Migration and Migrations

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Migration and Migrations

All humans, at least all those living outside our East African cradle, descend from immigrants, from those Homo sapiens who began leaving humanity's ancestral homeland some 50,000 years ago and eventually spread throughout the planet. But this condition is particularly true of the inhabitants of the New World. Orbe novo, a term coined soon after Columbus's first voyage, reflected the specific perspective of late-fifteenth-century Europeans but it conveys too an ampler reality. The New World is also "new" in the context of humanity. It was the last major region of the planet to be populated, and it was populated by immigrants from all other continents.

The first to arrive did so, according to moderate estimates drawn from physical evidence, some 14,000 years ago across the land bridge that became later the Bering Strait. Other anthropologists using DNA studies posit at least four separate migrations taking place between thirty and nine thousand years ago. Whatever the dates of arrival, geneticists maintain that the actual number of immigrants from northwestern Asia was relatively small—no more than a few hundred individuals—and that the Amerindian population grew basically by natural increase, reaching anywhere from forty to one hundred million by 1500.

This essay will cover population movements after that date in three sections. The first examines immigration to Latin America during the colonial period from Africa and particularly from Europe since there is an entry on slavery in this encyclopedia. The second covers European and Asian immigration after independence, especially during the peak period between the middle of the nineteenth century and the World Depression of 1930. The third examines emigration from Latin America, and international movements within the region, mainly after the 1950s.


The largest human inflow to the Western Hemisphere during the colonial period originated in Western Africa between the Senegal and Congo rivers and in Angola and Mozambique. Before 1820 Africans outnumbered Europeans more than three to one among arrivals to the Americas (8.4 versus 2.4 million), even though the resident white population outnumbered that of blacks then twelve to eleven million because of their higher rates of survival and reproduction. It was only after the middle of the nineteenth century that the European inflow surpassed the one out of Africa. The African slave trade was by no means restricted to the Americas. Slave trades across the Sahara and Indian Ocean had began much earlier (the ninth century), lasted longer (into the twentieth century), and carried a similar number of people (twelve million who ended up in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean basin). Nonetheless, the transatlantic passage is clearly one of the largest long-distance slave traffics in human history. Between 1492 and the 1860s some 11.3 million Africans were forcibly taken to the New World according to the latest estimates. The trade peaked in the eighteenth century. But one-third of the total arrived after the official abolition of the slave trade by the British parliament in 1807, heading mainly to Cuba and Brazil, the last two countries to abolish slavery in the Americas, in 1886 and 1888 respectively.

The African slave population concentrated along the tropical or semitropical coastal lowlands of the Western Hemisphere, where tropical cash crops could be planted and easily taken to ports for export. Close to 40 percent of the total were sent to Brazil, originally to the coastal Northeast and later also to Minas Gerais (during the gold boom of the first half of the eighteenth century) and to São Paulo (during the coffee boom of the second half of the nineteenth century). The proportion that headed to Spanish America varied dramatically with time. Before the middle of the seventeenth century, when only one-twentieth of the total inflow of slaves to the Americas had arrived and when British and French colonies had barely entered the trade, Spanish America accounted for six-tenths of the imports. But that proportion dropped to less than one-tenth during the eighteenth century and increased to one-fourth during the nineteenth century, almost all of it to Cuba. In total, Spanish America, other than Cuba, did not represent a major destination. Indeed more slaves went to tiny Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) or even tinier Jamaica than to the entire Spanish American mainland. Overall, only about 8 percent of the total went there, concentrating on the Caribbean coast, particularly of Venezuela and Colombia, and the Pacific coast of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru; another 9 percent headed for the Spanish Caribbean, mainly Cuba, and mainly during the nineteenth century.

Neither did slaves represent a high proportion of the total population in the Spanish mainland colonies. The highest case, Venezuela in 1800, reached only 6 percent, and 26 percent on the coast. By comparison, that same year about half of the population in Brazil and one-third in Cuba were enslaved. The proportion in Cuba reached a peak of 43 percent in 1841, a figure similar to that of the U.S. South (40 percent) before abolition. These proportions have only been matched in world history by Italy during the first century of the Roman Empire, and they were surpassed by islands in the West Indies such as Jamaica and Haiti, where 90 percent of the population was enslaved by the end of the eighteenth century. So although slavery may be one of the most common and widespread labor systems in human history, slave societies like those that developed in the plantation complexes of the Americas are actually quite rare. And it is reasonable to assume that the negative legacies of such systems are equally unusual in their force and persistence.


Although scattered individuals from all over the world could be found in the Americas during colonial times, the other important migratory stream came from Europe. Explorers and settlers came from important colonial powers such as France and the Netherlands, minor ones such as Denmark and Sweden, and even noncolonial polities such as Italian city-states. But the bulk arrived through three specific streams. Some 450,000 Spaniards came to the Indies during the first century-and-a-half of explorations and conquest and a similar number arrived during the rest of the colonial period (see Table 1). The total figure approximates the one million Europeans (three-quarters of them British and the rest mainly from German states) that reached the British domains in the mainland and the Caribbean before 1800. Data for colonial Portuguese migration to Brazil are less reliable. The highest estimates reach a million and the most common ones half that number, agreeing that the bulk arrived in the eighteenth century after the discovery of gold and diamonds in Minas Gerais in 1695.

Emigration to Latin America during the colonial and national periods
[in thousands]
Colonial periodaNational period%
acolonial period=up to 1820 for Europe and 1860s for Africa
bSome 81 percent of all postcolonial European immigration (13.6 million) arrived before 1930; 1 percent (.25 million) between 1930 and 1945; and the remaining 18 percent (3 million) after World War II.
c73 percent of the Japanese and 90 percent of Chinese arrived before World War II; almost all Koreans arrived after the 1950s.
From Spain900Italy6,71039.9
From Portugal700Spain5,38032.0
Total Europe1,600Portugal1,85011.0
AfricanEastern European
To Brazil4,030Jews4202.5
To SpanishLevant4102.4
Total Africa5,692Others1,2207.3
Total Europe16,820100
Korea (post-1950)17520.5
Total Asia855100
Table 1

The impact of this inflow on the Americas is difficult to exaggerate. At the most primary or ecological level, human migration brought along other organisms of all sizes, from bacteria to cattle, that radically transformed the local flora and fauna. Wheat, barley, lettuce, cabbage, onions, garlic, carrots, lentils, spinach, eggplant, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, oranges, sugar cane, bananas, pigs, rabbits, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, bees, and numerous other plants and animals were introduced to the Western Hemisphere by Spaniards. Rats, smallpox, other pathogens, and most of the unwanted grasses or "weeds" in the Americas tagged along. This transformation of the hemisphere's biota had momentous demographic, economic, and social consequences. Smallpox and other Old World viruses for which the indigenous population had little immunity caused the greatest demographic catastrophe in human history, killing as many as nine-tenths of the New World's aboriginal inhabitants. Plow animals and cereal made possible extensive agriculture and large landed estates. Sugar cane had a similar effect on the tropical lowlands of the hemisphere. Cattle and horses allowed the formation of the ranching economies and cultural types of the American plains, from the gauchos of the River Plate region and the llaneros of Venezuela to the charros of northern Mexico and cowboys of the U.S. West.

The sociocultural influence of the Iberian newcomers was obviously most pronounced in the regions where they and their descendants came to represent a larger proportion of the total population: temperate South America and smaller areas such as the uplands of Antioquia and Caldas in Colombia, parts of northern Mexico, the central highlands of Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, and Cuba before the middle of the eighteenth century. These became basically areas of European settlement during the colonial period similar to those in northeastern Anglo- and Franco-America. But the Iberian cultural influence was dramatic even in regions where peninsulares and their American-born descendants were a minority.

This influence is palpable and obvious in language, literature, law, religion, urban planning, public and domestic architecture, eating habits, music, and high and folk art. In colonial Brazil more than two hundred languages disappeared in the confrontation with Portuguese. In Spanish America, the fact that during the first century of colonization the inflow came basically from Andalusia, Estremadura, and New Castile, rather than Spain in general, reinforced the Castilian roots of the region—just as the English, rather than British, nature of immigration to North America during the first century of colonization buttressed the Anglo foundations of the United States and Canada. Even some Latin American cultural artifacts that came to be seen as quintessentially indigenous—such as the bowler hats, traditional polleras (skirts), and charangos (small guitars) of the Andean region—are actually Castilian imports from the sixteenth century.

