz, athletes Orlando "El Duque" Hernández and José Canseco, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Oscar Hijuelos, the late Academy Award-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros, fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez, and television personalities Bob Vila and Cristina Saralegui. Cubans have created the wealthiest Latino business community in the nation and are credited with the "Miami Miracle"—turning a sleepy resort town into a bustling metropolis, the so-called "Gateway to the Americas," the "capital of Latin America."

Cubans did especially well in Florida, and particularly the immigrant enclave of Miami. As early as 1980, they exhibited the highest income and educational levels of the three largest Latino groups, levels that were only slightly below the national average. The Cubans' success was attributed to several factors. On the individual or family level, the structure of the Cuban family ensured success because it was built around economic cooperation. Women had a high rate of participation in the labor force. As early as 1970, they constituted the largest proportionate group of working women in the United States. Many Cuban households also contained three generations, and the elderly contributed to the families' economic well-being directly, by salaries or Social Security benefits, or indirectly, by raising children and assuming household responsibilities. These factors, along with the Cubans' low fertility rates and high levels of school enrollment, facilitated their families' comparatively quick economic integration. The U.S. government's initial investment in their financial future through the job retraining programs of the Cuban Refugee Program also contributed to their success.

On the broader community level, the Cubans created prosperous businesses, built with the skills and capital of the middle-to-upper-class exiles that comprised the first wave of immigrants. Some of the wealthier Cubans were fortunate to have had money invested in U.S. banks at the time of the revolution, and when they settled in Miami or other cities they invested that capital in new business ventures. The middle classes did not have that type of capital, but they did have the kinds of skills and business know-how that transferred across borders. They identified the needs of the growing exile community and built businesses catering to those needs. When the major banks would not lend start-up money to Cuban entrepreneurs without collateral—which only the wealthier emigrés had—the smaller banks in the area (some Cuban or Latin American-owned) lent applicants money on the basis of their reputations back in Cuba. By the late 1960s, Cuban entrepreneurs also had access to loans from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). Over time South Florida became home to a thriving entrepreneurial community, which provided job opportunities for the new immigrants arriving each year from Cuba and all over Latin America, assisting their assimilation into the economic mainstream.

The Cuban presence attracted domestic and international investments and helped convert Miami into a major production, trade and commercial center linking North and South America. Many U.S. industries, particularly the garment and textile industries, relocated to South Florida to take advantage of the large, initially non-union, labor pool. By 1980, more than a hundred multinational corporations had established regional offices in the Miami area, eager to take advantage of a large bilingual Cuban middle class adept at doing business in the Americas. The Port of Miami replaced New Orleans as the chief port of trade with Latin America, and Miami International Airport became one of the busiest airports in the world.

U.S.-born Cuban Americans fare better than their Cuban-born elders, and better than the non-Hispanic white population: By 2000 26.1 percent of second-generation Cuban Americans were educated beyond the high school level, as compared to 20.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 36.9 percent of U.S.-born Cuban Americans had incomes above $50,000, as compared to 18.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites. U.S.-born Cubans, however, are less likely to vote than their elders. Although turnout in presidential elections has reached more than 90 percent in some years, only 50 to 60 percent of Cuban Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four vote, and fewer than 30 percent of those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five turn out.

The political activism of the first generation of Cuban immigrants generates even more media attention than their economic success, since they are believed to exert an influence that far exceeds their numbers. Those who arrived in the 1960s immediately became entangled in the politics of U.S. foreign policy decisions. The Bay of Pigs invasion, the commando raids of Operation Mongoose, and the CIA's secret war against Castro are just a few examples of how the refugees were employed in military actions against their homeland. Elsewhere around the world, Cuban exiles played supporting roles in East-West struggles in the Congo, in Vietnam, and in Nicaragua. Not surprisingly, by the 1980s, Cuban Americans had tired of their role assisting other liberation efforts as well as their inability to bring about democratic change in their homeland. They abandoned paramilitary activities and turned to more traditional political strategies, namely, voting, advocacy, and lobbying. Because Cuban naturalization and voting participation rates exceeded those of other immigrants from Latin America, they positioned themselves to play an important role in the domestic affairs of the United States. Literally hundreds of political organizations have emerged in the Cuban exile/Cuban American communities, from the left Brigada Antonio Maceo to the rightist Cuban Liberty Council, to influence U.S. policy according to their vision of what Cuban society should look like. While the news media portrays the Cuban immigrant community as politically monolithic, the population has always been extremely heterogeneous.

