LTNST Latina:os and U.S. Political Histories Flyer FINAL

Latina/os & United States Political Histories conference April 5th and 6th

LATINA/OS AND U.S. POLITICAL HISTORIES at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, Room 118


Friday 5 April 2024

Latina/os and the Contours of U.S. Political History

Ramón Gutiérrez, “Race, Ethnicity, and Citizenship: Three Narratives of the American Past”

Lorrin Thomas, “Recognizing Puerto Ricans as Political Actors in U.S. History”

Sarah McNamara, “Rethinking Histories of Cuban-American Politics”


Latina/os & Civil Rights

Jaime Sánchez, “Ballot Box Liberation: Mexican American Politics in the Civil Rights Era”

Brian Behnken, “‘And Now the Trumpet Sounds’: The Importance of Latino/a/x Activism against Police Abuse to American History”

Emiliano Aguilar, “Absentee Voting and GOP Voter Suppression in Arizona”


Latina/os as White or on the Right

Aaron E. Sánchez, “We hear about what the state should do...Missing is what parents should be doing...”: Lauro F. Cavazos, Mexican American Civil Rights Social Conservatism, and the Making of U.S. Conservatism

Daniela Bohórquez Sheinin, “Silently White: Latino/a Responses to the Forest Hills Housing Controversy”

Cecilia Márquez, "Before 'Latinos for Trump:' Latino Conservative Activism in the Late Twentieth Century"


Saturday 6 April 2024


Latinas in American Politics

Tiffany González, “Latina Congress: A Historiographical Analysis of Latinas in U.S. Political History”

Emma Amador, “The Making of a “Mainstream Hispanic” Feminist:
Carmen Delgado Votaw, the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, and the History of U.S. Feminism after 1970”


10:35-11:55 The State

Bobby Cervantes, “In the Shadow of the Welfare State: National Inequality and Latino Capital at the End of the American Century”

Juan Ignacio Mora, “Puerto Rican Farmworkers, the 1950 Truman Commission, and the Political ‘Problem’ of Migratory Labor”


Politics Across Borders

Andy Rafael Aguilera, “Forming La Opinión: Ignacio Lozano, Diasproic Nationalism, and Mexican Politics in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,1926-1940”

Michael Gobat, “U.S. Latinos and the Politics of Anti-Imperialism Toward Latin America”


Thinking About the Big Picture of Latina/os in U.S. Politics

Thomas J. Sugrue, Discussion Leader

Latina/os and United States Political Histories

Paper Abstracts

  • • •

Emiliano Aguilar

In 2020, amid a national pandemic, President Donald Trump both decried the integrity of the upcoming presidential election and assured people that it was a secure practice. Absentee voting became a focal point of the election and its aftermath. However, what made Trump’s comments, and those echoed by republican voters and elected officials (across multiple levels of government), is that Republicans once championed voting by mail and absentee voting. This tension is perhaps the most apparent in Arizona. In 1991, Arizona passed a no-excuse absentee voting law. The changing conversation around how to vote coincided with the draconian immigration policies, culminating in SB 1070 but including dozens of smaller anti-immigrant pieces of legislation. In 2020, President Joe Biden became the first Democratic candidate to win the state since 1996. News pundits quickly noted that Latina and Latino voters represented a crucial “machine” in flipping the state blue.

My chapter argues that the legal challenges against absentee voting by a portion of the GOP in Arizona continue the sordid history of anti-Latino policies. Many of the Latina/o political organizations, such as Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) and Promise Arizona (PAZ), are staffed by activists that cut their teeth as immigrant rights activists. This also includes elected representatives, such as Raquel Terán, Arizona state senator and chairperson of the Democratic Party, and Congressional Representative Ruben Gallego. In their formative years, they saw the rise of notoriously bad hombres, like former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce and former Sheriff of Maricopa County Joe Arpaio. The chapter will utilize newspaper accounts, state legislature records, Latino National Political Survey data, and interrogating voting data from several policy organizations. Ideally, I would also like to conduct a few interviews with some of these activists to help better frame the protests against immigration restriction and the rise of controversy surrounding absentee voting. I will also present a brief history of absentee voting to situate the changing ways Arizonians are voting, or understanding how to vote, during this period. Ultimately, the chapter will highlight how President Biden’s performance in Arizona built upon decades of grassroots activism around immigrant rights, which relied on embracing the once Republican-backed absentee voting policy.

In my manuscript-in-progress, Building a Latino Machine: Caught Between Corrupt Political Machines and Good Government Reform, I previously encountered controversy surrounding absentee voting. During a Democratic Primary, the incumbent accused his challenger of utilizing fraudulent absentee ballots to explain their performance with Latino and African American voters. Ironically, in the next primary, the incumbent’s campaign faced legal troubles over fraudulent absentee ballots, culminating in an extensive county-wide corruption probe. This incident sparked my interest in the role of Latinas/os in allegations of voter fraud surrounding the controversial process of absentee voting. In One Person, No Vote, Carol Anderson argued that instances, or allegations, of voter fraud occur as a backlash to the changing electorate, particularly in the aftermath of non-white candidates winning elected office. Additionally, they are disproportionately impacted by judicial proceedings and prosecutions after instances such as the recent sentencing against Latina and Latino ballot collectors in Democratic cities in Arizona.

