A Brief History of Latin American Immigration to the United States

With each wave of new immigrants, the U.S has always greeted them with racism and bigotry. So it’s not a surprise that Latinos have been treated in a similar manner. However not all groups of Latinos have been treated the same way. Some, like Cubans, have been portrayed as victims of a cruel communist society while others, like Mexicans, have been the scapegoats for America’s problems. These perceptions have lead to a disadvantage to some Latin American groups while it gives an advantage to others.

The irony is that the U.S had always wanted Mexicans to migrate to its lands. Through programs such as the Bracero Program, the U.S encouraged Mexicans to come to the United States as a source of cheap labor (Bedolla, p. 54). However at the same time, Mexican migrants were also deported back to Mexico such as in Operation Wetback, because U.S citizens blamed them for the lack of jobs during the Great Depression (Bedolla, p. 52).

Mexicans also faced racism and discrimination in the United States. In the South, the Jim Crow Laws prevented many Latinos from voting or running for public office (Bedolla, p.57). Mexicans were also the victims of harassment and psychical violence (Bedolla, p. 57). Even in non-southern states, there was still segregation in schools (Bedolla, p. 60). For example in the movie Walkout, which takes place in a predominantly Mexican populated school in 1960’s L.A, the students were not allowed to speak Spanish and were not given the same resources as predominantly white schools. Although it was not segregation per say, the influence of segregation allowed for inequality in modern times.

Like Mexicans, Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S for employment. However, they also faced the same type discrimination and violence. Despite their legal status as citizens of the U.S, “…there were reports of Puerto Ricans being refused the right to vote and the right of access to public services” (Bedolla, p. 104).

Unlike Mexicans or Puerto Ricans, Cubans had migrated to the United States as political refugees from the Castro regime (Bedolla, p. 130). As a result, they were treated much differently than any other Latino group. “It is estimated that this community received at least $4 billion in direct aid from the US government between 1960 and 1996…” (Bedolla, p. 136). Since Cubans were recent immigrants, they weren’t subjected to as much discrimination as other Latino immigrants (Bedolla, p. 137). Their children could attend white schools and were not segregated (Bedolla, p. 136). Also, Cubans were granted U.S citizenship through the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act as long as they stayed at least one year in the U.S (Bedolla, p. 137). No other Latino group has been granted this treatment. Cubans were granted this treatment because they came from a country that was considered an enemy to the U.S.

Salvadorans and Guatemalans migrated to the U.S due to violence and civil wars in their home countries. However they were considered economic migrants rather than political refugees by the U.S government and were not granted the same rights as Cuban refugees (Bedolla, p. 167). This is due to the United States’ involvement in giving monetary aid to Central American military and police forces (Bedolla, p. 167). Although this money was to be used to fight the spread of communism, instead it was used by Central American governments to sow fear and terror into its citizens (Bedolla, p. 167). Since the United States government refused to acknowledge that it aided the atrocities in El Salvador and Guatemala, it also refuses to label its immigrants as refugees.

The discrimination that Latinos face in the United States has led to fewer opportunities. In the case of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, this has led to poverty and low college attendance. However since Puerto Ricans are U.S citizens, they never have to fear deportation like other Latino groups. On the other hand, since Salvadorans and Guatemalans are not considered political refugees, those who migrate from those countries are in constant fear of being deported. When you live in fear, you cannot pursue things such as higher education. The only Latino group that has seem to benefit directly from migrating to the United States are Cubans. They not only get aid from the U.S government, but they are also granted citizenship as well due to their political refugee status (Bedolla, p. 137). Although Latino groups do face racism on a daily basis, they are not helpless. They continue to organize themselves and fight for equal rights. Over time, the United States has become more accepting of immigrants and in time, all Latinos, legal citizens or not, will be able to free themselves from oppression.

Bedolla, Lisa Garcia. Latino Politics. Malden: Polity, 2009. Print.


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