This history of immigration distinguishes Latin America from the rest of the developing or post-colonial world. Nowhere in the Afro-Asiatic world did European culture penetrate so deeply.

In some regions the Iberian colonizers and their descendants came to represent the majority, making these areas more akin to a southern European version of Australia than to any postcolonial country in Africa or Asia. Where this did not happen, populations nonetheless became much more Hispanized or Lusitanized than people in colonies in Africa or Asia became Gallicized or Anglicized. Even in the least Europeanized countries of the region—say, Guatemala or Bolivia—Spanish and Christianity are almost universal, in dramatic contrast to the situation in India, Indonesia, Indochina, Iraq, Iran, or the Ivory Coast, to use just one letter in the postcolonial alphabet. Moreover, European colonialism in Latin America began and ended much earlier and lasted much longer. This often made the Iberian cultural imprint invisible precisely because it was so deep and buried in time that it appeared to most observers as local, natural, indigenous.

Iberian colonial immigration—and the vast majority of arrivals were immigrants rather than conquistadors or even colonizers—thus gave Latin America whatever cultural meaning it has as a concept or category. The Iberian cultural imprint is the only commonality that warrants including countries like the Dominican Republic (where 90 percent of the population traces its roots, at least partially, to Africa), Guatemala (where a similar proportion descends fully or partially from the pre-Columbian population), and Argentina (where more than half of the population is of non-Spanish European stock) in the same category. We often tend to stress the diversity of Latin America. Some would even point out the arbitrariness of the concept. But in comparison to any other continent, the concept is anything but arbitrary, and what is remarkable about Latin America is the degree of cultural unity and shared codes over such a vast geographical expanse. After all, a Dominican, a Guatemalan, and an Argentinean can laugh at the same joke, while a Greek, a German, and a Pole would have to use a lingua franca and probably miss the pun in translation.

Iberian immigration not only gave Latin Americans a shared culture but also, and somewhat ironically, a separate sense of identity from the motherlands that was forged in part through exclusion. Arrivals from Spain consistently excluded the colonial-born Creoles from the top echelons of the imperial government. They accounted for all but four of the 170 viceroys in the history of colonial Spanish America; and even the four Creoles had been the sons of Spanish officials. Of 602 governors and captain generals all but fourteen had been born in the Old World. The situation was similar within the church's hierarchy, with the Spanishborn accounting for more than four-fifths of all the bishops and archbishops that ever served in the colonies. During the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries Creoles at least had been able to acquire mid-level government positions, often by purchasing them from a chronically bankrupt crown. The last five or six decades of colonial rule, however, witnessed a reassertion of imperial control. These so-called Bourbon Reforms, and Pombalian in the case of Portuguese America, were rooted ideologically in enlightened despotism and mercantilism. But it was an upsurge of Iberian immigration that made them possible.

The surge arrived through two different channels. One was recruitment by imperial institutions: the civil administration, army, and church. This one provided the personnel for the reinvigorated imperialism that some historians claim amounted to a reconquest of the colonies. It supplied the legion of intendants, or new regional officers, who centralized royal control by fusing other provincial posts and reporting directly to the viceroy and directly to king on matters of finance. It also supplied many of the officers and soldiers for an imperial army that for the first time became an important presence in the colonies. The other flow was channeled through private mechanisms of kinship and commercial networks that resembled those of postcolonial migration to Latin America or the Americas in general. Most of these folks arrived penniless or at least in modest pecuniary conditions. But most of them also arrived with connections to well-to-do relatives (the stereotypical case being an uncle) or paisanos, people from the same town or comarca (a micro-region or socio-geographic space that is not necessarily an administrative unit, where people have face-to-face interaction; the closest English translation being "shire"). These connections, plus hard work and determination, allowed many of the newcomers to rise within the colonial social ladder and, as a group, to control international and wholesale trade and much of the mining economy.

The immigrants' political and economic dominance inevitably provoked resentment from the local population and other factors intensified such feelings. The fact that the European-born made up only one percent of the white population, which in turn accounted for about one-fifth of all the inhabitants of I bero-America circa 1800, could not help but underscore the disproportion of their power and influence. People of color—who were excluded from political office, schools, and certain trades by law—would presumably resent white privilege in general. Their most direct exploiters, landlords and plantation owners, tended to be Creole, and during the wars of independence they often took the loyalist side. But support for the king could, and did, coexist with popular Hispanophobia, as the mob's cries during Hidalgo's revolt in Mexico indicated: "Viva Fernando VII and death to the gachupines!" [a term of scorn for Spaniards].

The immigrants' success grated on Creoles more directly. Unlike the population of color, they were not officially excluded from public positions or any economic activity. But legal equality raised aspirations that it did not meet and made factual inequality seem more blatant. Creole exclusion from high- and mid-level public office was so thorough as to make it evident that it could not be the result of anything else but systematic discrimination. The source of the Iberian newcomers' commercial success was less apparent. Some of it had to do with their work ethic and resolve. Creoles themselves portrayed the newcomers as hard-working and thrifty, neither of which was necessarily meant as a compliment. But Spaniards' control of transatlantic trade through their consulado, or merchant guild, made it clear that their success also rested on monopoly. They were indeed the most visible beneficiaries of the resurgent imperial mercantilism that grieved everyone else by curtailing contraband, limiting consumer choices, and raising prices.

A shift in the regional origins of the immigrants, from the southern half of the peninsula (Andalusia, Estremadura, Castile, and southern and central Portugal) to the northern half (Galicia, Mino, Catalonia, and the Basque country), aggravated the situation. These were people whose native language was not Spanish, that is, Castilian. Their ethnic identities were different from those of the ancestors of most Creoles. Basques, the most numerous and the most commercially successful of these northerners, seemed particularly foreign. They spoke a language that was completely incomprehensible to the residents of the colonies. This, their ethno-cultural distinction in general, and their overrepresentation in the guilds that monopolized transatlantic trade made them seem particularly clannish. The ethno-cultural differences of these northern Iberian immigrants and their economic success amplified the arrogance that colonizers habitually display vis-à-vis the colonized. They often depicted Creoles as indolent and unreliable and—not unrelated—as of dubious racial purity. The fact that most of the arrivals were single young men—plus their economic upward mobility—intensified their competition with Creoles for available white women. It is no coincidence that laws prohibiting Spaniards from marrying Creole women were among the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Latin American republics.

The origins of political independence thus can be found, in large part, in Iberian immigration. Patriotic manifestos made grand pronouncements against the crown and for liberty. But Creoles' sense of an identity separate from that of the imperial motherland, a sine qua non of any anticolonial struggle, was fueled less by gripes against a faraway monarch than by resentment against immigrant neighbors and their monopoly of political office and international trade, their privilege in other occupations, their competition in the marriage market, and their imperious attitudes. As with other political creeds, Creole proto-nationalism was not simply inspired by the ideals of the French Enlightenment, the example of the United States, or other ideological influences. It also had less abstract, more quotidian and existential roots.


The three or four decades following emancipation witnessed an early population outflow from, and a modest inflow to, the newly independent nations of Latin America. Early on, many Spaniards and other loyalists left for Cuba and Puerto Rico or returned to Spain. The Mexican government expelled seven thousand of them between 1827 and 1833. As to the arrivals, among the first were mercenaries and volunteers who had fought on the patriot side during the wars of independence. Six thousand Irish and British soldiers fought with Simón Bolívar's armies, and many of those who survived stayed in South America. So did some of the four thousand Irish and German mercenaries recruited by the Brazilian government in 1827–1828 to fight against Argentina, an episode that included the Great Mercenary Revolt of June 1828 in Rio de Janeiro.

Merchant-adventurers, mostly British, seeking opportunities in markets recently opened to free international trade, plus a motley crew of clerks, technicians, artisans, sailors, and artisans formed a second type of early comers and settled mostly in port cities. A British traveler claimed two thousand compatriots lived in Valparaiso in 1828. The cities of the Río de la Plata developed the largest concentration. By the early 1840s some 60 percent of Montevideo's 31,000 inhabitants were foreign born. Across the river, one-third of the 91,000 denizens of Buenos Aires in 1855 had been born overseas, with Italy, France, Spain, and Britain showing the highest numbers.