Since 2000, Cuban Americans have become increasingly conflicted over the proper course of action for the United States to take in regard to Cuba. A 2000 poll conducted by Florida International University, for example, revealed that Cuban Americans acknowledged that the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba was a failed policy, but more than 60 percent favored enforcing it anyway. However, the poll also revealed that more than half of the Cuban Americans also favored selling medicine and food to Cuba, establishing dialogue and permitting unrestricted air travel to the island, which calls into question their understanding and commitment to the political concept of an embargo. Other public opinion polls also suggest that there is a cleavage between first and second generations, and between those who arrived before and after 1980. In a 2003 poll, 72 percent of Cuban American respondents between the ages of eighteen and forty-five said that spending time and money to improve their quality of life in the United States was more important than working for a regime change on the island, and 68 percent believed that Cubans on the island should be the ones to decide when and if their political system should change. Similarly, immigrants who arrived after 1980 are more likely to favor more open relations between the two countries because they still have relatives on the island. According to sociologists Susan Eckstein and Lorena Barbería, those who arrived after 1980 are more likely to admit migrating for economic as well as political reasons, and the more Cubans emigrate for income-earning purposes, the less likely they are to let politics stand in the way of transnational family ties. However, because these Cuban Americans are more recent arrivals, they are less likely to be naturalized and registered to vote and thus to play a role in shaping U.S.-Cuba relations. Like the second-generation Cuban Americans, their views on Cuba are less well-represented in political races and elections.

It is unclear how many Cubans would actually return to their homeland if the democratic changes that they insist upon were actually implemented. It is probable that those who have raised families in the United States would stay because over the course of a generation they have established ties in the United States, in spite of their original intentions. Those most likely to return are those who are disaffected or have lived in the United States a comparatively shorter period of time. Regardless of how many people return, the shared history and the geographical proximity between the two nations will guarantee the reemergence of a transnational working class that will migrate back and forth across the Florida straits, and play an active role in both economies and political systems.


Migration from the Dominican Republic is largely a late-twentieth century phenomenon. For much of its history, the country was an importer of workers rather than an exporter. There is no tradition of Dominican contract agricultural labor in the United States, as there is for the Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. However, since 1961, political and economic developments on the island have encouraged large-scale migration to the United States (and to Puerto Rico), and in the early twenty-first century Dominicans are one of the fastest growing Latino populations.

Like many other immigrants from the Caribbean, they migrate to the United States because of the historic ties between both countries. U.S. efforts to annex the Dominican Republic were blocked by the Senate in 1869, but the American presence on the island expanded nonetheless. Over the next century, the United States maintained an active interest in the Dominican Republic, not only because of American investments and the growing American population on the island, but because of the island's strategic location in the Caribbean, along the approaches to the Panama Canal. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States blocked European intervention in Dominican affairs; restructured and oversaw the repayment of the Dominican Republic's foreign debt; and in 1905, created the General Customs Receivership to administer the finances of the government. After President Ramon Cáceres was assassinated in 1905 and warring factions threatened the stability of the country, President Taft sent a commission to broker a peace, accompanied by a 750-man unit of marines. The Marines were sent in once more, in 1916, to restore the peace, and remained on the island until 1924. During this period a U.S. military government oversaw all aspects of Dominican society, from law enforcement to the national budget. By the 1920s Americans also controlled almost all aspects of Dominican sugar production.

