Running head: IMMIGRANTS 1


7 Latinos

Listen to  Chapter 7  on MySocLab

· 7-1 Discuss the characteristics of Latinos and explain pan-ethnicity.

· 7-2 Describe the current economic picture of Latinos.

· 7-3 Address the present role of Latinos in politics.

· 7-4 Explain the role of religion for Latinos.

· 7-5 Identify the contemporary roles of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans.

· 7-6 Summarize the issues surrounding statehood for Puerto Rico and its economy.

· 7-7 Examine and discuss the culture of Cuban Americans.

· 7-8 Describe the diversity among Central and South Americans and their immigration status in the U.S.

One would not be surprised to hear fellow citizens in Miami or El Paso speaking Spanish, but what about in a small town in Illinois, Kansas, or Alabama? Change can be unsettling in a small town, and when it comes to diversity in the United States, the pattern can vary from one community to the next.

Beardstown is an Illinois river town of about 6,000 people that serves the surrounding rich agriculture land. The major employer for over two decades is a meat-processing plant that offers decent wages for hard, often dangerous work. Immigrants directly from Mexico as well as Mexican Americans from elsewhere were lured to Beardstown by the low cost of living and the jobs that locals passed on. Today, the town founded by Germans is over a third Hispanic and its public schools are 44 percent Hispanic. While towns-people say the influx of Hispanic people has kept the local economy alive and culturally vibrant, the area was slow to mount bilingual programs not just for the schools but also for local businesses and public services from the hospital to the city hall.

The outlook for rural America is even more economically stressful in the Plains. In Ulysses, Kansas, which is similar in size and ethnic composition to Beardstown, Luz Gonzales opened The Down-Town Restaurant to serve the growing area Hispanic population. Initially, she mainly served Mexican food but found a clientele among long-term residents for diner food. So Gonzalez learned to prepare potato salad and other dishes that were exotic to her.

As noted at the outset, change is not easy. In Slocomb, Alabama, a town of 2,000 people that bills itself “Home of the Tomato,” many of the local Latino workers who pick green beans, peaches, and strawberries fear seeking health care at the local clinic. The staff are friendly enough and speak Spanish, but on the way there, the workers may face roadblocks as part of immigration crackdowns. Even if the laborers are citizens, they fear exposing relatives and friends who are illegal immigrants. The quest for health care becomes an exercise in overcoming moral issues that most Americans would rarely consider.

In many rural areas, the population has declined steadily. By one estimate, more than a third of counties have lost population, but in 86 percent of these, the Hispanic population has increased, which serves to minimize overall population lost. While increases in the number of Spanish-speaking children is a challenge for schools, without their growing presence, districts would face an almost certain dramatic loss of school funding and massive spending cuts (Beardstown CUSD 15; Constantini  2011 ; Galewitz  2012 ; Jordan  2012 ; Mather and Pollard  2007 ; Sulzberger  2011 ; Wisniewski  2012 ).

According to Census Bureau projections, just over 57 million Americans will be of Spanish or Latin American origin by 2015. This will be more than one in six people in the United States. Collectively, this group is called Hispanics or Latinos, two terms that we use interchangeably in this book. Latinos accounted for over half the entire nation’s population growth between 2000 and 2010. Just considering the public schools in larger cities, Latinos account for over 40 percent of first-graders in Chicago, New York City, San Diego, and Phoenix; over 60 percent in Dallas and Houston; over 70 percent in Los Angeles; and over 85 percent in San Antonio (Bureau of the Census  2012d : Table 4; Passel et al.  2011 ; Thomás Rivera Policy Institute  2009 ).

As of 2010, nearly 32 million Hispanics in the United States (two-thirds) are Mexican Americans, or Chicanos. The diversity of Latinos and their national distribution in the United States are shown in  Figures 7.1  and  7.2 . Except for Puerto Ricans, who are citizens by birth, legal status is a major issue within the Latino community. The specter of people questioning Latinos about their legal status even looms over legal residents. According to a national survey, the majority of Hispanic adults in the United States worry that they, a family member, or a close friend could be deported (Lopez et al. 2010).

FIGURE 7.1 Hispanic Population of the United States by Origin

Note: “Other Hispanic” includes Spanish Americans and Latinos identified as mixed ancestry as well as other Central and South Americans not otherwise indicated by specific country. All nationalities with more than one million are indicated.

Source: 2010 census data in Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert 2011:3.

FIGURE 7.2 Where Most Hispanic Americans Live

Source: Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert: Table 7.12.

Latino Identity

Is there a common identity among Latinos? Is a panethnic identity emerging?  Panethnicity  is the development of solidarity between ethnic subgroups. Hispanics do not share a common historical or cultural identity. We noted in  Chapter 1  that ethnic identity is not self-evident in the United States and may lead to heated debates even among those who share the same ethnic heritage. Non-Hispanics often give a single label to the diverse group of native-born Latino Americans and immigrants. This labeling by the outgroup is similar to how the dominant group views American Indians or Asian Americans as one collective group. The treating of all Hispanics alike is an unfortunate lack of attention to their history and the history of the United States (C. Rodriquez 1994: 32).

Are Hispanics or Latinos themselves developing a common identity? While generally two-thirds of Latinos and Hispanics in the United State agree that they share a common culture, that does not mean they feel they share a common name. Overall, about half would prefer to use country of origin to identify themselves, such as Mexican American; the balance are split between Hispanic or Latino and American.

Explore the Map on MySocLabSecond-Generation Latinos

Among Hispanic youth aged 16–25, only a minority, about 20 percent, prefers to use panethnic names such as Hispanic or Latino. In Miami, Florida, bumper stickers proclaim “No soy Hispano, soy Cubano”: “I am not Hispanic, I am Cuban.” As might be expected, identity preferences vary according to whether one is an immigrant or is U.S.-born of U.S.-born Hispanics. About 72 percent of immigrant youth prefer country of origin compared to 32 percent of grandchildren (Pew Hispanic Center 2009,  2012a ).

An even trickier issue is how Latinos identify themselves in racial terms now and how they will in the future. Typically, the sharp White–Black divide is absent in their home countries, where race, if socially constructed, tends to be along a color gradient. A  color gradient  places people along a continuum from light to dark skin color rather than in two or three distinct racial groupings. The presence of color gradients is yet another reminder of the social construction of race. Terms such as mestizo Hondurans, mulatto Colombians, or African Panamanians reflect this continuum of color gradient. In the United States, Latinos tend to avoid taking on the label of being “White” or “Black,” although lighter-skinned Hispanics generally distinguish themselves from Black Americans. Social scientists speculate whether in time, like the Irish almost a century ago, Latinos will come to be viewed as “White” rather than as a third collective group in addition to White and Black Americans (Bonilla-Silva 2004; Feagin and Cobas 2008; Pew Hispanic Center  2012a ).

The Economic Picture

Among the many indicators of how well a group is doing economically in the United States, income is probably the best one.  Table 7.1  summarizes several key measures broken down by the six largest Latino groups. The high rate of poverty is very troubling.

A study released in 2011 documented the continuing high rise in the poverty rate from 1977 through 2010 except for some decline during the relative prosperity the nation experienced in the late 1990s. The government has measured poverty for generations and while Blacks have a higher rate, the largest group of children below the poverty level had always been Whites. In the last two years, however, Hispanics as a group have far over-reached the number of White children in poverty. By 2010, 6.1 million Latino children were in poverty compared to 5 million Whites and 4.4 million Black children. Reflecting the low wages that Latinos often receive in the United States, poor Hispanic children are much more likely to have a working parent than either poor children in the White or Black communities (Lopez and Velasco  2011 ).