Farmers, usually recruited by government agencies and/or private contractors for rural colonization schemes, made up the third and largest group of immigrants before the mid-1800s. Many were German-speaking people. Between 1824 and 1850 ten thousand of them founded rural colonies in the southern Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. The first of more than sixty German agricultural colonies in Argentina appeared in 1826. About five thousand Germans had settled in southern Chile by the 1850s. Canary Islanders were another common group among these early recruited colonists. They made up the majority of the 13,000 foreigners who entered Venezuela between 1810 and 1860, as they had done during the colonial period in that region of the empire. In the 1830s they appear as contracted laborers in Cuba, Uruguay, and Argentina. The latter two countries also received tens of thousands of French and Spanish Basque and Irish shepherds during this early period. They pioneered the formation of what would become the largest sheep herds in the world by the end of the century, playing an instrumental role in the agro-pastoral development of the pampas.

An estimate given by various historians of 200,000 Europeans entering Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil between 1816 and 1850 seems high but accurately conveys the disproportionately southern concentration of the inflow already by this early period. At mid-century a few square blocks in Montevideo housed more immigrants than all of Colombia, where the entire European and North American population numbered 850. The only exception to this Southern Cone predominance had already surfaced in Cuba, which received some 50,000 Europeans, mainly Spaniards, between 1820 and 1850.

The transatlantic crossings that had begun modestly after the Napoleonic and Latin American independence wars gathered steam after the mid-century, became massive after the 1880s, and lasted—with a pause during World War I—until the Great Depression. During the entire period, more than 51 million Europeans and about 2 million Asians headed for the New World. Nothing remotely resembling this movement had ever happened before anywhere in the planet. By the outbreak of World War I, more people had come to the New World during the preceding decade than had done so, from both Europe and Africa, during the entire colonial period. Indeed, by then more Europeans had disembarked in the port of Buenos Aires alone during the previous three years (1.1 million) than had arrived in all of Spanish America during more than three centuries of colonial rule.

Overall, 13.6 million Europeans came to Latin America from the end of the independence wars to 1930 (see Table 2). This represented almost one quarter (24%) of the 56 million Europeans who left their continent during the period and 27 percent of all those who went to the New World. The regional sources, however, differed from the flow elsewhere. Emigration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa—which together received 10 million Europeans, or 18 percent of the total exodus—originated overwhelmingly in northwestern Europe, particularly the British Isles. In the United States—which received 32.6 million European immigrants, or 58 percent of the total—the flow originated also from northwestern Europe almost exclusively (97 percent) before 1880. After that the proportion dropped to 42 percent as southern and eastern Europe joined the stream. In Latin America the inflow was heavily southern European. Italy alone accounted for almost four-tenths of all newcomers, Spain for three-tenths, and Portugal for one one-tenth. The two peninsulas of southwestern Europe thus supplied close to 80 percent of the arrivals. Regional origins within these southern European countries were, however, heavily northern.

European immigration to Latin American countries, c. 1840–1930
CountryNumber (in thousands)% of total
Puerto Rico620.5
% going to Latin America
All European emigration56,23824.1
All European emigration to New World51,24426.6
Table 2

In the case of Italy, the northern preponderance reflected time of arrival. Unlike European migration in general, which acquired massive dimensions in the United States earlier than it did in Latin America, Italian migration to South America reached massive numbers earlier in Latin America. During the nineteenth century the stream toward that region was twice as large as that to North America. By 1900 the Italian community in Buenos Aires was larger than the ten largest in North America combined; and São Paulo, Montevideo, and Rosario had more Italians than any U.S. city other than New York. The fact that the upper strip of the peninsula dominated the transatlantic exodus for much of the nineteenth century gave these early Italian enclaves in Latin America a strong northern imprint. Liguria (the coastal region surrounding Genoa) supplied the single largest contingent in Argentinean cities; the Piedmont played that role in the pampas and the Vene to in Brazil. During the twentieth century the Mezzogiorno increased its participation. But northerners retained an overall majority for the entire period in Latin America, in stark contrast to the United States, where southerners accounted for four-fifths of all Italian immigrants.

The northern prevalence had even earlier origins in the case of Spain. As noted before, the Cantabric seaboard had replaced Andalusia and the South as the main source of migration to the Indies already by the eighteenth century. The trend continued during the nineteenth century in spite of significant migration from the Canary Islands to Cuba and Venezuela. Basques became the Iberian equivalent of the Piedmontese in the River Plate region: pioneer settlers of the grasslands. Their early arrival and concentration on pastoral activities earned them enough wealth and prestige to popularize the idea that the estanciero oligarchy was mostly ethnically Basque. Asturians were particularly numerous in Mexico and Cuba. Catalans spread throughout much of Spanish America. These so-called Jews of Spain seem to have shared the same dichotomous stereotype as frugal entrepreneurs or radical anarchists. At least the second half of the cliché may not have been an arbitrary invention. Catalans and Jews were the most overre-presented ethnic groups in the anarchist movement both in Europe and the Americas. Galicians became the largest group in all receiving countries. Their numbers and visibility made gallego a generic term for "Spaniards" in Latin America, and "gallego jokes" became in Spanish America the equivalent of Polish jokes in the United States or Portuguese jokes in Brazil.

The northern shift among the latter group was also well established already in the late colonial period. By the early 1800s the small region of Minho in the northwestern corner of Portugal provided half of all immigrants in Brazil. Around 1850 more than a third of the Portuguese residents of Rio de Janeiro had been born in the city of Porto, in the Douro region just south of Minho. From this northwestern corner emigration spread to other northern regions, and by the early twentieth century Trás-os-Montes in the northeast and the Beiras just to the south had become major sources. Brazil attracted the bulk (about four-fifths) of Portugal's exodus. But this predominance of the northern mainland characterized only the movement to Brazil rather than Portuguese migration in general. As in the case of Italy we find a sharp contrast between crossings to South America and those to the United States, where 70 percent of Portuguese immigrants originated in the Azores and much of the remainder in Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands.

The remaining one-fifth of European immigrants in Latin America who did not come from the Italian and Iberian peninsulas numbered close to 3 million people, and ethnic Germans represented the largest single group. The majority came from Germany itself. But large numbers came from elsewhere and are difficult to identify in international migration records that categorize people by state or empire of provenance rather than by ethno-linguistic criteria. If one assumes conservatively that half of the Swiss arrivals, one-fifth of those originating in Austro-Hungary, and one-tenth of those from Russia were ethnic Germans (Volga Germans in the latter case), and adds the number to those officially counted as Germans, 300,000 German-speaking people entered Argentina up to the 1930s and a similar number went to Brazil. Southern Chile and Uruguay received more than 30,000 each. And smaller Germanophone communities can be found throughout Latin America, from Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites in the Paraguayan Chaco and in Chihuahua and Durango in Mexico to the Austrian Tyrolese towns of Oxapampa and Pozuzo in the Selva Alta of Peru and the Puerto Plata region in the Dominican Republic. A German geographer estimated the number of his co-ethnics in Latin America at 2 million in 1930. Estimates of German descendants in the region today range from 8 to 14 million.

Other immigrants came from a variety of places in Europe. France joined early and accounted for as much as one-tenth of the stream in the nineteenth century but diminished its participation after 1900. Overall, it sent about 340,000 of its citizens to Latin America, or less than 3 percent of the European total. Close to three-quarters of these went to Argentina. Eastern Europeans were more numerous but difficult to identify because of the multiethnic nature of the polities in the region, their changing boundaries, and even their shifting existence. Argentina, for example, recorded the entry of 180,000 Poles and 48,000 Yugoslavs after World War I but none before. Both groups were simply included then among the 177,000 "Russians" and 111,000 Austro-Hungarians listed in Argentinean entry records. It is difficult to say what proportion of this half-million immigrants consisted of Slavic people of various and shifting nationalities. But if half were, the figure would approximate the 240,000 "Slavs" an American geographer claimed resided in the three southernmost Brazilian states in 1930.

Jews made such a large proportion of eastern European immigrants that ruso, and less often polaco, became generic terms for the Ashkenazim in South America. Unlike Italian immigration, which acquired massive dimensions in South America before it did in the United States, Jewish migration there took off even later than to the north. The first significant movement appears in 1889 with the arrival of a thousand settlers at Moisés Ville, an agricultural colony in the Argentinean province of Santa Fe funded by the Munich-born philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch. Fifteen more of these colonies were founded in the pampas in the following decades, and by 1920 they housed about 30,000 "Jewish gauchos"—to use the title of a famous novel by Alberto Gerchunoff. By then, however, Jewish immigration had become massive, spontaneous rather than recruited by the colonization association, and urban. Between 1880 and 1930, 200,000 Jews arrived in Argentina, some nine-tenths of them from eastern Europe. Another 45,000, mainly refugees, made it between 1930 and 1943. A municipal census of 1936 counted over 120,000 Jews residing in Buenos Aires. Although Jews migrated during the period to all Latin American countries, only two other countries received significant, although smaller, numbers: Brazil, 65,000; and Uruguay, 22,000.