When the U.S. Marines finally left the island, one of the American institutions that remained was the Guardia Nacional. Rafael Trujillo rose through the ranks of the Guardia, and used his connections and influence to become the country's president in 1928. He ruled directly or through puppet presidents for the next three decades, ruthlessly eliminating his most vocal critics at home or in exile. In 1937 he ordered the massacre of more than 20,000 Haitians living in the country. Thousands of his countrymen were tortured and/or "disappeared" for speaking against him. Even foreign presidents became his targets: In 1960, he tried to have Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt assassinated. This event, more than any other, provoked the ire of the U.S. government, and in 1961, Trujillo was assassinated (with weapons reportedly provided by the CIA). By the time of his assassination, he had amassed an enormous fortune, controlling two-thirds of the country's sugar production and 35 percent of all arable land.

Trujillo's government had restricted the number of passports given to Dominican citizens, and consequently his assassination opened the door to a large-scale migration out of the country. During the 1950s only 990 Dominicans were permitted to emigrate, but between 1961 and 1986, 372,817, or five percent of the population in 1986, emigrated legally to the United States. Migration was especially heavy during the first three terms of Joaquin Balaguer's presidency (1966–1978) because of the economic changes on the island. On the surface, many of these changes were good: Industry expanded creating new jobs and opportunities, especially in the new industrial export zones; the gross domestic product increased; and there was a substantial growth in the number of students going on to vocational schools and colleges. However, the new industrial zones on the island failed to offer sufficient high-paying jobs to accommodate internal migration. Economic conditions deteriorated during the administration of Antonio Guzmán, which coincided with the world economic crisis of the 1970s. The stage for a large migration was set.

Those who emigrated to the United States did so in search of jobs or higher incomes, to continue their educations, or to join family members. By the 1980s most emigrants were from urban areas and were relatively better educated and more highly skilled than the Dominican population as a whole. Currently 77 percent of all Dominican emigrants live and work in the New York metropolitan area, which is home to the largest concentration of Dominicans outside the Dominican Republic (prompting one sociologist to coin the term Dominicanyorks for them). There they are concentrated in manufacturing and in the retail trades. In New York City, they settled in Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan, which is regarded as the heart of the Dominican community in the U.S. Over a third of Dominicans in the U.S. live in Washington Heights (nicknamed "Quisqueya Heights"). Other large concentrations were established in New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. An estimated 200,000 Dominicans live in Puerto Rico, many of them without documentation. One common and dangerous way to enter the country is to travel on a yola (a small boat) across the Mona Channel to Puerto Rico, sometimes with the assistance of a paid smuggler. Once in Puerto Rico, it is easier to acquire the documents and mannerisms that will help them "pass" as Puerto Rican if they choose to continue on to the United States.

By 2000, the Dominican population in the United States had grown to 1.4 million, making it the fourth-largest Latino population in just one generation. Because of its concentration in New York, most Americans outside the Northeast are unfamiliar with this Latino population. Their principal exposure to it is through the sport of baseball. More Dominicans have played professional baseball than any other Latin American group: Since 1956, 448 Dominican-born players have played major league baseball in the United States, and several U.S. teams openly scout (and run highly controversial training camps) for very young prospective players in the Dominican Republic. Among the contemporary players who have attracted extraordinary media attention are Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa. For non-sports lovers, however, the works of author Julia Alvarez, which have been adapted to film, have provided some introduction to the Dominican population.

Unemployment rates among U.S. Dominicans are high: The mean annual per capita household income of the Dominican population in the United States was $11,065 in 1999, or half of the national average. Female-headed households in New York City were among the most likely to live in poverty. However, the socioeconomic data shows that the U.S.-born population is making significant strides. In 2000, close to 60 percent of all Dominicans born in the United States who were 25 years of age or older had received some college education, with 21.9 percent completing a college education. In New York City, Dominican high school retention rates exceeds that of other Latinos.