Income is just part of the picture. Low levels of wealth—total assets minus debt—are characteristic of Hispanic households. Although they appear to have slightly higher levels of median wealth than African American households, Hispanic households average less than 12 cents for every dollar in wealth owned by White non-Hispanic households. Also the trend is not encouraging with the Hispanic and non-Hispanic gap growing. Latinos not only are likely to continue to earn much less annually but also to have fewer financial resources to fall back on (Kent  2010 ).

Explore the Concept on MySocLabHealth Insurance Coverage Among Latino Subgroups

Explore the Concept on MySocLab: The Wage Gap, By Gender, Race/Hispanic Origin

TABLE 7.1 Hispanic Origin Groups

Group Foreign Born Bachelor’s Degree Proficient in English Poverty Rate
Mexican Americans 36%  9% 64% 27%
Puerto Ricans 1 16 82 27
Cubans 59 24 58 18
Salvadorans 62 7 46 20
Dominicans 57 15 55 26
Guatemalans 67 8 41 26

Note: Include the six largest groups; all reporting at least one million.

Source: Motel and Patten  2012 .

By studying the income and poverty trends of Latino households, we can see how much—but also how little—has been accomplished to reduce social inequality among ethnic and racial groups. Although the income of Latinos has gradually increased over the last 30 years, so has White income. The gap between the two groups in both income and poverty level has remained relatively constant. Indeed, the $38,624 income of the typical Latino household in 2011 was more than $14,000 behind the typical 1987 White non-Hispanic household (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith  2012 : Tables H-16 and HINC-01).

Explore the Concept on MySocLabUninsured Children by Poverty Status, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 2009

Chapter 6  noted the growing proportion of poor African Americans who find it increasingly difficult to obtain meaningful work. This also has been said of today’s poor Latinos, but their situation is much more difficult to predict. On the one hand, as a group, poor Latinos are more geographically mobile than poor African Americans, which increases their prospects of a brighter future. On the other hand, 54 percent of foreign-born Latinos and 17 percent of native-born Latinos send money abroad to help relatives, which puts a greater strain on supporting themselves in the United States (Lopez et al. 2009).

The Political Presence

Until the late twentieth century, Latinos’ political activity has been primarily outside conventional electoral activities. In the 1960s, urban Hispanics, especially Mexican Americans, developed activist groups aimed at what were regarded as especially unsympathetic policies of school administrators. About the same time, labor organizer César Chávez crusaded to organize migrant farmworkers. Efforts to organize agricultural laborers date back to the turn of the twentieth century, but Chávez was the first to enjoy any success. These laborers had never won collective bargaining rights, partly because their mobility and extreme poverty made it difficult for them to organize into a unified group.

Both major political parties have begun to acknowledge that Latinos form a force in the election process. Admittedly, for Puerto Ricans and Cuban Americans, as is discussed later, their central political issue has been the political future of their respective island homelands. Nonetheless, Republicans and Democrats have sought to gain support among Latinos. This recognition by establishment political parties has finally come primarily through the growth of the Hispanic population and also through policies that have facilitated non-English voters.

In 1975, Congress moved toward recognizing the multilingual background of the U.S. population. Federal law now requires bilingual or even multilingual ballots in voting districts where at least 5 percent of the voting-age population or 10,000 people do not speak English. The growing Latino presence documented in the 2010 Census has led Hispanic communities to anticipate that, following reapportionment, they will have even greater political representation, ranging from local council members to representatives and senators in Congress.

For a generation, political scholars spoke of the Latino power at the ballot box, but the Hispanic presence at the polls did not always live up to expectations. The turnout often has been poor because although Hispanics were interested in voting, many were ineligible to vote under the U.S. Constitution. They were noncitizens or, despite bilingual voting information, getting properly registered was a challenge.

This began to change with the 2010 Congressional elections and especially the 2012 presidential election. In the Obama–Romney race, Latinos nationwide constituted one out of every ten voters and their numbers were almost double that or even more in the key swing or battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia. The potential for an even greater Latino political presence is strong.

Anticipating greater turnout, political parties are advancing more Hispanic candidates. Democrats have been decidedly more successful in garnering the Hispanic vote with ultimately 71 percent of Latinos backing Democrat candidate Obama in 2012. Even Cuban Americans, who have tended the favor the Republicans and their strong anti-Castro position, split their vote between Obama and Romney. While not all Latinos necessarily support easing immigration regulations, much of the tone in arguments for strict immigration laws alienates most Latinos. The Democrats promoted policies that allowed children who immigrated illegally as children or even infants with their parents a path to permanent residency following successful completion of their schooling. However, the Republicans officially opposed such steps and encouraged self-deportation for illegal immigrants and, if they did not comply with that, immediate deportation upon detection. The Hispanic community’s rapidly growing population, higher proportions of voter registration, and higher participation in elections guarantee future efforts by politicians to gain their support. The Democrats have clearly garnered the allegiance of Hispanics, and the Republicans face a difficult challenge to sway them to their candidates (Campo-Flores  2012 ; Edison Research  2012 ; Lopez and Velasco  2011 ; Preston and Santos  2012 ).

Like African Americans, many Latinos resent that every four years the political movers and shakers rediscover that they exist. Latino community leaders derisively label candidates’ fascination with Latino concerns near election time as either fiesta politics or Hispandering. Between major elections, modest efforts have been made to court their interest except by Latino elected officials; however, this may change as Latino presence at the ballot box is felt.


The most important formal organization in the Hispanic community is the Church. Most Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans express a religious preference for the Catholic Church. In 2011, about 62 percent of Hispanics were Catholic.  Figure 7.3  examines a more detailed background of specific religious affiliations indicated by Latinos.

Recently, the Roman Catholic Church has become more community oriented, seeking to identify Latino, or at least Spanish-speaking, clergy and staff to serve Latino parishes. The lack of Spanish-speaking priests has been complicated further because a smaller proportion of men are training for the priesthood, and even fewer of them speak Spanish (Ramirez  2000 ; Rosales 1996).

FIGURE 7.3 Religious Profile of Latinos

Source: Pew Hispanic Center  2012a .

Not only is the Catholic Church important to Hispanics but Hispanics also play a significant role for the Church. The selection of Pope Frances from Argentina in 2013 was interpreted by many as an acknowledgment of the Latin American role in the global Roman Catholic Church. The population growth of Mexican Americans and other Hispanics has been responsible for the Catholic Church’s continued growth in recent years, whereas mainstream Protestant faiths have declined in size. Hispanics account for more than a third of Roman Catholics in the United States. The Church is trying to adjust to Hispanics’ more expressive manifestation of religious faith, which is reflected by frequent reliance on their own patron saints and the presence of special altars in their homes. Catholic churches in some parts of the United States are even starting to accommodate observances of the Mexican Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Such practices are a tradition from rural Mexico, where religion was followed without trained clergy. Yet in the United States today, Hispanics continue to be underrepresented among priests: only 4.4 percent nationwide are Hispanic (O’Connor  1998 ).

Although Latinos are predominantly Catholic, their membership in Protestant and other Christian faiths is growing. According to a national survey, first-generation Latinos (i.e., the immigrant generation) are 69 percent Catholic, but by the third generation (i.e., grandchildren of immigrants) only 40 percent are Catholic. As one pastor of the New Life Covenant Church in Chicago observed, when the young Latino parishioners leave his church saying, “Thank you for the Mass today,” it is not hard to identify them as converts from Catholicism (Hagerty 2011; Pew Hispanic Center  2012a : 35).

Pentecostalism , a type of evangelical Christianity, is growing in Latin America and is clearly making a significant impact on Latinos in the United States. Adherents to Pentecostal faiths hold beliefs similar to those of evangelicals but also believe in the infusion of the Holy Spirit into services and in religious experiences such as faith healing. Pentecostalism and similar faiths are attractive to many Latinos because they offer followers the opportunity to express their religious fervor openly. Furthermore, many of the churches are small and, therefore, offer a sense of community, often with Spanish-speaking leadership. Gradually, the more established faiths are recognizing the desirability of offering Latino parishioners a greater sense of belonging (Hunt  1999).