This chapter will merge several threads of scholarship to tell an exciting new history of Latina/o politics in the 20th century. Political historians, such as Lily Geismer, Julian Zelizer, and Kevin Kruse, have lamented the scant narratives of modern U.S. history, particularly those post-1974. Absentee voting gained considerable momentum in the 1980s and 1990s as states, predominantly in the Western United States, passed legislation to make it easier to vote absentee. Similarly, Latino Politics, studied by historians and political scientists, has discussed Latinas and Latinos’ ”new electorate” and their transformative power. While many historical studies have framed this regarding social movements, protests, and elected representation, the attention to what this means in the late 20th century and early 21st is an area ripe for inquiry.

The chapter, and eventual project, will contribute to the timely and crucial scholarship focused on voter suppression, the Latino vote, and absentee voting. While academics in political science and sociology have begun tackling these topics in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Latinos are often absent or marginalized in narratives that tackle the histories of their position in the fate of democracy’s future. This is particularly concerning as the Brennan Center noted that Latinos have a “higher risk of being dropped from Arizona’s mail ballot list.” A notable exception, Ben Francis Fallon’s The Rise of the Latino Vote, offers, I believe, a vital inspiration for this project. As more voters no longer vote on Election Day, this chapter will provide a potential roadmap to understanding the changing nature of the Latino vote and democratic participation in the United States.


Andy Rafael Aguilera

University of Michigan


Latina/os and U.S. Political Histories Abstract


Forming La Opinión: Ignacio Lozano and the Promotion of Belonging and Diasporic Enfranchisement, 1926-1940

On October 23, 1934, Ignacio Lozano Sr., newspaper mogul of Los Angeles’s La Opinión and San Antonio’s La Prensa, received an urgent telegram that his newspapers were labeled “seditious propaganda” by the Mexican government. Lozano denied this charge directly to Abelardo L. Rodríguez, the President of Mexico, while also pointing to Mexico’s guarantee of a free press. This conflict represented one of many instances when Lozano’s papers received a distribution ban in Mexico. In contrast to the northward movement of Mexican people, the prohibition of Lozano’s newspapers represented a unique case of a U.S.-Mexico borderlands conflict facing southward towards Mexico. As Mexican and Mexican Americans became increasingly policed in the United States, agents for the Mexican government also monitored Mexican exiles across the border. Moreover, Lozano’s appeal to Rodríguez represented a claim to a transnational Mexican citizenship. Likewise, La Opinión and La Prensa functioned as borderlands newspapers rooted in both Mexico and the United States for Mexican and Mexican American readers across the U.S. Southwest.

This paper focuses on some ways La Opinión rekindled a sense of Mexican citizenship through the themes of empire, belonging, and enfranchisement. Lozano’s transnational periodicals, and particularly La Opinión, operated as vital institutions that bridged the distance between Mexican exiles in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico. By emphasizing Mexican citizenship, Lozano’s newspapers offered a type of diasporic citizenship that called for Mexicans to retain their political influence from afar to potentially shape the Mexican nation. Lozano took part in a larger network of exile and migration that sought to create a México de Afuera with the hope of countering the Revolutionary government. In doing so, Lozano participated in a dialogue of defining Mexico for a population that he envisioned would return one day. As such, this paper focuses on three separate instances in which Lozano promoted Mexican and Mexican Americans’ belonging in Mexico through politics and citizenship.


  • • •

Emma Amador

The Making of a “Mainstream Hispanic” Feminist:
Carmen Delgado Votaw, the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, and the History of U.S. Feminism after 1970

In a speech delivered at the Woman’s National Democratic Club on January 6, 1992, Puerto Rican feminist civil rights activist Carmen Delgado Votaw told a story of how she had become a “mainstream Hispanic” and a feminist. Votaw described her pathbreaking work co- chairing the National Advisory Committee on Women under President Carter alongside Bella Abzug. She emphasized how working for both women’s rights and the rights of Hispanics had often been difficult and how she believed that the dual desire to be accountable to both ethnic communities and feminist political organizations was often an unsurmountable challenge for Hispanic women. She asked the audience, “how many of you are Hispanics?” The CSPAN videographer panned to the audience who shuffled in their chairs, they looked around, visibly uncomfortable. “None!” She proclaimed. In her speech she went on to argue that it was imperative that feminist organizers work to include Hispanic women in their movements or else they were doomed to fail. My proposed essay will examine the life and work of Carmen Delgado Votaw and her political organizing within the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women as a window into how Puerto Rican and Latina feminists became a part of mainstream feminist political organizations in the US after 1970. This essay builds on recent rewritings of the history of feminism in the US that have sought to reimagine the history of feminist organizing and coalition building with Latinas as main protagonists.