Despite the poverty of the first generation, cash remittances from Dominicans living abroad have become an integral part of the Dominican national economy. Remittances are sent to support family members, finance higher education, buy land, or establish family businesses. An estimated 71 percent of Dominicans in the United States send remittances on a regular basis, amounting to $1.6 billion per year (with an additional $1.1 billion coming from emigrants in Europe and other parts of the Americas). Much of the new construction in the country has been financed by the remittances sent by family members abroad.


Like the Dominicans, the majority of Central Americans arrived in the late twentieth century. By 1970, tens of thousands of Central Americans lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Miami, and Washington D.C. and its suburbs, and a few other cities. As the wars in Central America escalated and affected neighboring countries, these smaller northern populations served as magnets. The 1980 U.S. census, for example, counted 94,447 Salvadorans and 63,073 Guatemalans, and close to half had arrived in the previous five years. Their numbers increased dramatically after 1980, especially from Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Only a small percentage of the Central Americans who arrived in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s came with immigrant visas. Some entered with some type of temporary visa such as a student or tourist visa and simply stayed once it expired, but the majority arrived illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border. The Central Americans who came to the United States were a cross-section of their societies: urban and rural dwellers, factory and agricultural workers, students and professionals, young and old. Some traveled alone; others came as part of family units. All were trying to escape the generalized climate of violence in their countries.

Those who arrived in the United States after 1980 encountered a society that was less than enthusiastic about their arrival. Since the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, the United States had accommodated millions of immigrants and refugees from a variety of countries, but the welcome had worn thin. The influx of so many people from so many parts of the world in a relatively short period of time contributed to an anti-immigrant backlash that led to the passage of four new pieces of legislation during the 1980s and 1990s to control their numbers.

The majority of Central Americans did not qualify for asylum in the United States under the terms of the recently passed 1980 Refugee Act. The 1980 act adopted the United Nations' definition of refugee expanded by the 1967 Protocol, in an attempt to standardize the process by which people were officially recognized as refugees and asylees. Prior to 1980, U.S. Cold War policies rewarded those fleeing communist nations. But after 1980 a petitioner for asylum had to prove certain conditions: a refugee was a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself to the protection of that country." The challenge, then, was to provide evidence of a well-founded fear of persecution, and in practice the evaluation of that evidence continued to be politicized. By 1990 more than 90 percent of the refugee admissions from abroad came from communist countries. For the next decade, then, refugees from Central America and their advocates faced an uphill legal battle.

A vocal segment of the U.S. population challenged U.S. refugee policy as a means of protesting U.S. foreign policy in Central America. These Americans argued that the United States had a legal obligation to protect the refugees based on domestic precedent and the international conventions to which it was a signatory, and a moral obligation to do so based on its long history of economic exploitation of the region as well as the role it was then playing in supporting corrupt military regimes and death squads. Much of their energy focused on the campaign to win Eventual Voluntary Departure (EVD) status for Central Americans, especially for the Salvadorans who were believed to be in the most desperate situation. EVD, popularly known as "safe haven," would allow Salvadorans to remain legally in the United States until conditions improved in their homeland. In 1983 Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Arizona) and Representative Joseph Moakley (D-Massachusetts) introduced the first safe haven legislation for Salvadorans, which was debated on and off for the next seven years.

Community groups along the U.S.-Mexico border mobilized to provide Central American refugees with shelter, medical attention, and legal and psychological counseling. The Border Association for Refugees from Central America (BARCA), for example, provided food, shelter, and clothing to the refugees; raised funds to pay the bail bonds of detainees at Port Isabel and other detention centers; and located sponsor families for refugee children alone in this country. Groups such as Proyecto Libertad, El Rescate, the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), the Rio Grande Defense Committee, Texas Rural Legal Aid, and the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project provided free legal counseling and representation. Shelters for the refugees sprang up throughout the Southwest, including Casa Oscar Romero, in the border town of San Benito, Texas, just outside the Brownsville city limits. By the mid-1980s thousands of Americans were engaged in one of the most important acts of civil disobedience of the late twentieth century: the sanctuary movement, a grass-roots resistance movement that protested U.S. foreign policy through the harboring and transporting of refugees, in violation of immigration law.