Mexican Americans

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Citizenship is the basic requirement for receiving one’s legal rights and privileges in the United States. However, for Mexican Americans, citizenship has been an ambiguous concept at best. Mexican Americans (or Chicanos) have a long history in the United States that stretches back before the nation was even formed to the early days of European exploration. Santa Fe, New Mexico, was founded more than a decade before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Mexican American people trace their ancestry to the merging of Spanish settlers with the Native Americans of Central America and Mexico. This ancestry dates to the brilliant Mayan and Aztec civilizations, which attained their height about 700 and 1500 CE, respectively. However, roots in the land do not guarantee a group any dominance over it. Over several centuries, the Spaniards conquered the land and merged with the Native Americans to form the Mexican people. In 1821, Mexico obtained its independence, but this independence was short-lived: Domination from the north began less than a generation later.

Today, Mexican Americans are creating their own destiny in the United States while functioning in a society that is often concerned about immigration, both legal and illegal. In the eyes of some, including a few in positions of authority, to be Mexican American is to be suspected of being in the country illegally or, at least, of knowingly harboring illegal aliens.

Wars play a prominent part in any nation’s history. The United States was created as a result of the colonies’ war with England to win their independence. In the 1800s, the United States acquired significant neighboring territory in two different wars. The legacy of these wars and the annexation that resulted were to create the two largest Hispanic minorities in the United States: Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans.

A large number of Mexicans became aliens in the United States without ever crossing a border. These people first became Mexican Americans at the conclusion of the Mexican–American War. This two-year war culminated with a U.S. occupation of 11 months. Today, Mexicans visit the Museum of Interventions in Mexico City, which outlines the war and how Mexico permanently gave up half its country. The war is still spoken of today as “the Mutilation” (T. Weiner  2004 ).

In the war-ending Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848, Mexico acknowledged the annexation of Texas by the United States and ceded California and most of Arizona and New Mexico to the United States for $15 million. In exchange, the United States granted citizenship to the 75,000 Mexican nationals who remained on the annexed land after one year. With citizenship, the United States was to guarantee religious freedom, property rights, and cultural integrity—that is, the right to continue Mexican and Spanish cultural traditions and to use the Spanish language.

The beginnings of the Mexican experience in the United States were as varied as the people themselves. Some Mexican Americans were affluent, with large land holdings. Others were poor peasants barely able to survive. Along such rivers as the Rio Grande, commercial towns grew up around the increasing river traffic. In New Mexico and Arizona, many Mexican American people welcomed the protection that the U.S. government offered against several Native American tribes. In California, the gold miners quickly dominated life, and Anglos controlled the newfound wealth. One generalization can be made about the many segments of the Mexican American population in the nineteenth century: They were regarded as a conquered people. In fact, even before the war, many Whites who traveled into the West were already prejudiced against people of mixed blood (in this instance, against Mexicans). Whenever Mexican American and Anglo interests conflicted, Anglo interests won.

A pattern of second-class treatment for Mexican Americans emerged well before the twentieth century. Gradually, the Anglo system of property ownership replaced the Hispanic and Native American systems. Mexican Americans who inherited land proved no match for Anglo lawyers. Court battles provided no protection for poor Spanish-speaking landowners. Unscrupulous lawyers occasionally defended Mexican Americans successfully, only to demand half the land as their fee. Anglo cattle ranchers gradually pushed out Mexican American ranchers. By 1892, the federal government was granting grazing privileges on public grasslands and forests to anyone except Mexican Americans. Effectively, the people who became Mexican Americans had also become outsiders in their own homeland. The ground was laid for the twentieth century social structure of the Southwest, an area of growing productivity in which minority groups have increased in size but remain largely subordinate.

The Roman Catholic Church has a long history among Mexicans and Mexican Americans. The Mission San Xavier del Bac in Arizona was founded in 1700.

The Immigrant Experience

Nowhere else in the world do two countries with such different standards of living and wage scales share such an open border. Immigration from Mexico is unique in several respects. First, it has been a continuous large-scale movement for most of the last hundred years. The United States did not restrict immigration from Mexico through legislation until 1965. Second, the proximity of Mexico encourages past immigrants to maintain strong cultural and language ties with their homeland through friends and relatives. Return visits to the old country are only one- or two-day bus rides for Mexican Americans, not once-in-a-lifetime voyages, as they were for most European immigrants. The third point of uniqueness is the aura of illegality that has surrounded Mexican migrants. Throughout the twentieth century, the suspicion in which Anglos have held Mexican Americans has contributed to mutual distrust between the two groups.

The years before World War I brought large numbers of Mexicans into the expanding agricultural industry of the Southwest. The Mexican revolution of 1909–1922 thrust refugees into the United States, and World War I curtailed the flow of people from Europe, leaving the labor market open to Mexican Americans. After the war, continued political turmoil in Mexico and more prosperity in the Southwest brought still more Mexicans across the border.

Simultaneously, corporations in the United States, led by agribusiness, invested in Mexico in such a way as to maximize their profits but minimize the amount of money remaining in Mexico to provide needed employment. Conflict theorists view this investment as part of the continuing process in which American businesses, with the support and cooperation of affluent Mexicans, have used Mexican people when it has been in corporate leaders’ best interests. Their fellow Mexicans use Mexican workers as cheap laborers in their own country, and Americans use them here as cheap labor or as undocumented workers and then dismiss them when they are no longer useful (Guerin-Gonzales  1994 ).

Beginning in the 1930s, the United States embarked on a series of measures aimed specifically at Mexicans. The Great Depression brought pressure on local governments to care for the growing number of unemployed and impoverished. Government officials developed a quick way to reduce welfare rolls and eliminate people seeking jobs: Ship Mexicans back to Mexico. This program of deporting Mexicans in the 1930s was called  repatriation . As officially stated, the program was constitutional because only illegal aliens were to be repatriated. In reality, Mexicans and even people born in the United States of Mexican background were deported to relieve the economic pressure of the depression. The legal process of fighting a deportation order was overwhelming, however, especially for a poor Spanish-speaking family. The Anglo community largely ignored this outrage against the civil rights of those deported and showed no interest in helping repatriates ease the transition (Balderrama and Rodriguez  2006 ).

Watch the Video on MySocLabLatino Laborers

When the depression ended, Mexican laborers again became attractive to industry. In 1942, when World War II depleted the labor pool, the United States and Mexico agreed to a program allowing migration across the border by contracted laborers, or  braceros . Within a year of the initiation of the bracero program, more than 80,000 Mexican nationals had been brought in; they made up one-eleventh of the farmworkers on the Pacific Coast. The program continued with some interruptions until 1964. It was devised to recruit labor from poor Mexican areas for U.S. farms. In the program, which was supposed to be supervised jointly by Mexico and the United States, minimum standards were to be maintained for transportation, housing, wages, and health care of the braceros. Ironically, these safeguards placed the braceros in a better economic situation than Mexican Americans, who often worked alongside the protected Mexican nationals. Mexicans were still regarded as a positive presence by Anglos only when useful, and the Mexican American people were merely tolerated.

Like many policies of the past relating to disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups, the bracero program lives on. After decades of protests, the Mexican government finally issued checks of $3,500 to former braceros and their descendants. The payments were to resolve disputes over what happened to the money the U.S. government gave to the Mexican government to assist in resettlement. To say this has been regarded as too little, much too late is an understatement.