This essay will explore some of the ways that Puerto Rican and Latina feminists within mainstream US organizations found ways of organizing and collaborating across ethnic lines, while also facing persistent challenges as they entered national and global feminist organizations. I will consider the participation of Votaw and other Latinas in mainstream feminist political gatherings like the International Women’s Year (1975), the National Women’s Conference (1977) and National Committee on Women after 1978. In addition, I will use the story of Votaw to illuminate the connections and divisions between mainstream feminist organizing and the creation and evolution of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women (formed in 1972) a group that sought to bring together Puerto Rican women and feminists in the US. In the conclusion, I will highlight the specific ways that Votaw sought to preserve and document the political legacies of Puerto Rican and Latina women through her own writing. She produced the pathbreaking book Puerto Rican Women: Some Biographical Profiles in 1975 and Puerto Rican Women published in 1995. Both volumes contain biographies of important Puerto Rican women and feminists. In the essay, I will consider how even a successful “mainstream Hispanic” feminist activist often felt herself to be at the margins of the US feminist movement and how important it was for her to recover and preserve for future generations the history of women in social movements.

The paper will draw on archival research in collections of US feminist organizations, the personal papers of Votaw, oral histories collected with Votaw, her recorded speeches and writings, as well as papers relating to the books that she wrote. There are collections of Votaw’s personal papers at the Archives of the Diaspora of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, at CUNY and at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. I will also analyze archival materials related to the history of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, an organization that, after over fifty years, is still active today. Working with these collections will help me ground my essay in an examination of original primary source research. My essay on the political legacy of Votaw will connect her story to the broader history of Puerto Rican and Latina feminist politics in mainstream feminist and Hispanic organizations in the US during a period of vibrant political mobilization.

  • • •


"And Now the Trumpet Sounds":

The Importance of Latino/a/x Activism against Police Abuse to American History


Brian D. Behnken

Police violence propelled activism in the Latino/a/x community in the United States. While we might consider the Latino/a/x civil rights movement as one characterized by struggles for integrated schools; for voting rights and political participation; or for equality in the delivery of public services such as trash collection, the paving of roads, street lighting, and other municipal services, a large part of this period also saw fights for more inclusive policing and challenges to racism in the criminal justice system. In fact, countering abusive law enforcement was not just one of the most important goals of the Latino/a/x struggle for rights, it was in many places an accomplishment victory. The period between the 1960s and 1980s was a turning point that saw numerous alterations to American law enforcement and the broader justice system. The Latino/a/x community wrought many of those changes.

There are a number of examples that verify this contention. For instance, when Mexican Americans formed the Brown Berets in Los Angeles in 1967, four of its demands in its Ten Point Program focused on the criminal justice system (#3. We demand a Civilian Police Review Board, made up of people who live in our community, to screen all police officers, before they are assigned to our communities. #5. We demand that all officers in Mexican-American communities must live in the community and speak Spanish. #9. We demand that all Mexican Americans be tried by juries consisting of only Mexican Americans. #10. We demand the right to keep and bear arms to defend our communities against racist police, as guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution). Similarly, the Young Lords transitioned from a street gang to a civil rights organization after police violence at the 1968 Puerto Rican Festival in Chicago, which also saw the police shooting of Aracelis Cruz. They consistently fought against abusive policing over the next five decades. To put it simply, then, policing problems across the U.S. were often at the heart of civil rights organizing in the Latino/a/x community, and in a number of cases they were the only reason for such activism.

This knowledge has not been widely translated into scholarship or our broader understanding of recent American history. Policing, when mentioned by scholars, is at best a secondary issue in Latino/a/x civil rights struggles, if it's mentioned as an issue at all. This kind of historical amnesia persists to the present--when most Americans think about activism and agency around policing problems, the Latino/a/x community probably does not spring to mind. I, instead, argue that Latino/a/x civil rights activism against police abuse pushed and motivated political decisions at the local, state, and federal levels. That activism has been central to the broader contours of American social and political history for the last five decades.

There is, finally, another more insidious side to this history. For all the accomplishments of the civil rights era, for all the reforms that Latino/a/x people, and others to be sure, won, the tide eventually turned. The War on Crime, the War on Drugs, and most importantly the Clinton Crime Law undid many of the hard-won reforms of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Today communities of color are fighting yet again for modifications to abusive policing. This is another political turning point that is an important part of recent American history.

Policing history is history worth telling. It redefines our understanding of American history. Examining it reveals new and in some cases largely unknown aspects of U.S. political history. And given the very recent history of policing problems in the United States, understanding the previous five decades is all the more important.


  • • •


Silently White: Latino/a Responses to the Forest Hills Housing Controversy

Daniela Bohórquez Sheinin

A 1971 low-income housing proposal for Forest Hills, Queens, NYC prompted an eruption among residents and news media. The media depicted the mainly grassroots neighborhood battles that followed as an unnuanced clash between White/Jewish residents and presumed Black future tenants. Latino/a perspectives were absent. Local leaders yelling into their bullhorns, the highly publicized television and radio appearances, and the newspapers tracking every development had missed the Forest Hills residents who assumed neither Black, nor Jewish identities, and were forced to navigate the presented racial binary in distinct ways.