In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) that tried to reduce illegal immigration by expanding the border patrol and penalizing employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers. A key provision in the law was an amnesty program that allowed undocumented workers to regularize their status if they could prove that they had entered the country prior to January 1, 1982. Under IRCA's amnesty program 277,642 Central Americans were able to legalize their status (60 percent Salvadorans, 25.4 percent Guatemalans, and 6 percent Nicaraguans, and the remainder from other countries). However, the majority of Central American refugees arrived after January 1982, making them ineligible.

As the Border Patrol increased its surveillance of the U.S.-Mexico border, detention centers along the border filled to capacity with the people the Border Patrol called "OTMs" (Other than Mexicans). Abuses at detention centers in Texas and California, especially Port Isabel (popularly known as el corralón, or "the yard"), Los Fresnos, and El Centro, prompted numerous lawsuits, including Noe Castillo Núñez, et al. v. Hal Boldin, et al.; Orantes-Hernández, et al. v. Smith, et al.; El Rescate Legal Services, Inc., et al. v. Executive Office for Immigration Review, et al.; and INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca. U.S. judges hearing these cases ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the INS to inform detainees of their right to petition for asylum, to meet with legal counsel, and to have their legal rights explained in Spanish and English. According to the courts, no one could be deported or coerced to sign voluntary departure forms without being informed of these rights. But over the next few years, these injunctions were repeatedly violated. None of the lawsuits halted the deportation of Central Americans.

The decisions handed down in the various lawsuits against the INS did serve to buttress a larger class-action lawsuit against the government filed by eighty religious and refugee assistance groups, with the goal of securing asylum for Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees. The 1991 settlement of American Baptist Churches in the USA, et al. v. Edwin Meese III and Alan Nelson (popularly known as the ABC lawsuit) assisted Salvadorans and Guatemalans to remain in the United States. Among the requirements of the settlement were the following: a) Salvadorans and Guatemalans still in the United States, whether previous petitioners for asylum or not, were entitled to a new adjudication process to be overseen by a newly trained corps of asylum officers; b) petitioners were entitled to work authorization while they awaited decisions in their cases; and c) asylum officers were not allowed to consider prior denials of asylum in their deliberations, nor the petitioners' countries of origin, nor the State Department's opinions and recommendations, but were allowed to consider human rights reports from nongovernmental agencies such as Amnesty International. The settlement agreement stipulated that "the fact that an individual is from a country whose government the United States supports or with which it has favorable relations is not relevant to the determination of whether an applicant for asylum had a well-founded fear of persecution."

The ABC settlement overturned more than 150,000 cases, granting new hearings to Salvadorans who had entered the United States before September 19, 1990, and all Guatemalans who had entered before October 1, 1990. In a parallel development, Congress passed the omnibus Immigration Act of 1990, which included the statutory basis for safe haven by creating a category called Temporary Protected Status (TPS). More than 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States registered for TPS. On the expiration of their TPS status, Salvadorans became eligible for a new category, Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), which delayed deportation for one year.

Through TPS, DED, and the new asylum adjudication process, Salvadorans now had more vehicles through which to negotiate their legal stay in the United States. For sanctuary workers, legal counsel, and all those involved in the protests of the 1980s, these developments were a significant victory. Nicaraguan immigrants, in turn, won a major victory in 1997 when Congress passed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) which offered suspension of deportation to Nicaraguans who could prove that they had been continuously present in the United States as of December 1, 1995. Salvadorans and Guatemalans benefited from this law as well: They too qualified if they could prove seven years of continual residence in the United States, good moral character, and that deportation would cause extreme hardship to themselves, their spouses or their legally resident children.

One of the legacies of the Central American refugee crisis was the increased surveillance of the U.S.-Mexico border. By 2000 more 10,000 agents served in the Border Patrol, most of them along the Mexican border. Miles of new fences were erected with remote video surveillance systems. As a result, apprehensions of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and other parts of the Americas increased to 1.64 million in 2000.