Another crackdown on illegal aliens was to be the third step in dealing with the perceived Mexican problem. Alternately called Operation Wetback and Special Force Operation, it was fully inaugurated by 1954. The term wetbacks, or  mojados —derisive slang for Mexicans who enter illegally—refers to those who secretly swim across the Rio Grande. Like other roundups, this effort failed to stop the illegal flow of workers. For several years, some Mexicans were brought in under the bracero program while other Mexicans were being deported. With the end of the bracero program in 1964 and stricter immigration quotas for Mexicans, illegal border crossings increased because legal crossings became more difficult (J. Kim  2008 ).

More dramatic than the negative influence that continued immigration has had on employment conditions in the Southwest is the effect on the Mexican and Mexican American people themselves. Routinely, the rights of Mexicans, even the rights to which they are entitled as illegal aliens, are ignored. Of the illegal immigrants deported, few have been expelled through formal proceedings. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has repeatedly expressed concern over how the government handles illegal aliens.

Against this backdrop of legal maneuvers is the tie that the Mexican people have to the land both in today’s Mexico and in the parts of the United States that formerly belonged to Mexico. Assimilation may be the key word in the history of many immigrant groups, but for Mexican Americans the key term is La Raza, literally the people or the race. Among contemporary Mexican Americans, however, the term connotes pride in a pluralistic Spanish, Native American, and Mexican heritage. Mexican Americans cherish their legacy and, as we shall see, strive to regain some of the economic and social glory that once was theirs (Delgado  2008a ).

Read the Document on MySocLabMexican Americans and Immigrant Incorporation

Despite the passage of various measures designed to prevent illegal immigration, neither the immigration nor the apprehension of illegal aliens is likely to end. Economic conditions are the major factor. For example, the prolonged recession beginning in 2008 leading to a weakened U.S. job market led to a significant decline in individuals seeking to enter the United States from Mexico either legally or illegally. Increased deportations might have contributed to a decline in the number of Mexican Americans in the United States if it were not for U.S.-born children of Mexican ancestry. Whether Mexican immigration returns to its historical levels of the 1990s, remains to be seen (Pew Hispanic Center  2012b ).

Mexican Americans will continue to be more closely scrutinized by law enforcement officials because their Mexican descent makes them more suspect as potential illegal aliens. The Mexican American community is another group subject to racial profiling that renders their presence in the United States suspect in the eyes of many Anglos.

In the United States, Mexican Americans have mixed feelings toward the illegal Mexican immigrants. Many are their kin, and Mexican Americans realize that entry into the United States brings Mexicans better economic opportunities. However, numerous deportations only perpetuate the Anglo stereotype of Mexican and Mexican American alike as surplus labor. Mexican Americans, largely the product of past immigration, find that the continued controversy over illegal immigration places them in the conflicting role of citizen and relative. Mexican American organizations opposing illegal immigration must confront people to whom they are closely linked by culture and kinship, and they must cooperate with government agencies they deeply distrust.

Family Life

The most important organization or social institution among Mexican Americans, or for that matter any group, is the family. The structure of the Mexican American family differs little from that of all families in the United States, a statement remarkable in itself, given the impoverished status of a significant number of Mexican Americans.

Latino households are described as laudably more familistic than others in the United States.  Familism means pride and closeness in the family, which results in family obligation and loyalty coming before individual needs. The family is the primary source of both social interaction and caregiving. In Research Focus, we look at familism more closely.

Read the Document on MySocLabCare Options for Older Mexican Americans: Issues Affecting Health and Long-Term Service Needs

Familism has been viewed as both a positive and a negative influence on individual Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans. It has been argued that familism has had the negative effect of discouraging youths with a bright future from taking advantage of opportunities that would separate them from their family. Familism is generally regarded as good, however, because an extended family provides emotional strength in times of crisis. Close family ties maintain the mental and social well-being of the elderly. Most Latinos, therefore, see the intact, extended family as a norm and as a nurturing unit that provides support throughout a person’s lifetime. The many significant aspects of familism include the importance of campadrazgo (the godparent–godchild relationship), the benefits of the financial dependency of kin, the availability of relatives as a source of advice, and the active involvement of the elderly in the family.

 Research Focus: The Latino Family Circle: Familism

Familism within the Mexican American and the entire Latino community is associated with a sense of obligation to fellow family members, the placement of family interests over individual desires, and exclusiveness of the family even over friends and work. Familism has been likened to a thick social network where one’s family defines everyday social interaction.

Familism for the U.S.-born Latino is also associated with familiarity with Spanish so that one can truly relate to the older relatives for whom English may remain very much a foreign language. Being nominally Roman Catholic is another means of maintaining strong extended family ties. U.S. Hispanic families are undergoing transition with the simultaneous growth of more multigenerational families born in the United States as well family members from the homeland. This is all complicated by the mixed status present in so many Latino extended families (with the obvious exception of Puerto Ricans, for whom citizenship is automatic). As explained in  Chapter 4  mixed status  refers to families in which one or more is a citizen and one or more is a noncitizen. This especially becomes problematic when the noncitizens are illegal or undocumented immigrants. All the usual pressures within a family become magnified when there is mixed status.

Although immigration makes generalizing about Latinos as a group very difficult at any one point in time, analysis of available data indicates that Hispanic households are taking on more of the characteristics of larger society. For example, cohabiting couples with or without children were relatively uncommon among Hispanic groups but now are coming to resemble the pattern of non-Hispanics. Similarly, Mexican-born women now living in the United States are more likely to enter marriage earlier, but later generations of women born in the United States are more likely to start marriage later. The same was true for Puerto Rican women born on the island, compared with those born on the mainland.

In the future, the greatest factor that may lead to a decline in familism is marriage across ethnic lines. Continuing immigration from Mexico has tended to slow outgroup marriage, but during periods of lessened migration, immigrants have been more likely to form unions with different Latino groups or with non-Hispanics.

Today, we begin to see a more individualistic orientation than a collective orientation or familism that is more likely to encourage family members to move away from their relatives or, more dramatically, lead to desertion or divorce. Studies with other established, longer-term immigrant groups suggest that family members become more individualistic in their values and behavior. People both within and outside the Latino community are interested to see if Hispanics will follow this pattern and whether the familism that has been so characteristic of much of the Latino community will fade.

Sources: Comeau  2012 ; Jacobson, England, and Barrus  2008 ; Landale and Oropesa 2002, 2007; Landale, Oropesa, and Bradatan  2006 ; Lichter, Brown, Qian, and Carmalt  2007 ; Sarkistan, Gerena, and Gerstel  2007 ; Zambrana  2011 .

Puerto Ricans

As opposed to other minority groups, it seems that United States citizenship should be clear for Puerto Ricans. However, it continues to be ambiguous. Even Native Americans, who are subject to some unique laws and are exempt from others because of past treaties, have a future firmly dominated by the United States. This description does not necessarily fit Puerto Ricans. Their island home is the last major U.S. colonial territory and, for that matter, one of the few colonial areas remaining in the world. Besides assessing the situation of Puerto Ricans on the mainland, we also need to consider the relationship of the United States to Puerto Rico.

Explore the Activity on MySocLabPuerto Rican and Cuban Americans

Puerto Ricans’ current association with the United States, like that of the Mexican people, began as the result of the outcome of a war. The island of Borinquén, subsequently called Puerto Rico, was claimed by Spain in 1493. The native inhabitants, the Taíno Indians, were significantly reduced in number by conquest, slavery, and genocide. Although for generations the legacy of the Taíno was largely thought to be archaeological in nature, recent DNA tests revealed that more than 60 percent of Puerto Ricans today have a Taíno ancestor. About 20,000 identified themselves as Taíno in the 2010 census (Cockburn  2003 :41; Kearns  2011 ).

After Spain ruled Puerto Rico for four centuries, the United States seized the island in 1898 during the Spanish–American War. Spain relinquished control of it in the Treaty of Paris. Puerto Rico’s value for the United States, as it had been for Spain, was mainly its strategic location, which was advantageous for maritime trade.