Housing and school integration topped municipal concerns during this period. While housing had for many years been at the forefront of escalating New York City tensions, school desegregation brought forth an additional concern for tens of thousands of white residents. Low- income housing projects and school desegregation threatened the racial and class structures of a neighborhood. The Federal Housing Act, the scatter-site housing program, school busing and school pairing programs all influenced continuously rising tensions (and cultural and political representations of those tensions) between boroughs, neighborhoods and ethnic groups. The racially-coded low-income housing proposals forced an ethnic identification on the opposition. While the Forest Hills Jews could not claim an absolute whiteness, they found in their ethnic community a resource for defense.

Oral histories conducted in 2017 and 2019 form the basis for this paper’s central questions. While we know that there were residents of Latin American descent in Forest Hills at this time, they remained concealed in media portrayals and archival collections. Some of the oral histories suggest that this was intentional, perhaps out of fear, or perhaps gratitude that they may have been otherwise targeted as an unwelcome intrusion into the neighborhood. These testimonies provide a useful addition to a moment in New York City and national history when residents asserted their identities within a racial binary to gain political ground. At the same time, what Jewish and (earlier) Italian Queens residents found useful in vocalizing their collective ethnic identities in the supposed defense of neighborhood, had also cleared a path for recently arrived Latin American immigrants and second-generation Latino/as to remain silently White. In other words, racially defined by their acceptance in the neighborhood by contrast to racialized low-income tenants. The absence of any one established ethnic/national group (i.e. Mexicans, Colombians etc.) also facilitated this process.

One man’s account provides an example of a Latino/a perspective on the Forest Hills housing project proposal. He grew up in Forest Hills with his Bolivian mother and Italian father. His own analysis forty years later of his mother’s stern refusal to discuss the protests at the time was that she may have feared similar hostilities may one day arise toward immigrants like her. At the same time, there appeared to be a disconnect from the reality that she herself had, in some ways, contributed to the alteration of the ethnic composition of the neighborhood. Yet her views also demonstrated another perspective, perhaps adopted in her 40 years in Forest Hills. She had raised two children there. She was very conscious of herself as specifically Latin American and White, “like her husband.”

The Queens neighborhood locations of housing and school pairing projects thrust certain ethnic groups before the news media, forcing their hand in identifying as both a collective group and as the opposition to projects they deemed an invasion of urban troubles into their neighborhood. Site selection for these projects and nearby residents’ subsequent response prompted a moment in which Jewish and Italian Americans navigated the ethnic fringes of whiteness, on the geographic fringes of New York City. By contrast, the unspoken presence of Latino/a residents, and their reluctance to make their presence known, allowed for a discreet assimilation.

  • • •


Harvest of Capital: Latinos and the American Welfare State

Bobby Cervantes


Generations of historians have shown how the U.S. welfare state shaped Americans’ status within their nation. Often focused on the development of social provisions, this scholarship has rightly prioritized critical perspectives of certain welfare policies, such as economic relief and temporary assistance, from marginalized communities. Compared to these traditional sites of study, however, scholars have given scant attention to the myriad ways welfare policy has also fostered broader economic growth, restructuring, and modernization. On a more expansive canvas, then, the nation’s welfare state has touched the lives of many more Americans and in other ways than previously understood. To explore wider contexts, this essay centers Latino Americans in the multi-faceted U.S. welfare state during the latter part of the twentieth century, focusing on Latino businessowners and entrepreneurs who engaged in public-private partnerships as counterparts to the much-studied public welfare system. Specifically, it examines efforts by leaders of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to secure federal government contracts for its members in and after the 1970s. A source of wealth for some Latinos, federal spending in this setting inverted conventional definitions of welfare as neoliberal realignments were taking hold in politics and economic policy. In revising the procurement practices of the federal government—the largest consumer of goods and services in the world—U.S. Latinos newly integrated themselves into a stealth private welfare state as it climbed to unparalleled heights. For decades, the private welfare state had benefited non-Latino businessowners who, for example, used revenue from federal contracts to pay for employee benefits, the expenditures of which were tax deductible. After the 1970s, their growing engagement with the well-funded private welfare state altered the course of many Latinos’ class positions and political allegiances, as well as the nation’s political economy—revealing the vital task of historicizing the U.S. welfare state anew in its totality.


  • • •


Michel Gobat

My article considers the role that Latinos played in one of the oldest social movements in US history: the anti-imperialist movement. Ever since the Mexican-American War, the anti-imperialist movement has been mainly concerned with US intervention in Latin America. Three moments stand out when the movement exerted significant influence on US policy toward Latin America: 1898-1900s, when it opposed US annexation of the former Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico (and the Philippines); the 1920s, when it supported local resistance to the US occupations of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua; and the 1980s, when it opposed the Central America policy of the Reagan administration. The first moment is the best known, especially because it involved prominent figures such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie. Yet scholars tend to argue that the anti-imperialist movement was more effective in shaping US foreign policy in the 1920s and 1980s, when it helped to end US occupations in the Caribbean basin and curbed Reagan’s proxy wars in Central America, respectively.