While there was some return migration after the 1990 Nicaraguan elections and after peace accords were signed in El Salvador in 1992 and Guatemala in 1996, the migration of undocumented Central Americans continued as a result of ongoing criminal and political violence, as well as natural disasters that have caused economic disruption and exacerbated poverty. Migration from Honduras and Nicaragua increased exponentially as a result of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and from El Salvador after the earthquakes of 2001. By 2004 Salvadoran officials estimated that nearly one fourth of Salvadorans lived in the United States. These communities send billions of dollars in remittances to their homelands each year.


South Americans are among the most understudied of the Latino populations, perhaps because of their fairly recent arrival. Close to half of the 1.9 million South American immigrants in the United States today (46.7 percent) have arrived since 1990, mostly from Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Colombia. The four largest populations overall are the Colombians, Ecuadorans, Peruvians, and Brazilians, with Colombians comprising the largest South American group (26.4 percent in 2000). Socioeconomic status varies from group to group: those from Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil are among the most likely to have a college degree or higher, while those born in Ecuador, Guyana, and Colombia are the least likely; Argentines and Venezuelans have the highest median incomes, while Colombians and Ecuadorans have the lowest. But overall, as a group, the rates of education, employment, and income are comparable to that of other foreign-born populations in the United States.

South Americans reflect a variety of migration experiences. Some have migrated as political refugees from rightist or leftist regimes; others are more traditional immigrants and sojourners, migrating alone or as part of family units, trying to improve their economic prospects.

During the 1970s thousands of Brazilians, Uruguayans, Argentines, and Chileans sought refuge in other countries to escape the authoritarian military governments in their homelands. Most of them did not fit the general U.S. profile of refugees because they were not fleeing communist governments; rather they were fleeing governments regarded as strong allies of the United States, which did not attract the sympathy of Cold War-minded politicians in Congress. Consequently, the numbers of refugees from South America admitted to the U.S. during the 1970s were comparatively small. Other countries, most notably Canada, had a better record of accommodating those fleeing rightist regimes. Such was the case with the Chileans who fled their homeland after September 11, 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected Socialist government of Salvador Allende.

In order to buttress Pinochet's pro-U.S. military government, U.S. aid to Chile increased from $10.1 million in 1973 to $177.3 million in 1975 despite overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses. Much of that aid was used to equip the military, which played a key role in controlling the population and silencing dissidents. Thousands were imprisoned, raped, and tortured. More than 3,000 were executed or made to "disappear." Thousands more took refuge in foreign embassies in the capital city of Santiago or crossed the border into neighboring countries. But even exile could not offer total protection; there were cases of Chilean refugees who were kidnapped in the countries where they had taken refuge and returned to Chile for "interrogation." One of the most notorious cases involved former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier, who was assassinated in Washington, D.C., in 1976 by agents of Pinochet's secret police, DINA. A bomb exploded under his car, killing Letelier and his personal assistant Ronni Karpen Moffitt, an American, and wounding her husband.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) tried to rescue those detained in Chile's prisons, negotiating with the Pinochet government to relocate them to other countries. Hoping to improve its international reputation, in 1975 the Pinochet government announced that sentences could be commuted if the prisoners agreed to emigrate. Dozens of countries assisted the UNHCR's efforts to find new homes for the political prisoners and dissidents, and by 1979 some 30,000 Chilean refugees had been resettled throughout Europe and Latin America. The United States delayed participating in the resettlement program because congressional leaders expressed concern that the pro-Allende refugees might pose a security threat. Congressional bills introduced by Representative Robert Drinan and Senator Edward Kennedy (both D-Massachusetts) to support the Chilean refugees failed to gain support in either house.