The beginnings of rule by the United States quickly destroyed any hope that Puerto Ricans—or Boricua, as Puerto Ricans call themselves—had for self-rule. All power was given to officials appointed by the president, and Congress could overrule any act of the island’s legislature. Even the spelling was changed briefly to Porto Rico to suit North American pronunciation. English, previously unknown on the island, became the only language permitted in the school systems. The people were colonized—first politically, then culturally, and finally economically (Aran et al.  1973 ; Christopulos  1974 ).

The Jones Act of 1917 extended citizenship to Puerto Ricans, but Puerto Rico remained a colony. This political dependence altered in 1948, when Puerto Rico elected its own governor and became a commonwealth. This status, officially Estado Libre Asociado, or Associated Free State, extends to Puerto Rico and its people privileges and rights different from those of people on the mainland. Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and elect their own governor, they may not vote in presidential elections and have no voting representation in Congress. They are subject to military service, Selective Service registration, and all federal laws. Puerto Ricans have a homeland that is and at the same time is not a part of the United States.

The Bridge Between the Island and the Mainland

Despite their citizenship, immigration officials occasionally challenge Puerto Ricans. Because other Latin Americans attempt to enter the country posing as Puerto Ricans, Puerto Ricans find their papers scrutinized more closely than do other U.S. citizens.

Puerto Ricans came to the mainland in small numbers in the first half of the twentieth century, often encouraged by farm labor contracts similar to those extended to Mexican braceros. During World War II, the government recruited hundreds of Puerto Ricans to work on the railroads, in food-manufacturing plants, and in copper mines on the mainland. But migration has been largely a post–World War II phenomenon. The 1940 census showed fewer than 70,000 Puerto Ricans on the mainland. By 2010, more than 4.6 million Puerto Ricans lived on the mainland and 3.7 million residents lived on the island (Lopez and Velasco  2011 ).

Among the factors that have contributed to migration are the economic pull away from the underdeveloped and overpopulated island, the absence of legal restrictions against travel, and the increasingly cheap air transportation. As the migration continues, the mainland offers the added attraction of a large Puerto Rican community in New York City, which makes adjustment easier for new arrivals.

New York City still has a formidable population of Puerto Ricans (786,000), but significant changes have taken place. First, Puerto Ricans no longer dominate the Latino scene in New York City, making up only a little more than a third of the city’s Hispanic population. Second, Puerto Ricans are now more dispersed throughout the mainland’s cities.

As the U.S. economy underwent recessions in the 1970s and 1980s, unemployment among mainland Puerto Ricans, always high, increased dramatically. This increase is evident in migration. In the 1950s, half of the Latino arrivals were Puerto Rican. By the 1970s, they accounted for only 3 percent. Indeed, in some years of the 1980s, more Puerto Ricans went from the mainland to the island than the other way around.

Puerto Ricans returning to the island have become a significant force. Indeed, they now are given the name  Neoricans , or Nuyoricans, a term the islanders also use for Puerto Ricans in New York. Longtime islanders direct a modest amount of hostility toward these Neoricans, numbering near 100,000, or about 2 percent of the population. They usually return from the mainland with more formal schooling, more money, and a better command of English than native Puerto Ricans. It is no surprise that Neoricans compete very well with islanders for jobs and land (Lopez and Velasco  2011 ).

The ethnic mix of the nation’s largest city has gotten even more complex over the last 10 years as Mexican and Mexican American arrivals in New York City have far outpaced any growth among Puerto Ricans. New York City is now following the pattern of other cities such as Miami, where a single group no longer defines the Latino identity.

The Island of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, located about a thousand miles from Miami (see  Figure 7.4 ), has never been the same since Columbus discovered it in 1493. The original inhabitants of the island succumbed in large proportions to death by disease, tribal warfare, hard labor, unsuccessful rebellions against the Spanish, and fusion with their conquerors.

Among the institutions Spain imported to Puerto Rico was slavery. Although slavery in Puerto Rico was not as harsh as in the southern United States, the legacy of the transfer of Africans is present in the appearance of Puerto Ricans today, many of whom are seen by people on the mainland as Black.

The commonwealth period that began in 1948 has been significant for Puerto Rico. Change has been dramatic, although it is debatable whether it has all been progress. On the positive side, Spanish was reintroduced as the language of classroom instruction, but the study of English also is required. The popularity in the 1980s of music groups such as Menudo shows that Puerto Rican young people want to maintain ties with their ethnicity. Such success is a challenge because Puerto Rican music is almost never aired on non-Hispanic radio stations. The Puerto Rican people have had a vibrant and distinctive cultural tradition, as seen clearly in their folk heroes, holidays, sports, and contemporary literature and drama. Dominance by the culture of the United States makes it difficult to maintain their culture on the mainland and even on the island itself.

FIGURE 7.4 Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico and its people reflect a phenomenon called  neocolonialism , which refers to continuing dependence of former colonies on foreign countries. Initially, this term was introduced to refer to African nations that, even after gaining their political independence from Great Britain, France, and other European nations, continued to find their destiny in the hands of the former colonial powers. Although most Puerto Ricans today are staunchly proud of their American citizenship, they also want to have their own national identity independent of the United States. This has not been easy to achieve and likely will continue to be a challenge.

From 1902, English was the official language of the island, but Spanish was the language of the people, reaffirming the island’s cultural identity independent of the United States. In 1992, however, Puerto Rico also established Spanish as an additional official language.

In reality, the language issue is related more to ideology than to substance. Although English is once again required in primary and secondary schools, textbooks might be written in English, although classes are conducted in Spanish. Indeed, Spanish remains the language of the island; 8 percent of the islanders speak only English, and among Spanish-speaking adults, only about 15 percent speak English “very well” (Bureau of the Census 2007d).

In “Speaking Out”, in his remarks to the House of Representatives, Congressman Luis Gutierrez speaks about what he regards as abuse of authority by the Puerto Rican government against its residents. It is interesting that the U.S.-born representative of Puerto Rican parents defends himself against charges that he is an island “outsider” and thus should not comment on events in Puerto Rico.

Issues of Statehood and Self-Rule

Puerto Ricans have consistently argued and fought for independence for most of the 500 years since Columbus landed. They continue to do so, even in the twenty-first century. The contemporary commonwealth arrangement is popular with many Puerto Ricans, but others prefer statehood, whereas some call for complete independence from the United States.

The arguments for continued commonwealth status include a perception of special protection from the United States. Among some island residents, the idea of statehood invokes the fear of higher taxes and an erosion of their cultural heritage. Commonwealth supporters argue that independence includes too many unknown costs, so they embrace the status quo. Others view statehood as a key to increased economic development and expansion for tourism.

Proponents of independence have a long, vocal history of insisting on the need for Puerto Rico to regain its cultural and political autonomy. Some supporters of independence have even been militant. In 1950, nationalists attempted to assassinate President Harry Truman, killing a White House guard in the process. Four years later, another band of nationalists opened fire in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five members of Congress. Beginning in 1974, a group calling itself the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN, for Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) took responsibility for more than 100 explosions that continued through 1987. The FALN is not alone; at least four other militant groups advocating independence were identified as having been at work in the 1980s. The island itself is occasionally beset by violent demonstrations, often reacting to U.S. military installations there—a symbol of U.S. control (Santos-Hernández  2008 ).

 Speaking Out: Puerto Ricans Cannot Be Silenced

Two weeks ago, I spoke about a serious problem in Puerto Rico.

The problem is a systemic effort by the ruling party to deny the right of the people to speak freely, to criticize their government openly, and to make their voices heard.

I talked about student protests that had been met with violent resistance by Puerto Rican police. I talked about closed meetings of the legislature, and about efforts to silence the local Bar Association. . . . [A recent report] details the complaints of students, legislators, the press, and the general public who were beaten and pepper sprayed by police. Female students who were treated with gross disrespect by the police.