Although the US anti-imperialist movement has long focused on Latin America, few scholars have examined the role of Latinos in shaping its history. This is surprising given that the movement’s greatest impact on US policy toward Latin America coincided with two booms in Latin American migration to the US. While the first boom of the 1910s-20s consisted mainly of Mexicans fleeing revolutionary upheaval, US military intervention and economic expansion pushed other Latin Americans to move to the US, too. This was especially true of migrants hailing from the Spanish Caribbean and Central America. The boom of the 1980s, in turn, consisted mainly of Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans displaced by the US-sponsored civil wars ravaging their homelands. As far as I know, my proposed article would provide the first overview of Latina/o participation in the US anti-imperialist movement across the twentieth century.


Divided into three parts, my article would first explore the role of Latinos in the Anti-Imperialist League (AIL), which was founded in 1898 and remained the dominant anti-imperialist organization in the US until World War I. I am especially interested in exploring how Latinos shaped the AIL’s stance toward Cuba, which became a US protectorate, and Puerto Rico, which became a US colony. The second section would focus on the post-WWI era, when the US anti-imperialist movement became more diverse, more powerful, and more driven by Latina/o activists. The era’s most important organizations were the Haiti-Santo Domingo Independence Committee; the American Fund for Public Service Committee on American Imperialism; and the All-America Anti-Imperialist League (Liga Antiimperialista de las Américas), which organized various “Hands Off” committees, especially the one supporting the armed struggle that Augusto Sandino’s peasant-based army waged against US troops occupying Nicaragua (1927-33). The final section would explore the role of Latinos in the Central American solidarity movement of the 1980s, which fiercely resisted the Reagan administration’s militaristic policy toward the isthmus while providing sanctuary to Central American refugees facing deportation from the US.


In tracing this long history, my proposed article will do more than simply recuperate the place of Latinos in a powerful US social movement. Above all, it seeks to show how a focus on Latinos provides a fresh perspective on a longstanding US political tradition. I am especially interested in exploring how Latinos strengthened the anti-imperialist movement’s effectiveness by making it not only less racist and less xenophobic but also more transnational and better informed of the economic dimensions and local effects of US imperialism. In doing so, I will examine whether the tension between Americanization and anti-Americanism marking the outlook of leading Latin American anti-imperialists also shaped Latina/o participation in the US anti-imperialist movement. On the other hand, I will also consider how Latina/o involvement in the movement strengthened ties among different Latinx groups, thus contributing to the formation of a pan-ethnic identity.


While my proposed article will draw on relevant scholarly work, it will also incorporate material from my current book project, which is an entangled history of Central American-US relations from the California Gold Rush to the present. In particular, it will draw on two chapters that consider the participation of Central American immigrants in the US anti-imperialist movements of the 1920s and 1980s, respectively. Since the book’s broader goal is to show how Central America impacted US history at specific historical junctures, I would relish the opportunity to dialogue with other conference participants seeking to similarly rewrite US political history from the perspective of Latinx history.


  • • •

Latina Congress: Historiographical Analysis of Latinas in U.S. Political History

Tiffany Jasmin González, University of Kansas

In November 2020, election results announced that U.S. House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Bronx), Veronica Escobar (El Paso), and Sylvia Garcia (Houston) had all won their re-election campaigns and will remain in government. During that time, media outlets also reported on Arizona flipping from red to blue due the labor of Latinas to mobilize voters across the state. Latinas clearly have an important role to play in the larger context of Latino politics. Yet despite these wins, Latinas remain underrepresented in government and are underappreciated in their power to mobilize communities to participate in civic engagement once elections are over.

The historiographical path of Latinas in U.S. politics and Latino politics have varied depending on region, communities, and ambition. Latina political engagement blossomed with the feminist and civil rights movements during the 1970s. For example, Puerto Rican women joined the National Women’s Political Caucus and local chapters of the organization in their hometown. Petra Allende held membership in the Manhattan Political Caucus. Carmen Delgado Votaw, a Puerto Rican woman from Maryland, also held membership in the National Women’s Political Caucus. Votaw had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as co-chair for the National Advisory Committee on Women and as a Commissioner on the 1977 International Women’s Year. Both women held membership in an under-recognized organization known as the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women. The organization centered on advocating for the needs and advancement of Puerto Rican women and propelled more Puerto Rican women into the political sphere. The similarities of both women is that were part of a cohort of Latinas who came of age politically in the late twentieth century, and equally important, their stories make it evident that Puerto Rican women have a dynamic history of civil rights engagement and serving as political leaders in American politics.

It is within this context, that this essay examines the role of Latinas in U.S. political histories. This essay is a critical path to open up new conversations and pique other historians' interest in Latinas in U.S. political histories. This essay traces published scholarship on Latina politics and incorporates limited primary research to recognize the women's visible contributions to the larger field and reshape the study of American political history by centering Latinas and their motivations and strategies. The fresh examination of political history challenges the borders of political history to understand lesser-known figures hiding in plain sight. This essay argues that Latina feminist political thought has allowed for the proliferation of Latino politics, making it impossible for mainstream politics to ignore Latina/os thus far. Latinas have shaped and challenged political agendas and outcomes throughout the late twentieth century, and this essay underscores the need to examine the tensions, agendas, and methods by which Latinas took charge and inserted themselves to make a change in U.S. society.

  • • •


Race, Ethnicity, and Citizenship: Three Narratives of the American Past

Ramón A. Gutiérrez

History Dept.