Overall, Europeans came from every corner of their native continent, and even from elsewhere. Afrikaner refugees left South Africa after the Boer War to settle in Patagonia and, in smaller numbers, Mexico. Some 50,000 people, many of them European-born, left the United States and Canada for Cuba during the first two decades of the twentieth century, including rural settlers who founded eighty agricultural colonies. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Southerners emigrated to Latin America, mainly to Mexico, after the Confederate defeat in the American Civil War. And Middle Eastern emigration, restricted mainly to European Turkey and the Levant, formed part of the late phase of the transatlantic wave rather than of Asian migration.

Many of the 340,000 Middle Easterners who came to Latin America (175,000 of them to Argentina, 95,000 to Brazil, and 70,000 elsewhere) entered as turcos because they traveled with Ottoman passports. But few were actually Turks or even Muslims. The vast majority were members of religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire and its successor states. Sephardim (the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews) from Constantinople, Salonica, and North Africa, and Mizrahim (Arab Jews) from Aleppo and other towns in the Levant migrated to the River Plate region, where they were heavily outnumbered by Ashkenazim, and also to countries such as Mexico and Cuba, where they made up a larger proportion of local Jewry. Armenians, a group that was already dispersed throughout the Middle East before moving across the Atlantic, came from a variety of countries. Those in Argentina, which today has the ninth-largest Armenian population in the world (130,000), came mostly from Cilicia (the southeastern coast of Turkey) after the massacres of Adana in 1909. The two next-largest Armenian communities in Latin America are in Brazil (40,000) and Uruguay (19,000). Palestinians from Bethlehem and a handful of other Christian towns went mostly to Chile, which has the largest concentration of Palestinians in the world outside of the Middle East; Honduras, where they make up 2 percent of the national population; and El Salvador. Christian Maronites from Mount Lebanon moved in large numbers to the classic countries of immigration in South America. But they found their way to every single country in the Western Hemisphere. Even within the traditional host countries they moved to regions, such as the Andean Northwest of Argentina and the Northeast of Brazil, where few European newcomers settled.

Besides those who came from the Middle East, about 580,000 Asians came to Latin America before World War II. Six-tenths of these were Chinese and the rest mostly Japanese. The first Asians to arrive as an organized group in the New World did so in 1810, when a hundred Chinese tea workers were brought to São Paulo to help introduce tea cultivation in that state. But this failed to generate a steady flow (only 5,000 Chinese went to Brazil in the next two centuries), and the first massive Asian movement in the Americas headed for Cuba. Between 1847 and 1875 as many as 175,000 Chinese coolies arrived on the is land to work on sugar plantations, and Cuba had the largest Chinese community in the world outside of Asia well into the twentieth century. Coastal Peru became the second-largest recipient of Chinese coolies during the period (as many as 100,000). And northern Mexico (with some 30,000) was the only other important destination for the Chinese in Latin America, most arriving as free laborers rather than coolies and decades later than in Cuba and Peru. Japanese migration to Latin America is also a later phenomenon. The first Japanese group landed in São Paulo in 1908. By the outbreak of World War II some 188,000 had arrived, and another 66,000 came after the war, making Brazil the country with the largest population of Japanese origin in the world outside of Japan. Peru, which received about 30,000, was the second most important destination, with Mexico and Argentina following with 15,000 and 5,000 respectively.

Why Did They Come?

Why did more than 14 million people migrate to Latin America between the middle of the nineteenth century and the 1920s? The most common single answer to this question emphasizes the efforts of governments and economic elites to attract and recruit immigrants. This does explain most of Asian immigration, which consisted mainly of Chinese coolies and Japanese contracted laborers. It also explains migration to the coffee regions of São Paulo and many other smaller flows, particularly to countries of little immigration, that were organized by political authorities and/or planters. But it does not explain the immigration of the vast majority of the 13.6 million Europeans who arrived during that period.

Ruling classes across Latin America did attempt to promote European immigration to "whiten" and "civilize" their countries during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But elite desiderata had little to do with the actual inflow of people. Politicians, planters, and bureaucrats in the ten countries that run along or close to the Pacific from Bolivia to Guatemala concocted all sorts of plans—from giving free passages to granting free land—to recruit Europeans as an antidote to "native indolence." Yet all of these countries combined received fewer European immigrants in a century than a single Argentinean province did in a month. And most of the newcomers to the latter country arrived when its political class had long ceased to view them as civilizing agents and had turned rather xenophobic. The "whitening" and "civilizing" rhetoric of Latin American leaders therefore had more to do with the history of elite racism than with the history of the actual migration of millions of people.

The actual migration of millions clearly obeyed mightier laws than those produced in national legislatures. The depiction of the stream to Latin America as officially recruited, in contrast to the "spontaneous" movements to the United States, is simply erroneous. Ninety-eight percent of the Europeans who migrated to Argentina, the principal destination in Latin America, paid for their passages with their own money or with remittances sent by family and friends. This was also the case for the majority of European migrants to Latin America in general. These crossings resulted from, and formed part of, vast transformations that during the nineteenth century remained mostly Atlantic-based and later became global. These forces were the same that unleashed the movement of 51 million Europeans to the New World in general. The massive movement of people across the Atlantic was part and parcel of other forms of massification that constructed the modern world.

The most primary of these was the massification of human reproduction. The basic outline of Homo sapiens' demographic history is quite simple: ups and downs, stagnation, and protracted growth for 160,000 years with explosive increase in the last two centuries. It took humanity five thousand generations to reach the first billion (in 1804) and just four generations to reach the second billion (in 1927). This first stage of what eventually would be a global demographic revolution took place in Europe. Fueled by declining mortality rates related to basic improvements in public sanitation and midwifery, that continent's population tripled from 140 million in 1750 to 430 million in 1900, as its share of the world's inhabitants rose from 17 to 25 percent. This "vital revolution" directly fed the massive transatlantic exodus. It also facilitated that exodus indirectly by creating a mass market for New World temperate foodstuff that had not existed in the colonial period. Migration and trade became intimately tied. Europe exported people mostly to the regions from which it imported grain and, later, meat. Indeed, over 90 percent of the 56 million Europeans who left their native continent during this period headed for those wheat- and beef-exporting regions (temperate South and North America and Australia/New Zealand).

The massification of production associated with the Industrial Revolution fueled transatlantic emigration in a variety of ways. During its early stages it displaced more workers than it could employ. It promoted internal mobility and urbanization, which often served as a stepping-stone to overseas movement. Urbanization, in turn, further increased the demand for American staples from people who did not grow their own food. Besides this demand for food, industrialization made possible the general international division of labor on which the commercial integration of the Atlantic world rested. It created direct demands for a variety of American raw materials: hides for machine belts and tallow for soap and lubricants from the huge feral cattle herds of the River Plate early in the century; wool from the same region after the industrialization of woolen production in the mid-1800s; natural rubber from the Amazon after Charles Goodyear developed vulcanization around the same time; timber from Canada; flax for textiles, oil paints, and printer's ink from the pampas and the prairies. The increasing variety of articles churned out by industry generated a different sort of demands and desires particularly among the young, the principal font of transatlantic migrants. Contemporary popular theater in Europe abounds with characters who blame the exodus on this consumer culture, on the younger generation's acquisitiveness and their cravings for factorymade shoes and garments instead of homespun espadrilles and blouses, for watches, guns, phonographs, bicycles, and other gadgets of the industrial age.

Emigration "fever" (a metaphor that surfaced in the nineteenth century across Europe) spread mostly through primary transnational social networks but could not have diffused so far and so densely without the technological and organizational transformations that made mass communication possible. The appearance of the telegraph (1844), the photograph (1840s), cheap, machine-made, wood-pulp paper (1850s), the mail system and the postage stamp (1850s), typewriters (1860s), the Universal Postal Union (which unified international postal regulations, 1875), the telephone (1876), photoengraving (1880s), the linotype (1886), and the radio (1895) spawned a veritable revolution in mass communication that made the mass movement of people possible then and not before.