The government’s overreaction to demonstrations at the University and at the Capitol over the budget cuts and layoffs.

The images of police tactics and behavior explain why the Department of Justice is investigating the Puerto Rican police for “excessive force” and “unconstitutional searches.”

How could you see these images and not speak out?

And I was hardly the first to speak out about these matters and will not be the last. . . .

And what was the response to my speech defending the right of the Puerto Rican people to be heard?

It was to challenge my right to be heard . . . . A leading member of the [Puerto Rican] ruling party even said, “Gutierrez was not born in Puerto Rico. His kids weren’t born in Puerto Rico. Gutierrez doesn’t plan on being buried in Puerto Rico. . . . So Gutierrez doesn’t have the right to speak about Puerto Rico. . . .”

If you see injustice anywhere, it is not only your right but your duty to speak out about it. . . .

I may not be Puerto Rican enough for some people, but I know this: Nowhere on earth will you find a people harder to silence than Puerto Ricans.

You won’t locate my love for Puerto Rico on my birth certificate or a driver’s license, my children’s birth certificate or any other piece of paper.

My love for Puerto Rico is right here—in my heart—a heart that beats with our history and our language and our heroes. A place where—when I moved there as a teenager—people talked and argued and debated because we care deeply about our island and our future.

That’s still true today—and that freedom is still beating in the hearts of university students, workingmen and women, labor leaders, lawyers, and environmentalists and every person who believes in free speech. You will not silence them, and you will not silence me.

Abraham Lincoln, a leader who valued freedom above all else, said: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

It’s good advice, and I hope Puerto Rican leaders take it.

Luis Gutierrez

Source: Spoken by Gutierrez in the House of Representatives, March 2, 2011. Gutierrez 2011.

The issue of Puerto Rico’s political destiny is, in part, ideological. Independence is the easiest way for the island to retain and strengthen its cultural and political identity. Some nationalists express the desire that an autonomous Puerto Rico develop close political ties with communist Cuba. The crucial arguments for and against independence probably are economic. An independent Puerto Rico would no longer be required to use U.S. shipping lines, which are more expensive than those of foreign competitors. However, an independent Puerto Rico might be faced with a tariff wall when trading with its largest current customer, the mainland United States. Also, Puerto Rican migration to the mainland could be restricted.

Puerto Rico’s future status most recently faced a vote in 2012. The latest nonbinding referendum had confusing wording in its two-part question. Observers of the results saw the voters split between statehood and continuation but with very few favoring independence. As it has for over a century, the political future of Puerto Rice remains in doubt (D. Patterson  2012 ).

The Social Construction of Race

The most significant difference between the meaning of race in Puerto Rico and on the mainland is that Puerto Rico, like so many other Caribbean societies, has a  color gradient , a term that describes distinctions based on skin color made on a continuum rather than by sharp categorical separations. The presence of a color gradient reflects past fusion between different groups. Rather than seeing people as either black or white in skin color, Puerto Ricans perceive people as ranging from pale white to very black. Puerto Ricans are more sensitive to degrees of difference and make less effort to pigeonhole a person into one of two categories.

The presence of a color gradient rather than two or three racial categories does not necessarily mean less prejudice. Generally, however, societies with a color gradient permit more flexibility, and therefore, are less likely to impose specific sanctions against a group of people based on skin color alone. Puerto Rico has not suffered interracial conflict or violence; its people are conscious of different racial heritages. Studies disagree on the amount of prejudice in Puerto Rico, but all concur that race is not as clear-cut an issue on the island as it is on the mainland.

Racial identification in Puerto Rico depends a great deal on the attitude of the individual making the judgment. If one thinks highly of a person, then he or she may be seen as a member of a more acceptable racial group. Several terms are used in the color gradient to describe people racially: blanco (white), trigueño (bronze- or wheat-colored), moreno (dark-skinned), and negro (black) are a few. Factors such as social class and social position determine race, but on the mainland race is more likely to determine social class. This situation may puzzle people from the mainland, but racial etiquette on the mainland may be just as difficult for Puerto Ricans to comprehend and accept. Puerto Ricans arriving in the United States may find a new identity thrust on them by the dominant society (Denton and Villarrubia  2007 ; Landale and Oropesa 2002; Loveman and Muniz  2007 ; Sánchez  2007 ).

The Island Economy

The United States’ role in Puerto Rico has produced an overall economy that, though strong by Caribbean standards, remains well below that of the poorest areas of the United States. For many years, the federal government exempted U.S. industries locating in Puerto Rico from taxes on profits for at least 10 years. In addition, the federal government’s program of enterprise zones, which grants tax incentives to promote private investment in inner cities, has been extended to Puerto Rico. Unquestionably, Puerto Rico has become attractive to mainland-based corporations. Skeptics point out that as a result, the island’s agriculture has been largely ignored. Furthermore, the economic benefits to the island are limited. Businesses have spent the profits gained on Puerto Rico back on the mainland.

Puerto Rico’s economy is in severe trouble, even when compared with that of the mainland in a recession. Its unemployment rate in 2011 was 16.9 percent, compared with 8.8 percent for the mainland. In addition, the median household income is one-third of what it is in the United States. In 2011, 46 percent of the population was below the poverty rate, compared with 16 percent in the nation as a whole. Efforts to raise the wages of Puerto Rican workers only make the island less attractive to labor-intensive businesses—that is, those that employ larger numbers of unskilled people. Capital-intensive companies, such as the petrochemical industries, have found Puerto Rico attractive, but they have not created jobs for the semiskilled. A growing problem is that Puerto Rico has emerged as a major gateway to the United States for illegal drugs from South America. This, in turn, has led the island to experience waves of violence and the social ills associated with the drug trade (Bureau of the Census  2012e : Table S1701; Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011).

Puerto Rico is an example of the world systems theory initially presented in  Chapter 1  World systems theory  is the view of the global economic system as divided between certain industrialized nations that control wealth and developing countries that are controlled and exploited. Although Puerto Rico may be well off compared with many other Caribbean nations, it clearly is at the mercy of economic forces in the United States and, to a much lesser extent, other industrial nations. Puerto Rico continues to struggle with the advantages of citizenship and the detriment of playing a peripheral role in the economy of the United States.

Cuban Americans

Third in numbers only to Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans are a significant ethnic Hispanic minority in the United States. Their presence in this country has a long history, with Cuban settlements in Florida dating back to as early as 1831. These settlements tended to be small, close-knit communities organized around a single enterprise such as a cigar-manufacturing firm.

Until recently, however, the number of Cuban Americans was very modest. The 1960 census showed that 79,000 people who had been born in Cuba lived in the United States. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power after the 1959 Cuban Revolution led to sporadic movements to the United States and for generations defined the Cuban American political agenda in the United States. By 2010, more than 1.7 million people of Cuban birth or descent lived here.


Cuban immigration to the United States since the 1959 revolution has been continuous, but there were three significant influxes of large numbers of immigrants through the 1980s. First, the initial exodus of about 200,000 Cubans after Castro’s assumption of power lasted about three years. Regular commercial air traffic continued despite the United States’ severing of diplomatic relations with Cuba. This first wave stopped with the missile crisis of October 1962, when all legal movement between the two nations was halted.

An agreement between the United States and Cuba in 1965 produced the second wave through a program of freedom flights—specially arranged charter flights from Havana to Miami. Through this program, more than 340,000 refugees arrived between 1965 and 1973. Despite efforts to encourage these arrivals to disperse into other parts of the United States, most settled in the Miami area (M. Abrahamson  1996 ).