University of Chicago


Two master narratives of the nation’s history have been particularly canonic over the last century, pitting popular understandings of race and ethnicity against each other, provoking resentment, if not fractious relations among our republic’s residents. My chapter proposal seeks to elaborate a third narrative focused on citizenship, incorporating Latinas/os more robustly into the nation’s history by illuminating the battles over alienage and “illegality” that have raged ascendingly since the 1970s.


The first and still dominant narrative recites American history as one previously riven by racism but now putatively post-racial.  It was born of the forceful importation of African slaves in the colonial period, led to a Civil War whose end was hastened by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, and later in 1868, by the ratification of the 14th Amendment granting full citizenship to African Americans and emancipated slaves.  What followed reconstruction were Jim Crow laws enforcing the public segregation of negroes from whites, codes prohibiting the migration of ex-slaves, limiting their property and voting rights, imposing restrictive covenants and red lining to maximize segregation and minimize home ownership as capital accumulation. Since the late 1950s this history is often told as one of African American and other racialized group claims to membership gaining increasing government protection through federal intervention particularly in the 1960s.


The second narrative chronicles the immigrant experience and ethnicity.  It celebrates the United States “a nation of nations,” born of European settler colonialism, gradually fortified by successive waves of immigrants, federally favoring Northern and Western European immigrants from the late nineteenth century onward, successively limiting Southern and Eastern Europeans, barring those from China in 1882, and subsequently those from Japan and Asia. No federal border patrol existed before 1924 to Mexican entries. That year’s Johnson-Reed Act and subsequent legal exceptions were made to allow Mexicans to meet the agricultural labor needs of Southwestern states. European immigrants, worked hard, assimilated, became Americans, and ascended into the middle class as whites, chronicled in a host of monographs on how these immigrants became white.[i] Mexicans had been legally white since the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, but socially deemed colored, codified racially in the 1980 census distinction between “Hispanic” and “non-Hispanic White”.


The two narratives intersected when veterans of World War II returned.  How would their sacrifices fighting fascism and defending democracy be rewarded?  White G.I.s got government benefits, subsidized home loans, college tuition waivers, and well-paid jobs. Negro and non-white vets were denied burials in white cemeteries, socially relegated to segregated facilities, forced to ride at the back of buses, to drink from “colored” water fountains, and just as before the war, denied food service at many lunch counters.


From the end of World War II to the early 1960s a civil rights movement developed among African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans in labor unions, churches, and middle-class civic organizations, eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Acts (1965), and the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. Americans were promised federal protection against racial discrimination in voting, housing, education, and employment.  Immigrants from nations previously limited were given more equitable access.  Mexican authorized entries substantially declined while unauthorized spiked because they now competed with Central and South Americans for Western Hemisphere immigrant visas.


In 1965, non-Hispanic Whites were 84% of the population but by 2015, when Trump announced his first presidential bid, it had declined to 65%, and by 2020 to 57%. The decades that followed 1970 have been described by white ethnics as the “fading of the American dream,” due to deindustrialization, outsourcing, the denationalization of global capital, and the reorganization of the American economy.  These changes intensified anti-immigrant resentment into full-fledged activism at local, state, and federal levels over labor, education, welfare, and civil liberties. As president, Ronald Reagan signed legislation he had attempted in California as the Immigration and Control Act of 1986, putatively punishing those who employed “unauthorized” immigrants, but without enacting substantive enforcement.  The act ironically offered a pathway to citizenship to three million “illegal” residents, further stoking anti-immigrant sentiments. In the years that followed the judicial focus shifted to local and state levels first denying immigrant-serving school districts equitable funding, then denying schooling to unauthorized children in Texas; laws eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in 1973 and 1982. California’s Proposition 187 followed in 1994, denying unauthorized immigrants schooling, health care, and various social services.  It too was eventually overturned but not before it morphed into the federal 1996 Welfare Reform Act outlawing Supplemental Security Income, such as food stamps to non-citizens.  The 1996 Immigrant Reform and Responsibility Act included the 287 (g) program authorizing local and state police to participate in immigration enforcement, previously an exclusive federal task.


Since the 1860s when immigration control was first placed under federal jurisdiction, who should be treated as citizen or as an alien has radically evolved and since the 1970 devolved to different jurisdictions because of anti-immigrant politics.  Latinos were central to the nation’s narrative required as cheap labor but since the 1970s increasingly reviled.  That is the narrative I would like to further research and write, having taught immigration history for nearly 50 years attempting to illuminate how the micro, mezzo, macro definitions of the citizen and the alien have been forged.


  • • •


Juan Ignacio Mora


“Puerto Rican Farmworkers, the 1950 Truman Commission,

and the Political ‘Problem’ of Migratory Labor”


President Harry S. Truman authorized the Presidential Commission on Migratory Labor on June

3, 1950, via Executive Order 10129 to investigate a broad range of issues. Specifically, the

commission was to direct their attentions towards “the social, economic, health, and education

conditions among migratory workers, both alien and domestic, in the United States.” The

committee’s scope and the legislative repercussions largely focused on and impact Mexican

migrant workers – whether braceros or undocumented. Despite receiving less attention than the

Bracero Program or “The Wetback Invasion,” as the report referred to it, this was also a pivotal

moment for Puerto Rico’s migrant farmworker program.