The mail system and the telegraph facilitated the circulation of another essential connective element in mass migration: money. Immigrant remittances flowed eastward and paid for the passages of new streams of people moving westward. European financiers sent much of the surplus capital generated by the industrial revolution to the countries where the remittances were coming from. These investments and loans stimulated economic growth in the receiving countries, which in turn stimulated more emigration to them and more remittances from them. It is no coincidence that the four most important receivers of European immigrants in the nineteenth century (the United States, Argentina, Canada, and Brazil) also became the four most important recipients of British investment and the four fastest-growing economies in the Western Hemisphere.

Mass transoceanic migration required, however, inexpensive means to move not only information, photographs, and dreams but also people, and it was the trade of the Industrial Revolution, rather than trade in general, that provided the impetus for technological innovation. International trade before the nineteenth century was limited to precious minerals, luxury goods, and the slave labor to produce them. Galleons, sails, and sextants could easily accommodate this trade. But as heavy and bulky items with limited value per weight or mass (such as coal, iron, machinery, timber, cotton, wool, or wheat) became the main commodities of trade, advancements in the means of transporting them became a necessity, and the technological innovations that the Industrial Revolution unleashed made them possible. From the mid-1800s on, steamships, screw propellers, iron (and later steel) hulls, and diesel marine engines kept cutting down fuel consumption and pushing up speed. Refrigerated ships made possible the export of South American beef and mutton to Europe. Trains extended the pool of prospective emigrants from a few port areas into the European hinterland. Trains took them across the American continents. Trains allowed the riverless Argentinean pampas to become the second major exporter of cereals in the world, and most of that grain was shipped across the Atlantic along the same routes, and often in the same ships, that brought the millions who farmed the grain. The nineteenth-century innovations in marine and land transportation were thus a sine qua non of both massive transatlantic trade and massive transatlantic migration, movements that were intimately connected.

The connections of liberalism and migration were equally multifaceted. The impressive expansion of transatlantic commerce between the 1860s and World War I, which reached an intensity then unmatched before or after, would not have been possible without a significant level of political commitment to free trade. Neither would mass migration have been possible without a similar level of political commitment to freedom of movement. On the western shores of the Atlantic, liberalism provided the ideological fuel for the independence movements that ended the restrictions on entries that colonial gatekeepers had kept. On the other side, liberalism lifted mercantilist restrictions on exits in one European country after another. By strengthening property rights, lifting restrictions, and promoting competition, liberalism stimulated the privatization of commons and the commercialization of agriculture in the Old World. This in turn encouraged transatlantic ties in various ways. It created a demand for New World fertilizers such as Chilean nitrates. It encouraged migration as a means of earning cash to purchase private land plots in the places of origin. It created, in general, greater opportunities and greater insecurity in the European countryside, elements that normally lead, and led in this case, to increased population movement across the land and across the ocean.

Poverty itself, however, was not, contrary to popular assumption, a common cause of emigration. Transatlantic crossings began and acquired greater intensity precisely in the richest countries of Europe, in the most advanced regions within these and other countries, and in the most economically dynamic counties and municipalities within these regions. As we saw, even in the poorer countries of southern Europe that provided the bulk of the emigrants to Latin America, the majority came from the more developed northern regions. Crossing an ocean is an expensive enterprise that requires various forms of capital (money, knowledge, social connections). The poor tended to stay or migrate short distances. Those who went to the Americas were on average better-off and more educated than those who stayed behind. For example, the literacy rates of Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese in Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba were higher than those of their compatriots back home.

The mass, long-distance movement of people to Latin America cannot be explained, then, either by the policies of Latin American receiving countries or by the poverty of the European sending countries. Instead, mass migration should be seen as an integral part of a broader process of modernization that included the emergence of mass demographic reproduction, mass production, mass communications and transportation, mass trade and financial flows, mass residential patterns (urban societies), and eventually mass politics and consumption. This represented an integrated process that formed the first mass societies in human history and brought about a new level of global integration to parts of the Atlantic world. None of its components would have been possible without the others.

The principal reason European emigrants went to specific destinations was higher wages. Real wages in Argentina and Uruguay were between 1.5 and 3 times higher than in Italy, and higher still than in Spain and Portugal, during the mass migration period. In the other principal destinations in Latin America, southern Brazil and Cuba, they were between 1.5 and 2 times higher than in the southern European sources of immigration. But wages themselves are not some natural, ahistorical arrangement. They were the result of the modernization process that also produced mass migration, of the transition from domestic to capitalist modes of productions. And so were wage differentials. At the most elemental level, high wages in the destination regions of the Americas resulted, as Adam Smith argued, from the positive ratio of natural resources to labor. But this was also the case before 1800, and few Europeans migrated there then. The demand for labor and the resulting high wages in receiving regions came not simply from abundant natural resources and sparse populations but from the development of dynamic economies connected to a transformed Atlantic market.

The case of Argentina illustrates why this became possible in the nineteenth century and not before. The most elemental and potential source of the country's wealth was always there: the pampas, one of the two most fertile and extensive plains in the world. But in 1800 a still small and overwhelmingly rural European population could provide neither a market for the articles the pampas could produce nor the laborers that those thinly populated grasslands needed to produce them (by 1914, 70% of the farmers in the pampas were foreign born). Even if they could have, mercantilist restrictions on the flow of people and goods on both sides of the Atlantic would have prevented it. Even if political restrictions had not existed, technological ones would have prevented it. Oxcarts and sailing vessels could not have taken millions of people and millions of tons of cereals, beef, and mutton from the hinterland to the port and then across the Atlantic. And the capital to build the required infrastructure did not exist on either side of the ocean. As the nineteenth century matured, the dramatic growth of the European population, its increasing urbanization, the emergence of consumer societies, industrialization, steamers, railroads, the lifting of mercantilist restrictions on trade and migration, and sufficient accumulation to usher in the age of international financial capitalism overcame these obstacles, transforming the region from a backwater of the Spanish Empire into the sixth-richest country in the world.

The Consequences of European Immigration

As the last sentence suggests, European immigration and the accompanying transition from mercantile capitalism and colonial status to industrial capitalism and republican semi-dependency shifted the social, economic, and political centers of the Western Hemisphere. Before 1800 the colonial success stories had been based on a combination of indigenous labor and precious metals, or African slavery and tropical cash crops. The silver of Zacatecas and Potosi had turned Mexico and Peru into the shining stars in the firmament of the Spanish Empire. Sugar and slavery had turned Saint-Domingue and Barbados into some of the richest colonies in the world, worth many times more to the French and British than Quebec or the future United States. In terms of the scale, efficiency, and market orientation of production, the most modern economies in the Americas around 1800 could be found in the mining complex of the Mexican Bajío and in the plantations of the West Indies. A century later economic modernity had moved to the factories and commercial farms in regions of European settlement. Free immigration and its accompanying processes had turned the poorest colonies in the Western Hemisphere into its richest countries.

A similar reversal occurred within countries. Argentina's economic center shifted during the nineteenth century from the Northwest or Andean region that had formed part of the silver mining complex of Upper Peru to the Atlantic-facing and immigrant-receiving littoral on the east. In Brazil, the plantation societies of Bahia and the Northeast were replaced as the country's economic center by the previously marginal São Paulo and the South. In the United States, the shift went in the other geographical direction—from the South to the Northeast—but in the same social track from a region of slavery and plantations to one of farms, factories, and immigrants.

The shift in the distribution of urban centers in the Americas illustrates this overall reversal. Before 1800 urban development had concentrated in the Iberian domains which contained forty-five of the fifty largest towns in the New World. The largest, Mexico City, had a larger population than the five largest cities in the United States combined. Whatever their nominal political status, forty-six of the fifty largest cities, including the ten largest, were within the silver/indigenous-labor or plantation/Africanslaves complexes that formed the colonial cores. By 1910 the United States and Canada had seventyseven of the largest one hundred cities in the Americas. The largest, New York, now had more than ten times the population of Mexico City, which had dropped to twelfth place. Whether in South or North America, this reversal was fueled by European immigration. Buenos Aires had risen from fourteenth place in Latin America in 1790 to first a century later. By 1910 the largest eleven cities in the Americas, and eighty-one of the top one hundred, were cities of immigrants. And the five most urban countries (Uruguay, Cuba, Argentina, the United States, and Canada) were the ones with the highest proportion of European immigrants in their populations. Insofar as modernity, whatever its definition, is unfailingly situated in urban spaces, one can argue that the sites of the modern in the Western Hemisphere shifted during the nineteenth century from the colonial cores in Indo/mestizo- and Afro-America to Euro-America, the temperate ends of the hemisphere that had also been its socioeconomic margins, and to Cuba.