The third major migration, the 1980 Mariel boatlift, has been the most controversial. In 1980, more than 124,000 refugees fled Cuba in the “freedom flotilla.” In May of that year, a few boats from Cuba began to arrive in Key West, Florida, with people seeking asylum in the United States. President Carter ( 1978 :1623), reflecting the nation’s hostility toward Cuba’s communist government, told the new arrivals and anyone else who might be listening in Cuba that they were welcome “with open arms and an open heart.” As the number of arrivals escalated, it became apparent that Castro had used the invitation as an opportunity to send prison inmates, patients from mental hospitals, and drug addicts. However, the majority of the refugees were neither marginal to the Cuban economy nor social deviants.

Other Cubans soon began to call the refugees of this migration  Marielitos . The word, which implies that these refugees were undesirable, refers to Mariel, the fishing port west of Havana from which the boats departed and where Cuban authorities herded people into boats. The term Marielitos remains a stigma in the media and in Florida. Because of their negative reception by longer-established Cuban immigrants and the group’s modest skills and lack of formal education, these immigrants had a great deal of difficulty in adjusting to their new lives in the United States (Masud-Piloto  2008b ).

The difficult transition for many members of this freedom flotilla also has other reasons. Unlike the earlier waves of immigrants, they grew up in a country bombarded with anti-American images. Despite these problems, their eventual acceptance by the Hispanic community has been impressive, and many members of this third significant wave have found employment. Most have applied for permanent resident status. Government assistance to these immigrants was limited, but help from some groups of Cuban Americans in the Miami area was substantial. However, for a small core group, adjustment was impossible. The legal status of a few of these detainees (e.g., arrivals who were held by the government pending clarification of their refugee or immigrant status) was ambiguous because of alleged offenses committed in Cuba or in the United States (Peréz  2001 ).

Since 1994, the United States has a  dry foot, wet foot  policy with respect to arrivals from Cuba. Government policy generally allows Cuban nationals who manage to actually reach the United States (dry foot) to remain, whereas those who are picked up at sea (wet foot) are sent back to Cuba. Furthermore, 20,000 visas are issued annually to immigrants who are seeking economic freedom and, for the most part, are not strongly anti-Castro. Unfortunately, other Cubans have taken great risks in crossing the Florida Straits, and an unknown number have perished before reaching the mainland or being intercepted by the Coast Guard. Through all these means, about 300,000 Cubans have come to the United States since 1964 (Economist  2009 ).

The Current Picture

Compared with other recent immigrant groups and with Latinos as a whole, Cuban Americans are doing well. As shown in  Table 7.1 , Cuban Americans have college completion rates that are significantly higher than other Latino groups. In this and all other social measures, the pattern is similar. Cuban Americans today compare favorably with other Hispanics, although recent arrivals as a group trail behind White Americans.

The presence of Cubans has been felt in urban centers throughout the United States but most notably in the Miami area. Throughout their various immigration phases, Cubans have been encouraged to move out of southern Florida, but many have returned to Dade County (metropolitan Miami), with its warm climate and proximity to other Cubans and Cuba itself. As of 2008, 49 percent of all Cuban Americans lived in the Miami area; another 20 percent lived elsewhere in Florida. Metropolitan Miami itself now has a Hispanic majority of 62 percent of the total population, compared with a Hispanic presence of only 4 percent in 1950 (American Community Survey  2009 , Table B03001).

Probably no ethnic group has had more influence on the fortunes of a city in a short period of time than have the Cubans on Miami. Most people consider the Cubans’ economic influence to be positive. With other Latin American immigrants, Cubans have transformed Miami from a quiet resort to a boomtown. To a large degree, they have re-created the Cuba they left behind. Today, the population of Miami is more than 59 percent foreign born—more than any other city. Residents like to joke that one of the reasons they like living in Miami is that it is close to the United States (N. Malone et al.  2003 ).

The relations between Miami’s Cuban Americans and other groups have not been perfect. For example, other Hispanics—including Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, and Colombians—resent being mistaken for Cubans and feel that their own distinctive nationalities are being submerged. Cubans now find that storefronts in Miami’s Little Havana area advertise Salvadoran corn pancakes and that waitresses hail from El Salvador. Cuban Miamians are also slowly adjusting to sharing their influence with the growing diversity of Hispanics. One obvious symbol is the investment of the park district in building more and more soccer fields—Cubans traditionally play baseball (Dahlburg 2004a).

All Cuban immigrants have had much to adjust to, and they have not been able to immediately establish the kind of life they sought. Although some of those who fled Cuba were forced to give up their life’s savings, the early immigrants of the first wave were generally well educated, had professional or managerial backgrounds, and therefore met with greater economic success than later immigrants. However, regardless of the occupations the immigrants were able to enter, their families had to make tremendous adjustments. Women who typically did not work outside the home often had to seek employment. Immigrant parents found their children being exposed to a foreign culture. All the challenges typically faced by immigrant households were complicated by the uncertain fates of those they left behind in Cuba.

The primary adjustment among South Florida’s Cuban Americans has been more to each other than to Whites, African Americans, or other Latinos. The prolonged immigration now stretching across two generations has led to differences between Cuban Americans in terms of ties to Cuba, social class, and age. There is no single Cuban American lifestyle.

Like all other immigrant groups, ethnic enclaves of shopping, restaurants, and just a place to converse emerge wherever people of the same nationality are concentrated. Pictured here is Little Havana in Miami.

The long-range prospects for Cubans in the United States depend on several factors. Of obvious importance are events in Cuba; many exiles have publicly proclaimed their desire to return to Cuba if the communist government is overturned. A powerful force in politics in Miami is the Cuban American National Foundation, which takes a strong anti-Castro position. The organization has actively opposed any proposals that the United States develop a more flexible policy toward Cuba. More-moderate voices in the Cuban exile community have not been encouraged to speak out. Indeed, sporadic violence has even occurred within the community over U.S.–Cuban relations. In addition, artists or speakers who come from Cuba receive a cold reception in Miami unless they are outspoken critics of Fidel Castro.

Cuban Americans have selectively accepted Anglo culture. Cuban culture itself has been tenacious; the Cuban immigrants do not feel they need to forget Spanish while establishing fluency in English, the way other immigrant children have shunned their linguistic past. Still, a split between the original exiles and their children is evident. Young people are more concerned about the Miami Dolphins football team than they are about what is happening in Havana. They are more open to reestablishing relations with a Castro-led Cuba. However, the more recent wave of immigrants, the recién llegados (recently arrived), have again introduced more openly anti-Castro feelings even as the presidency transferred from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl in 2008 (Masud-Piloto  2008a ).

Central and South Americans

Immigrants who have come from Central and South America are a diverse population that has not been closely studied. Indeed, most government statistics treat its members collectively as “other” and rarely differentiate among them by nationality. Yet people from Chile and Costa Rica have little in common other than their hemisphere of origin and the Spanish language, if that. Still others may come from indigenous populations, especially in Guatemala and Belize, and have a social identity apart from any national allegiance. Also, not all Central and South Americans even have Spanish as their native tongue; for example, immigrants from Brazil speak Portuguese, immigrants from French Guyana speak French, and those from Suriname speak Dutch.

Many of the nations of Central and South America have a complex system of placing people into myriad racial groups. Their experience with a color gradient necessitates an adjustment when they experience the Black–White racial formation of the United States.

Added to language diversity and the color gradient are social class distinctions, religious differences, urban-versus-rural backgrounds, and differences in dialect, even among those who speak the same language. Social relations among Central and South American groups with each other, Latinos, and non-Latinos defy generalization. Central and South Americans do not form, nor should they be expected to form, a cohesive group, nor do they naturally form coalitions with Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, or Puerto Ricans (Orlov and Ueda  1980 ).

Immigration from countries such as El Salvador, whose capital San Salvador is pictured here, is heavily influenced by the economic and political conditions at any given time.