In the shadow of World War II ending, the formation of policies that sought to remedy some of

the international ramifications of war, and the formation of monumental intergovernmental

organizations, this era also included subtle, but important, actions by the Truman administration

to gather information and craft legislation around the “problem” of migratory labor in the U.S.

Although overshadowed by the Bracero Program, the intersections of Puerto Rican migration,

the Farm Labor Program, and the Truman Commission on Migratory Labor raises complex

questions about distinctions between “foreign” and “domestic” labor, immigration legislation,

and, ultimately, about U.S. citizenship.

This chapter will examine the legislative legacy of the Truman Commission, the overshadowed

role of Puerto Rican migration in shaping the commission proceedings, and the political

“problem” of migratory labor during the middle of the twentieth-century.


  • • •


“We hear about what the state should do…Missing is what parents should be doing…:” Lauro F. Cavazos, Mexican American Civil Rights Social Conservatism, and the Making of U.S. Conservatism

Aaron E. Sánchez


In 1990, the first Hispanic Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos addressed a group of reporters after the first of five regional meetings on what President George H.W. Bush called the “crisis in Hispanic Education.”  Cavazos explained that Hispanic parents were insufficiently involved in the educational lives of their children and let them dropout. His statement caused an uproar and his eventual resignation. Latino leaders from across the country criticized Cavazos for blaming Latino families for systemic failures.  Cavazos, though, had a long history of making such statements. He regularly identified the “decline in family unity within the Hispanic culture” as the key factor in the high dropout rate. While it was the obligation of federal, state, and local governments to provide quality education to children, it was the responsibility of the family to insure their children’s attendance and individual success.  Cavazos also regularly commented that there was a need for high achieving Hispanics at all levels of society and that schools, government agencies, universities, and corporations would all do well in including them in their ranks and leadership positions.  But, the avenue to achieve that success did not lie in the machinations of the state or the intrusion of bureaucratic agencies. Instead, it was the hard work of individuals or individual families that would bring success to the community.  In this way, Cavazos represented the growing maturation of Mexican American civil rights social conservatism.

Mexican American civil rights social conservatism took shape in the 1920s and continued to develop through the twentieth century.  Many (although not all) members of important Mexican American civic organizations that formed during that era espoused its ideas.  It combined an emphasis on civil rights—by challenging racially exclusionary practices and discriminatory acts—and social conservatism—by maintaining a form of respectable comportment and individual responsibility.  Under Mexican American civil rights social conservatism, racism and discrimination were bad, but the United States was good and its major institutions—like the family, the military, the education system, and, later, the market—would only be made better by Mexican American inclusion and participation.  Discrimination was not the moral failure of the nation but the fault of individuals—individual white Americans who were insufficiently educated about their similarities with Mexican Americans and Mexican Americans who were slow to assimilate to American institutions and manners.

During the ‘60s and after, the New Left and New Right developed competing notions of individualism.  The counter-culture and the New Left did not want to become indistinguishable men in gray flannel suits or disposable soldiers.  And in the shift from a technocratic to a meritocratic liberalism, individualism was proof why certain people were particularly deserving of their positions or salaries.  Later, political conservatives also latched onto individualism as a way to counter, even destroy, social metaphors and the web of social programs that provided collective protection from the insecurities of global capitalism.  They offered a societal pointillism, where everyone was a detached, singular, rational actor.  There was no such thing as society, as Margaret Thatcher infamously suggested.  Mexican American civil rights social conservatism shaped and was shaped by these conversations, as well.  For them there was not a “community” or collective group, but there was a community that was comprised of a collection of individuals.

While historians have grown the cast of characters beyond well-known figures like Richard Rodriguez and Linda Chávez to include important actors and activists like Alex Jacomé and Libby Ruiz in Tucson, AZ and Joseph Vargas and Eugene Gonzalez in Southern California, studying Lauro Cavazos and Mexican American civil rights social conservatism can shed light on the “seemingly incongruous intersection of civil rights and American Conservatism.”


  • • •


Latina/os and U.S. Political Histories

Jaime Sánchez, Jr., PhD, Harvard Society of Fellows

Ballot Box Liberation: Mexican American Politics in the Civil Rights Era



The non-violent, direct-action protest politics advanced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black leaders in the Deep South dominates popular conceptions of the civil rights movement. For the past several decades, civil rights historians have challenged this dominant historical narrative by highlighting the varied politics of civil rights in the early twentieth century that included Communist organizing, state and federal litigation strategies, and radical labor activism. Jacqueline Dowd Hall’s notion of an extended “long” civil rights movement and Mark Brilliant’s further provocation of a “wide” movement to include the U.S. West are notable interventions in this effort. And yet, the story about the “classical” phase of the civil rights movement—between the 1954 Brown v. Board decision and the 1965 Voting Rights Act—remains relatively unchanged as sit-ins, boycotts, and marches define the racial politics of this era. But was non-violent protest the only feasible strategy for achieving equality during this critical turning point in American history?