Modernity not only shifted spatially but also in its internal content. Economically it shifted—in the new regions of European immigration of the Americas—to a system that was capitalist not only in terms of exchange and commercialization (as it had been in the old colonial core) but also in terms of social relations of production, based on free labor rather than slavery and semi-bondage arrangements. Economic growth acquired here a stronger connection to social welfare.

The regions of European immigration developed the largest and most powerful labor movement in Latin America and one of the most powerful in the world. They had the highest levels of civic participation in mutual aid societies and other voluntary associations; the earliest and most inclusive forms of political participation; the highest nutritional levels; the highest life expectancy and lowest mortality; the highest levels of popular participation in banking and savings; the highest literacy rates; and the highest per capita levels of printed material, theater performances, sport clubs and activities, and other cultural products.

These represented the first mass societies in Latin America. Economic and sociocultural resources were not only more abundant there but also more equally distributed not only than in the rest of Latin America but also—as both Adam Smith and Karl Marx had predicted from opposite ideological perspectives—than in most of Europe. By the 1920s real wages in Argentina and Uruguay were higher than in every European country except England and Switzerland, with which they were tied. Water consumption and home-ownership rates were higher than in any country in the Old World. The children of immigrants grew on average two inches taller than their European-born parents no matter their ethnic origins. The high levels of popular consumption in turn fomented the early development of domestic markets in regions that also had the highest levels of per capita exports in the New World.

The reversal of the socioeconomic regional rank within the Western Hemisphere produced by immigration during the nineteenth century had a lasting effect. Despite the uneven economic performance of the River Plate countries since the 1960s, the rank in social development indicators within Latin America has shown much continuity over the past century. Those countries or regions that immigration had turned into the most urban and socially developed by 1900 (eastern Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, Cuba, and to a lesser degree Chile) are still so today. In terms of literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality, nutrition, and other indicators of social welfare, they continue to rank closer to Europe (now at the level of eastern European countries such as Poland) than to the poorer Latin American countries.

The impact of immigration was particularly multifaceted in the stretch of temperate South America that runs from Patagonia to São Paulo. The demographic impact here was among the highest in the world. For example, immigrants accounted for 30 percent of the population in Argentina on the eve of World I, compared with 20 percent in Australia and 15 percent in the United States. The newcomers and their descendants came to account for over 80 percent of the population in temperate South America. They were thus necessarily spread over the entire social spectrum, although underrepresented at the very top at the beginning. But, as in the United States, later internal and international nonwhite migrations pushed the earlier European arrivals and their descendants out of the lowest socioeconomic and occupational rungs. Mestizos from Andean Argentina and neighboring countries and Afro-Brazilians from the Northeast not only arrived later, in itself a disadvantage; they also arrived with fewer urban skills and at a time, after the 1920s, when the economy was less dynamic and open. Moreover, they increasingly had to compete not with other migrants but with their urban-born children, who excluded migrants of color through mechanisms that ranged from the hiring of coethnics to covert or overt racial discrimination.

Given their demographic weight, immigrants also had a tremendous impact in shaping the popular culture of this region. They diversified a carnivorous diet, turning items such as pasta and wine into national staples. They introduced sports and leisure activities such as bocce, Basque handball, polo, zarzuelas, and soccer. It is nocoincidence that this region of South America has won nine of the eighteen soccer World Cups ever played, with Europe winning the other nine. They introduced musical instruments and styles and shaped the tango. They did not have the political power to change the national languages formally. But they had the numbers to change it phonetically, the reason why River Plate Spanish sounds like Italian to most foreigners.

Immigrants eventually assimilated to the national cultures that they had shaped. There is some debate about whether these societies are most appropriately represented by the metaphor of a melting pot or a salad bowl. But it is clear that the historical trend moved from the latter to the former, from a more multilingual and multicultural condition to a more monolingual and monocultural situation. By global standards, what is striking is the absorption capacities of these countries. For example, Yiddish existed as minority language in eastern Europe for centuries but disappeared in Latin America and the United States in two or three generations. Ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia have preserved a separate identity, language, and institutions for centuries, but European immigrants in the New World have lost them in a few generations.

The process of absorption was also relatively free of violence. While massacres of immigrants have been common in Europe, Africa, and Asia, they have been rare and small in the New World. This was particularly true for European immigrants. The most brutal antiimmigrant episodes in the Americas were the massacre of more than 15,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic in 1937 and of Chinese in Sonora during the Mexican Revolution.

The impact of immigration has been less multi-faceted but economically significant in countries that received relatively few immigrants. A small number of German farmers accounted for more than one-third of coffee production in Guatemala in the early twentieth century. Palestinian Christians make up less than 3 percent of the population in Honduras but owned more than half of the businesses in San Pedro Sula already in the 1920s and a disproportionately high number of industrial and commercial establishments in the country in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The same is true in Ecuador with the Lebanese. People who trace their ancestry to a handful of Maronite villages have been elected to so many local and national offices (including the vice presidency and two presidencies) that political rivals have complained about the "Bedouization of Ecuador." European immigrants in Mexico make up less than 1 percent of the population but have played a dominant role in the country's economy and industrialization.

This is true in all other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean where immigration was not a mass phenomenon. The arrivals and their descendants here came to occupy a privileged class position with a sense of cultural superiority. This situation resembled the experiences of so-called middlemen minorities such as the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Indians in East Africa, and the Lebanese in West Africa, more than those of countries of immigrations in the Americas. Yet even in these Latin American countries of limited immigration, the separation between the immigrant-descendants and indigenous population was never as sharp and tense as in Asia and Africa, in large part because the existence of native upper- and middle-classes of European (Hispano-Creole) descent made the newcomers less visible.

Post-1930 Immigration

International migration to Latin America and elsewhere declined sharply after the Great Depression of 1930. The following decade witnessed only a few large streams. The continuing immigration of 101,000 Japanese to Brazil was among the largest. So was the arrival of 111,000 Jewish refugees in Latin America between 1933 and 1943, the largest group going to Argentina (45,000), followed by Brazil (25,000), Chile (12,000), Uruguay (7,000), and Cuba (6,000). About 20,000 Republican exiles found refuge in Latin America after the Spanish Civil War, the single largest group heading for Mexico, where they were welcomed by the leftist government of Lázaro Cárdenas.

Emigration to Latin America revived after World War II. The sources were similar to the previous inflow, with Italy, Spain, and Portugal accounting for about three-quarters of the European arrivals, and so were the destinations. Argentina kept its leading position with some 1.5 million arrivals between 1945 and 1960. Brazil followed with three-quarters of a million. But now Venezuela surpassed Uruguay and Cuba as the next important destination, receiving also about 750,000 Europeans. The most important Asian current during the period was the arrival of 60,000 Japanese in Brazil. However, this inflow, like those from Europe, declined sharply in the early 1960s and basically ended after that with the Japanese and European "economic miracles." Since then the only significant inflow into Latin America has come from Korea, with some 100,000 going to Brazil, 35,000 to Argentina, 15,000 to Paraguay and Mexico each, and smaller groups to countries from Guatemala to Chile.

Since the 1960s most flows into Latin American countries have originated from their neighbors. These intra-regional movements had existed before. The best-known case is the migration early in the twentieth century of West Indians to Panama, the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica, and Cuba and of Haitians to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. But their importance has increased dramatically since the 1960s. The two largest streams have been from neighboring countries such as Paraguay and Bolivia into Argentina and from Colombia to Venezuela. Most of these crossings are undocumented, so official figures are unreliable. But the number of illegal immigrants in both countries has been estimated at around 2 million. As with these two cases, the other significant movements flow into relatively richer neighbors: from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, from Guatemala to Mexico and Belize, from Bolivia and Peru to Chile, and from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, while Dominicans move to Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The exception to this rule has been the exile of middle-class émigrés such as Argentineans and Chileans to Venezuela and Mexico and Cubans to Puerto Rico.