Immigration from the various Central and South American nations has been sporadic, influenced by our immigration laws and social forces operating in the home countries. Perceived economic opportunities escalated the northward movement in the 1960s. By 1970, Panamanians and Hondurans represented the largest national groupings, most of them being identified in the census as “nonwhite.” By 2010, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Columbia were the top countries of origin, each with at least a million present. Immigration often comes through Mexico, which may serve as a brief stop along the way or represent a point of settlement for six months to three years or even longer.

Watch the Video on MySocLab: Security, Railway Changes Slow Flow of Immigrants from Central America to U.S.

Since the mid-1970s, increasing numbers of Central and South Americans have fled unrest. Although Latinos as a whole are a fast-growing minority, the numbers of Central and South Americans increased even faster than the numbers of Mexicans or any other group in the 1980s. In particular, from about 1978, war and economic chaos in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala prompted many to seek refuge in the United States. The impact of the turmoil cannot be exaggerated. Regarding the total populations of each country, it is estimated that anywhere from 13 percent in Guatemala to 32 percent in El Salvador left their respective countries. Not at all a homogeneous group, they range from Guatemalan Indian peasants to wealthy Nicaraguan exiles. These latest arrivals probably had some economic motivation for migration, but this concern was overshadowed or at least matched by their fear of being killed or hurt if they remained in their home country (Camarillo  1993 ; López  2004 ).

The Current Picture

Two issues have clouded the recent settlement of Central and South Americans. First, many of the arrivals are illegal immigrants. Among those uncovered as undocumented workers, citizens from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia are outnumbered only by Mexican nationals. Second, significant numbers of highly trained and skilled people have left these countries, which are in great need of professional workers. We noted in  Chapter 4  how immigration often produces a  brain drain : immigration to the United States of skilled workers, professionals, and technicians.

Read the Document on MySocLabThe Hispanic Dropout Mystery

The challenges to immigrants from Latin America are reflected in the experience of Colombians, who number more than a half million in the United States. The initial arrivals from this South American nation after World War I were educated middle-class people who quickly assimilated to life in the United States. Rural unrest in Colombia in the 1980s, however, triggered large-scale movement to the United States, where these newer Colombian immigrants had to adapt to a new culture and to urban life. The adaptation of this later group has been much more difficult. Some have found success by catering to other Colombians. For example, enterprising immigrants have opened bodegas (grocery stores) to supply traditional, familiar foodstuffs. Similarly, Colombians have established restaurants, travel agencies, and real estate firms that serve other Colombians. However, many immigrants are obliged to take menial jobs and to combine the income of several family members to meet the high cost of urban life. Colombians of mixed African descent face racial as well as ethnic and language barriers (Guzmán  2001 ).

What is likely to be the future of Central and South Americans in the United States? Although much will depend on future immigration, they could assimilate over the course of generations. One less-positive alternative is that they will become trapped with Mexican Americans as a segment of the dual labor market for the urban areas where they live. A more encouraging possibility is that they will retain an independent identity, like the Cubans, while also establishing an economic base. For example, nearly 720,00 Dominicans (from the Dominican Republic) settled in the New York City area, where they make up a significant 6 percent of the population. In some neighborhoods, such as Washington Heights, one can easily engage in business, converse, and eat just as if one were in the Dominican Republic. People continue to remain attentive to events in Dominican politics, which often command greater attention than events in the United States. However, within their local neighborhoods, Dominicans here are focused on improving employment opportunities and public safety (American Community Survey  2009 , Table B03001).


The signals are mixed today as they have been for the last two hundred years. Progress alternates with setbacks. Moves forward in one Latino group coincide with steps back among other groups. Social processes are highlighted in the Spectrum of Intergroup Relations that summarizes the experience of Latinos in the United States described throughout this chapter.

Latinos’ role in the United States typically began with warfare resulting in the United States annexing territory or as a result of revolutions pushing refugees or immigrants here. In recent times, the Latino role in warfare has been to serve in uniform for the Untied States. “In World War II, more Latinos won Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group,” said Democratic Representative Matthew Martinez, a former U.S. Marine who represented part of Los Angeles. “How much blood do you have to spill before you prove you are a part of something?” (Whitman  1987 , 49). Many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are Latinos who, even though legal residents of the United States, were not in a status that would make citizenship easy. Typically, Congress had to pass a resolution making fallen soldiers citizens after their death and on rare occasion would facilitate citizenship for a living veteran. Under a new rule, the families can now use their deceased as a sponsor for their own residency papers. In the twenty years from 1990 to 2010, the proportion of Latino ready reserve military personnel rose from 5 percent to 9.3 percent (Bureau of the Census Bureau of the Census  2011a : Table 514 on p. 337; P. Jonsson 2005 ; McKinley  2005 ).

While considering Latinos in an examination of American society, we constantly must also consider the impact of events in home countries, whether that be Cuba, El Salvador, or any of the many nations represented. Still, a contrasting image is offered by the refrain “Si usted no habla inglés puede quedarse rezagado”: “If you don’t speak English, you might be left behind.”


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· 1. Latinos are a growing presence throughout the United States, and even though people of Mexican descent represent the majority, significant numbers of Latino immigrants come from throughout Latin America.

· 2. Latinos do not share a common cultural or single historical identity, yet a panethnic identity emerges in many aspects of life in the United States.

· 3. Economically, life for Latinos continues to improve—but relative to non-Hispanics, the gap has hardly changed over the last two generations.

· 4. A part of the assimilation as well as pluralism among Latinos has been growing involvement in electoral politics, which has been recognized by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

· 5. As a result of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican–American War, the United States acquired a significant amount of Mexican territory, starting the long history of Latinos in the United States.

· 6. Federal policies such as repatriation, the bracero program, Operation Wetback, and Special Force Operation reflect that the United States regards Mexico and its people as a low-wage labor supply to be encouraged or shut off as dictated by U.S. economic needs.

· 7. Puerto Ricans have enjoyed citizenship by birth since 1917 but have commonwealth status on the island. The future status of Puerto Rico remains the key political issue within the Puerto Rican community.

· 8. Like much of the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America, Puerto Rico has more of a color gradient in terms of race than the sharp Black–White dichotomy of the mainland.

Key Terms

bracero p. 186

brain drain,  p. 199

color gradient,  p. 181

dry foot, wet foot,  p. 196

familism,  p. 188

La Raza,  p. 187

Marielitos,  p. 196

mixed status,  p. 188

mojados p. 187

neocolonialism,  p. 192

Neoricans,  p. 190

panethnicity,  p. 180

Pentecostalism,  p. 184

repatriation,  p. 186

world systems theory,  p. 195

Review Questions

· 1. What different factors seem to unite and divide the Latino community in the United States?

· 2. How do Hispanics view themselves as a group? How do others view them?

· 3. Identify the factors that contribute to and limit the political power of Latinos as a group in the United States.

· 4. To what extent has the Cuban migration been positive, and to what degree do significant challenges remain?

· 5. How have Central and South Americans contributed to the diversity of the Hispanic peoples in the United States?

· 6. In what respects has Mexico been viewed as both a source of workers and as a place to leave unwanted laborers?

· 7. How does the case of Puerto Rico support the notion of race as a social concept?

Critical Thinking

· 1. Language and culture are almost inseparable. How do you imagine your life would change if you were not permitted to speak your native language? How has it been affected if you have been expected to speak some other language?

· 2. Observers often regard the family as a real strength in the Latino community. How can this strength be harnessed to address some of the challenges that Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans face in the United States?

· 3. Consider what it means to be patriotic and loyal in terms of being a citizen of the United States. How do the concerns that Puerto Ricans have for the island’s future and the Mexican concept of dual nationality affect those notions of patriotism and loyalty?

· 4. Are Mexican Americans assimilated, and are recent Mexican immigrants likely to assimilate over time?

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