However, the news media kept the human rights abuses in Chile on the front pages of U.S. newspapers, and this public pressure, as well as the pressure exerted by international organizations, forced the State and Justice departments to act. In 1976 the United States enacted a limited parole program for the Chilean refugees. The United States agreed to accept Chile's political prisoners as long as they did not claim membership in the Communist Party. The Inter-Governmental Committee on European Migration (ICEM) acted as liaison between the prisoners and the U.S. government, assisting them to fill out the necessary paperwork. It took months and sometimes years to navigate the bureaucracy: Applicants were subjected to rigorous security screenings by U.S. Embassy personnel and the Chilean government; and the INS had to locate a sponsor for each refugee and his or her family. Once approved, the Chileans received "parolee" status, allowing them to legally enter the United States, but they received no assistance comparable to that offered to Cuban refugees a decade earlier. Instead, they had to sign a declaration of nonintervention in the political affairs of the United States, and had to agree to reimburse the U.S. government for travel expenses once they became economically self-supporting. By 1977, only 1,100 Chileans had resettled in the United States.

Similarly, the Argentine military junta that removed Isabel Perón from the presidency in 1976 maintained its grip on power by silencing dissents. During the period known as the "Dirty War" (1976–1983), those suspected of working against the government "disappeared," that is, were taken to secret government detention centers where they were tortured and eventually killed. Between fifteen and thirty thousand people are believed to have become desaparecidos, including members of minority groups and Chilean and Uruguayan refugees who had fled to Argentina to escape their own countries' rightist regimes. Thousands of Argentines fled their country during this period, mostly to neighboring countries, but others as far away as Europe and North America, to await a change in the political climate.

The majority of those who have emigrated from Argentina, however, have done so for economic rather than political reasons. The first significant wave of economic migration from Argentina occurred during the 1960s and 1970s when close to 400,000 high-skilled workers emigrated, mostly to the United States and Spain. Since then, chronic unemployment and underemployment have continued to compel Argentines to emigrate. After the collapse of the Argentine economy in 2001 and 2002 an estimated 300,000 people left the country. By 2005, an estimated 1.05 million Argentines lived abroad, mostly in the United States (60 percent live in California, Florida, and New York), and remittances to Argentina reached close to a billion dollars per year.

The largest group of South Americans in the United States are the Colombians, who have come fleeing political and criminal violence as well as an unstable economy. During the period known as "La Violencia" (1948–1966), an estimated 200,000 Colombians were killed and another 200,000 internally displaced. Thousands chose to emigrate to other countries during this period. However, the majority of Colombians who have emigrated have done so since the 1970s, when the political violence between government forces, guerrillas, paramilitary squads, and narco-traffickers escalated. According to human rights agencies, over three million Colombians have become internally displaced since 1985. More than a million have emigrated, half a million of them to the United States. Although Colombians have among the highest asylum approval rates in the United States (roughly 60 percent), few actually request asylum for fear that they will be rejected and then deported back to their country. Thus, official figures for the Colombian population in the United States are most likely an undercount, failing to include those who have overstayed their visas or entered illegally by other means.


In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States rapidly revamped its immigration bureaucracy, increased security personnel at airports and border checkpoints, installed new physical barriers and high-tech monitoring equipment along the U.S.-Mexico border, expanded the number of detention centers, and enacted new deportation procedures. The USA Patriot Act, passed just forty-five days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, expanded the powers of law enforcement agencies to search, monitor, and detain; allowed the indefinite detention of noncitizens suspected of a crime; and expanded the grounds under which a person could be deported from the United States. The new Department of Homeland Security, and its agencies, the bureaus of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, which replaced the old Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS]), were created in an attempt to convey a greater sense of security to the general public. The U.S. government made it more difficult for students, tourists, and immigrants from certain nations to receive visas to come to the United States. Under the US-VISIT program, the United States began collecting biometric data on all visitors, including digital fingerprints and photographs, at all ports of entry. And the Real ID Act of 2005 set the stage for a national identity card by establishing national standards for state-issued drivers' licenses.