Latin America was for almost all of its history an importer rather than exporter of people. The first emigrants were probably the peninsular Spaniards and loyalists who left during and after the wars of independence. Other than European and Asian immigrants returning home, the next two outflows consisted of Mexicans crossing the border north and Cuban exiles and cigar workers settling in Key West, Tampa, and New York from the mid-nineteenth century on. The movement across the Rio Grande increased dramatically during the Mexican Revolution, spreading throughout the Southwest of the United States and establishing an important enclave in Chicago and nearby industrial towns. Since the mid-1990s Mexican immigrants have expanded beyond those original areas of settlement to much of the rest of the country as their numbers have swollen to 11.5 million, or 31 percent of all immigrants in the United States and a tenth of the population of Mexico. The stream out of Cuba remained small until the triumph of the 1959 revolution and its radicalization in the following years, which provoked an exodus of more than a million exiles in the next decades, representing also more than a tenth of the country's population. Most of it headed to Miami and to a lesser degree northern New Jersey. In 2006 there were 936,000 Cuban-born residents in the United States. Smaller streams headed for Spain, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

The latter island provided the third important flow out of Latin America before the 1960s. The first significant departures involved 5,000 contracted laborers who left in 1901 to work in the sugar plantations of Hawaii. But the stream to New York had already surpassed this one by the years after World War I, reaching a peak in the two or three decades after the next world war. Altogether, the net emigration from Puerto Rico to the United States reached 1.2 million during the twentieth century. Out-migration decreased dramatically during the 1970s but revived during the next two decades among young and middle-class professionals rather than peasants and workers as in its heyday. By 2000 the number of Puerto Ricans residing in the mainland (3.4 million) almost matched those living in the island (3.6 million). They had now dispersed beyond their original destination. While in the 1940s almost nine-tenths of Puerto Ricans in the United States resided in New York City, and two-thirds still did so in the 1960s, by the end of the century less than a quarter lived in the Big Apple.

The Dominican Republic joined its Caribbean neighbors as an important exporter of people in the 1970s. Many actually went to Puerto Rico as undocumented immigrants. The first recorded yola, wooden boats, arrived in 1972, and since then the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted close to 30,000 Dominicans trying to reach the island. The ratio of undocumented to legal Dominican immigrants is six times higher than in the United States. An estimated 100,000 to 150,000 resided mainly illegally in Puerto Rico in 2007, and San Juan had the largest concentration of Dominican expatriates outside of New York City. There, the 293,000 Dominican residents make up the largest foreign-born group in the city. The census bureau estimated that 766,000 Dominicans resided in the United States in 2006, a figure that represents close to one-tenth of the population of the Dominican Republic. Since the 1990s about 60,000 Dominicans have headed for Spain, more than 80 percent of them women who work mainly as domestic servants.

During the second half of the 1970s a combination of economic decline and political repression turned Argentina into a net exporter of people for the first time in its history. About 20,000 Jews made aliyah to Israel then, and another 40,000 more would join them later. A larger number headed to Spain. At the beginning most were children or grandchildren of Spanish immigrants who could claim Spanish citizenship and often moved with the help of relatives there. But they were joined later by those who could claim Italian or other European Union citizenship through ancestry and preferred moving to Spain rather than to their "ancestral" lands. Others were illegal migrants. Whatever their ethnic background, this was a highly skilled migration. About four-tenths were professionals, some of whom popularized psychoanalysis in their new country. Some 262,000 Argentineans are estimated to reside in Spain as of 2007, 166,000 in the United States (where their socio-occupational profile resembles that of their compatriots in Spain), and about 25,000 in Italy.

Brazil, another traditional country of immigration, joined the outflow somewhat later than Argentina but has surpassed it in absolute numbers. In 2002 the consulate service estimated the number of Brazilians residing outside of their country at 1.96 million. Four-tenths of these lived in the United States, mainly in New York, Boston, and Miami. Many had settled in old Portuguese neighborhoods, perhaps simply because of the language or perhaps through family connections with Portuguese immigrants in Brazil. One-quarter lived in bordering countries, mainly in Ciudad del Este, a cosmopolitan taxfree city in Paraguay home to large numbers of other immigrants from Taiwan, Iran, and the Middle East. One-fifth lived in Europe, mainly in Portugal, home to about 90,000 Brazilians. And 274,000 resided in Japan, almost all dekasegui, descendants of Japanese immigrants who began going in 1990 when the Japanese government extended the right to "return" to the Nikkei, or second- and third-generation immigrants. Most of them have limited Japanese language skills and work mainly in factories.

Emigration in Central America acquired some importance during the civil wars of the 1980s and basically affects the region's five northernmost countries. Panama and Costa Rica have very low emigration rates and receivemore people than they send out. El Salvador has the highest emigration rate in the region (with 1 million out of a population of 7 million living in the United States), followed by Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The latter country sends more (and poorer) emigrants to Costa Rica than to the United States; there are an estimated 400,000 Nicaraguans in the former and 237,000 in the latter. But all the others share the unidirectionality of their Mexican neighbors in moving overwhelmingly to the United States. Even Guatemala, which sends a tenth of its emigrants across the border to Mexico, still sends the vast majority (85%) to the United States.

Within the Andean region, Colombia was the first country to experience a significant exodus beginning in the 1960s to Venezuela (where the number of mainly undocumented Colombian residents has been estimated as high as 2 million) and soon after to the United States (where close to 600,000 reside). A more recent flow since the 1990s has swollen the Colombian community in Spain to 269,000. Ecuadorian emigration, which began later than Colombia's but has surpassed it in intensity, headed originally mostly to the United States, where 385,000 reside, later to Spain, where an estimated 414,000 Ecuadorians represent the largest Latin American community, and also to Italy, where more than 50,000 reside. Peru has a similar number of its emigrants in Italy, about 126,000 in Spain, and 382,000 in the United States. Bolivia, the last to join the exodus, has 136,000 of its natives living in Spain and 73,000 in the United States. Chile's net emigration rate is negative as it has become a country of immigration rather than emigration.

The intensity of emigration thus varies greatly within the Americas. The highest net emigration rates (between 6 and 12 per thousand in 2007) can actually be found in the West Indies and Guyana. The highest in Ibero-America belongs to Mexico (4.08 per thousand), which also has the highest in the world for a country with a similar-size population (other countries with higher rates such as Botswana, Liberia, Albania, and Jordan have significantly smaller populations). El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Ecuador all have rates higher than 2 per thousand, which places them among the top twenty-five countries of emigration in the world. Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Peru rank above the global average and the rest of the countries in the region below that line.

In terms of destinations, the United States continues to rank at the top. Its census bureau estimates the number of Ibero-Americans residing there in 2006 at 18.7 million, or half of all immigrants in the country. Spain's Latin American population trebled from 2000 to 1.8 million in 2007. The rest of Europe has close to a million Latin American residents, with Italy holding a quarter of them, followed by the United Kingdom and Germany with more than 100,000 each, and Portugal, France, and Switzerland with somewhat lower numbers. Canada's Latin American population increased from 70,000 in 1981 (when a good number of them were still Chilean exiles) to 217,000 in 2001, when El Salvadorans and Mexicans led amore diverse group. Chileans were also the first to arrive in significant numbers in Australia in the 1970s. In 2007 they still make up a third of the 75,000 Latin Americans there. Argentineans and Uruguayans account for another third; and the recently arrived El Salvadorans for an eighth. Some 430,000 Latin American-born adults resided in Japan in 2005, 82 percent of them Brazilians and 14 percent Peruvians.

Similar to the European movements of the past, international migration in the early twenty-first century is more related to relative affluence than to poverty. Just as in the nineteenth century, post-World War II emigration began and acquired greater intensity in the better-off countries and regions. Mexico is actually classified as an upper-middle-income country, ranked as number 71 among the world's 208 countries and territories, and within that country emigration began and acquired massive dimensions in the richer states of the north. The other pioneers of emigration in Latin America—Cuba, Puerto Rico, and later the Southern Cone—are even more developed than Mexico. As in the past also, emigrants continue to be self-selected and of higher socioeconomic and educational background than those who stay behind.

However, several factors, now and then, affect the level of socioeconomic selectivity of the flow. One is time. Emigration tends to spread to poorer places and regions. In Latin America it spread in the late twentieth century to the south of Mexico, Central America, and the Andean region, just as it had spread in the nineteenth century from northern Europe to the less developed southern and eastern regions of the continent. Even within the same region, the flow becomes less selective with time. As social networks linking the place of origin and destination become denser, the assistance they provide lowers the cost of emigrating, making it possible for folks with fewer resources to do so.

The condition of the emigrants is also clearly affected by the level of socioeconomic development in the countries they come from. In the early twenty-first century those from the Southern Cone are on average more educated than those from Mexico or Central America, just as English or Germans were once more skilled than the Irish or Italians. As Table 3 shows, Argentineans, Uruguayans, and Chileans in the United States are four to nine times more likely to have a college degree or higher than Mexicans, Guatemalans, and El Salvadorans. However, distance (as a proxy for cost) increases the selectivity factor to a degree than can trump the level of socioeconomic development of the country of origin. So, for example, the educational attainment of Bolivians in the United States is six times higher than that of Mexicans, even though Mexico is a significantly richer and more developed country.

This combination of factors affects the skill levels of Latin American emigrants and thus their economic success in the host country. The 2000 U.S. census shows that Latin Americans are significantly less educated and more likely to live in poverty, and that their median family income is at least $14,000 lower than that of natives and all major immigrant groups (see Table 3). The same is true in Canada.

These overall figures, however, conceal important differences. Historically, highly selected and educated immigrants such as Chilean émigrés and Cuban exiles before the Mariel boatlift of 1980 had education and income levels higher than most groups, native or not, in North America. Today, immigrants from the most developed countries of South America may have lower levels of education than immigrant groups such as Indians, Nigerians, and Filipinos, but they are equal to or higher than those of the nativeborn population. Argentineans and Uruguayans have a higher median family income than natives, and Chileans come close. Other immigrants from South America, Panamanians, Cubans, and Costa Ricans have educational and income levels that are not far from the country's averages.

The low ranking of Latin Americans as a whole therefore is due to the low educational and income levels of Mexicans, Central Americans (specifically Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, and Hondurans), and Dominicans, who together make up seven-tenths of all Latin Americans in the United States. The cause of this phenomenon is not simply the poverty of the home countries. After all, even the poorest of the Central American countries, not to mention Mexico, have much higher per capita incomes and literacy than India and Nigeria, whose immigrants have among the highest income and education levels in the United States. The geographical proximity and longer history of going to the United States have simply lowered the cost of migrating for Mexicans, Central Americans, and Dominicans who are less socioeconomically select and more representative of the populations of their countries in general than are immigrants from Asia and Africa.

The economic success of the latter also demonstrates that racism cannot be a significant explanation for Latinos' relatively low socioeconomic standing in the United States. Indeed, contrary to common assumptions, racial discrimination against immigrants in general is less harsh now than it was in the past against European groups that today are considered white but were then seen as inferior races. The first immigration restrictions in the United States excluded the Chinese (in 1882) and southern and eastern Europeans (in 1924) openly and specifically for their supposed racial and cultural inferiority. Today one would be hard put to find such explicitly racist arguments even among the most bigoted public figures. The required circumlocutions, codes, and euphemisms necessarily complicate and dilute xenophobic discourse, which may be on an upswing in the early twenty-first century but not at a historically high peak.

Latin Americans and other selected foreign-born population in the United States, 2000
Place of birthPopulation (in thousands)Percentage high school graduate or higher (age 25+)RankPercentage bachelor's degree or higher (age 25+)RankPercentage of families living under the poverty level
Note: Ranked from 1, most successful (the average of higher education, higher income and lower poverty rates) to 26, least successful. The top group is above or close to the native-born population; the second not far from the national averages; and the third significantly below
Top group
Middle group
Costa Rica7268.91618.11814.116$40,67517
Lowest group
Latin America16,08743.9239.62120.723$33,42121
El Salvador81734.8254.92519.221$32,93422
Dominican Republic68847.8219.42228.326$27,97726
Table 3

Anti-immigrant rhetoric indeed has shown much continuity in the United States over the last two centuries. The volume and stridency of the rhetoric has tended to increase: (1) with the volume of the actual inflow; (2) during periods of economic contractions or uncertainty; and (3) when some politicians and members of the media calculate that the gains (in votes, readers, or viewers) from exploiting xenophobia will be higher than the cost of any possible backlash. Business leaders, who benefit from an increase in the labor supply, have consistently been pro-immigration; labor leaders have been less so, except in the cases where the membership is made up of recent arrivals. Education and income have continued to be positively related to tolerance of foreigners. The complaints against the newcomers have shown as much consistency: they are not as good as previous immigrant groups, do not want to assimilate, take jobs away from the natives and lower wages, and increase crime or terrorism.

The substance behind the complaints ranges from valid (or at least factual) to exaggerated to completely bogus. Immigrants do not switch identities and loyalties when they land in the receiving country. But, for better or worse (in as much as assimilation also implies some loss, of language for example), Latin Americans in the United States have followed a pattern similar to that of European immigrants in Latin America (or the United States) before. Every new generation in the host country becomes less distinguishable from the rest of the population in habits, norms, and behaviors (from what one does, eats, and speaks to where one lives and whom one socializes with or marries). Immigration does lower wages. But normally only in the sectors where the newcomers are numerous and rarely by more than 10 percent. Immigration has in many places and times (e.g., the northeastern cities of the United States in the nineteenth century or western Europe today) increased street crime. But in the present-day United States, Latin Americans and other immigrants have much lower crime rates than the native born. In some cases, for example Mexicans, the rate actually increases significantly among the American-born generation, but even then it simply matches that of the rest of the native-born population. And the attempt to link immigration and terrorism conceptually has been less successful in the United States than in western Europe because public opinion associates the two phenomena with different groups: immigration with Mexicans and terrorism with Middle Easterners.

In the early twenty-first century there are two unprecedented grievances against immigrants. One is that they abuse social services, a gripe that did not exist before the development of these programs in the 1930s. The proportion of Latin Americans receiving public assistance (6.4%) and the average amount that they receive ($3,676 annually) is higher than among the native population (3.2% and $2,859). But immigrants utilize fewer medical services (mainly because of their much lower average age) and contribute disproportionately to the Social Security fund (because most undocumented immigrants pay taxes into the fund but will not collect). At any rate, the more restricted, and declining, scope of the welfare state in the United States has made gripes about immigrants abusing it less common and strident than in western Europe.

The other new complaint relates to illegality. Such grumbles were almost nonexistent in the previous migration wave to the United States because there were no significant laws restricting the free flow of people into the country other than those prohibiting the entry of bigamists, anarchists, prostitutes, and contracted laborers. The actual act performed by immigrants today—moving from one country to another—is the same as it was a century before. It simply has been criminalized by the only entity that has the capacity to so: the state. But although not all laws enjoy equal legitimacy in the public eye, and others lose it almost completely (for example slavery or racial segregation), the ingrained respect for the rule of law, John Adams's constantly quoted maxim about the United States being "a government of laws, not men," and the automatic equation of illegality and immorality has infused the discourse on illegality with the legitimacy that those on the racial and cultural inferiority of newcomers once had.

North American attitudes toward Latin American or other immigrants continue to exhibit the peculiar ambiguities of the past. On the one hand, looking down upon the latest arrivals has always served as an assertion of belonging for those who came before and their descendants. On the other, immigration has consistently supplied the crucial element in the construction of the nation's identity and myths. Many countries have had and have larger proportions of immigrants in their population than the United States, which in 2007 ranks sixty-fifth in the world in this measure. But few have defined them selves as "a country of immigrants." In the Americas, only Argentineans and Uruguayans come close in this self-description, as expressed in their popular saying that Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas, and they themselves from boats. But in the United States this self-definition also contains a paean to the most individualist form of capitalism. The immigrant, in this lore, is the quintessential seeker: restless, ambitious, and asking for opportunity rather than security, so that the American Dream is the immigrant dream.

That dream fuels others back home. About three-quarters of Latin American immigrants in the United States, Europe, and Japan send remittances to their home countries. In 2006 they sent close to $60 billion. Development experts debate how much of this is used for consumption rather than investment in infrastructure and production. But whatever the uses, remittances into Latin America now surpass foreign direct investment and represent an inflow of money twenty times larger than foreign aid. Unlike foreign investment, none of that money is repatriated as profits. Unlike foreign aid, which has always been prone to intermediary corruption and has become increasingly militarized, remittances reach their beneficiaries directly, and whatever its uses, the purchase of armaments is not one of those.

See alsoAgriculture; Cities and Urbanization; Coffee Industry; Creole; Diseases; Indigenous Languages; Indigenous Peoples; Industrialization; Jews; Minas Gerais; Mining: Colonial Spanish America; Pampa; Race and Ethnicity; Railroads; Slavery: Brazil; Slavery: Spanish America; Sugar Industry; Trade, Colonial Brazil; Wars of Independence, South America.


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                                             Jose C. Moya

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