Immigrants and refugees have become victims of these new security measures. In 2002 and 2003, for example, refugee admissions sank to fewer than 29,000. Vigilante groups such as the Minutemen Project patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border to assist the Border Patrol in their detection work and committed egregious violations of civil liberties in the process. In 2006 and 2007, public pressure forced Congress to introduce new immigration control legislation. Congressional compromisers tried to reconcile immigration control with the ongoing need for labor, introducing provisions for a guest worker program similar to the bracero program of the mid-twentieth century as well as a limited legalization program for some of the millions of undocumented workers already in the United States. The bill also included provisions for an expanded Border Patrol and new physical barriers along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, among other control procedures. It ultimately failed, however, because the differences among the supporters of its various, contradictory proposed provisions were irreconcilable.

The United States urges other countries in the Americas to assist in border control efforts, and the pressure is particularly felt by Mexico. As a result, Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Migración has expanded its presence in the southern border zone, and begun denying visas to nationals of countries the United States has identified as supporting terrorism, in order to prevent their using Mexican territory to gain access to, or stage actions against, the United States. Would-be immigrants trying to escape poverty or violence in their homelands have become the victims of Mexican and U.S. obsessions with border control. By end of 2002, for example, Mexico deported 3,000 Central Americans each week.

The political and economic realities in the Americas continue to produce a large migration of workers who seek opportunities in the United States, either as immigrants or temporary workers. In 2001 alone, for example, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City processed more than 2.6 million nonimmigrant visa applications, mostly from nationals who work in the United States. The waiting list for an immigrant visa is long, and sometimes it is easier to overstay a visitor's visa and work illegally in the underground economy. Immigrant workers from Latin America generate billions of dollars in remittances each year. These remittances—$10 billion annually to Mexico alone—constitute one of the principal sources of income for many countries in the Americas, and their total far exceeds the development aid provided by the United States, Canada, and other industrial economies.

Ironically, as the United States seeks to control the movement of labor, it has negotiated a record number of free trade agreements providing for the unrestricted movement of goods and capital, which have generated billions of dollars in corporate revenues. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, its two largest trading partners, are among the most active in the world: an average of $1.2 billion is traded every day with Canada, and $733 million with Mexico. However, decades of ineffective immigration restriction measures have demonstrated the difficulties of controlling the migration that is a byproduct of such free trade policies. Restrictions on visas, fines on airlines and shipping companies, increased border security, criminal penalties on smugglers, streamlined detention and deportation procedures, and multinational crackdowns on undocumented labor may temporarily reduce the number of immigrants and refugees in a given year, but only until new entry points, transportation networks, and legal loopholes are created or identified.

In the meantime, migration from Latin America continues, whether legal or not, and Latinos have become the largest minority group in the United States. In some ways they are changing the cultural landscape of the United States. Journalists euphemistically refer to this process as la reconquista or "the browning of America," prompting xenophobes with access to media outlets to issue national calls for deportations and for closing the border. No longer are there areas of the United States unaffected by Latino immigration. Distinct Latino communities are found from Oregon to Georgia. Businesses cater to this multibillion dollar market, while politicians try either to engage them or curtail their potential influence.

At the same time, Latinos continue to exert significant influence on their countries of origin through remittances and even direct political participation. Several Latin American countries have come to allow immigrants in the United States to participate in their electoral processes, and Latin American presidential candidates today campaign in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles as readily as they do in Managua, Santo Domingo, or Mexico City. The Mexican state of Michoacán even designates one seat in its legislature as the "migrant seat," to represent Mexicans abroad.

Even though studies show that over the course of generations Latinos adapt and acculturate in ways similar to other immigrants, the first generation—which comprises half the present-day Latino population—exemplifies the transnational processes that so intrigue social scientists. In the United States, they are redefining and expanding what it means to be American.

See alsoAztlán; Black Legend; Corrido; Cuba, Revolutions: Cuban Revolution; Cuban Missile Crisis; Dirty War; Gadsden Purchase; Guadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of (1848); Mexico, Wars and Revolutions: Mexican-American War; Mexico, Wars and Revolutions: Mexican Revolution; Migration and Migrations; Neoliberalism; Porfiriato; Santería; Ten Years' War; United Farm Workers Union; Violencia, La.


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                                 Maria Cristina Garcia