In this essay, I argue that a complex political spectrum appears when we merge the historiographies of black and Mexican American freedom struggles during the classic civil rights movement. While the black freedom struggle transitioned from a labor and legal emphasis toward nonviolent protest in this period, the Mexican American civil rights movement proposed and tested an alternative path that looked to electoral politics as the great social equalizer. The 1950s Mexican American civil rights consensus in favor of electoral engagement and against protest politics was embraced by old guard integrationists such as Senator Dennis Chávez and younger activists like Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales alike. By the 1960s, the electoral civil rights strategy peaked through impressive mobilizations for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960 and 1964 presidential campaigns, as well as local efforts such as the 1963 Crystal City Experiment in Texas.

By clearly demarcating this period in Mexican American politics, this essay also addresses the major problem of Mexican American civil rights periodization, and Latino civil rights more broadly. I argue that by mapping Mexican American activism onto the black movement’s periodization structure—the early phase (pre-Brown), the classical phase (1954-1965), and late phase (Black Power)—we can more clearly delineate the concurrent evolution of Mexican American leaders’ strategic focus. This analysis is currently obscured by inadequate binaries, the most damaging of which is the generational divide between the so-called Mexican American and Chicano generations, and by extension their opposed racial self-identifications between white and brown. Instead, I propose a segmentation of Mexican American civil rights not by reductive racial or generational distinctions, but rather by shifting political strategies.

Ultimately, the comparative historiographical analysis in this essay expands the range of civil rights politics from 1954 to 1965 to include Mexican Americans’ electoral-based activism. The Mexican American approach to liberation via the ballot box sheds light on the many fronts in the fight for civil rights beyond mass mobilization. In so doing, the paper calls for not just a comparative view of politics in the civil rights era, but also a relational perspective in which blacks and Mexicans developed their strategies in a mutually contingent political landscape.


Recognizing Puerto Ricans as Political Actors in U.S. History

Lorrin Thomas


In historical analysis as well as casual speech, we use the phrase “political power” often and usually without precision. Typically we mean political influence – the ability of a constituency to communicate its concerns to elected officials and policymakers and to use its voting power to help determine which politicians are elected. But how do we understand political significance in this analysis?

In this essay, I explore three sets of issues that illustrate how Puerto Ricans’ lack of political influence has consistently existed alongside an undeniable (though often denied) political significance, a dynamic in American politics related at least in part to their unusual place in the American polity. The first section describes two efforts by Puerto Ricans in the U.S. to raise awareness about the problem of Puerto Rican sovereignty, one involving migrants’ new relationship to their congressional representative in New York City in the 1920s, the other involving a 21st century legal challenge to the colonial restraints on Puerto Ricans’ status as U.S. taxpayers. The second section recounts a mid-20th century struggle to gain recognition – as one Puerto Rican writer and community organizer put it – at a moment when New York’s urban renewal programs and racist housing policies coincided with the “great migration” of Puerto Ricans to the city. The third section analyzes how Puerto Rican leaders sought connection and collaboration with Chicano counterparts in the early 1970s, an era when both groups had achieved greater visibility as the nation’s “second largest minority” but still struggled to translate that visibility into any lasting political influence.


















Anthony Orozco Delivers Keynote Address for Hispanic Heritage Month

Anthony Orozco, the Poet Laureate of Berks County and Director of Operations for Barrio Alegría, delivered the opening keynote of Penn State's Hispanic Heritage Month observances. The event took place at 6:00 pm on September 28, 2023 in Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library.

Screenshot 2023-02-22 at 3.46.58 PM

Tianna Paschel speaks on Making and Unmaking Black Rights in Latin America

In February UC-Berkeley professor Tianna Paschel discussed the politics of blackness and rights in Colombia and Latin America generally.

headshot of Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta At Penn State

Legendary labor organizer Dolores Huerta, cofounder with César Chávez of the United Farm Workers, gave the keynote address for Hispanic Heritage Month 2019 on Friday, September 27th and the following day inaugurated Penn State's annual Dolores Huerta Day of Service.

Welcome to Latina/o Studies!

Our mission is to promote a critical understanding of the historical and contemporary position of Latinas, Latinos, and Latinxs in the United States.

This goal is to be achieved through the following:

  • Undergraduate and graduate courses that foster an understanding of Latinas/os in the United States political system, economy, and culture.
  • Research and scholarship by faculty and students that contribute to our knowledge about the historical and contemporary experiences of Latinas/os.
  • Public programming and community outreach that raise awareness of issues that Latinas/os face and contributions they make in different arenas.

Our mission is to promote a critical understanding of the historical and contemporary position of Latinas, Latinos, and Latinxs in the United States.

This goal is to be achieved through the following:

  • Undergraduate and graduate courses that foster an understanding of Latinas/os in the United States political system, economy, and culture.
  • Research and scholarship by faculty and students that contribute to our knowledge about the historical and contemporary experiences of Latinas/os.
  • Public programming and community outreach that raise awareness of issues that Latinas/os face and contributions they make in different arenas.
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There are currently no upcoming events. Here are some of our past events:
April 12, 2024
8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
217 Business Building
March 26, 2024
6:00 p.m.
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
March 14, 2024
noon–1:30 p.m.
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
February 21, 2024
6:00 p.m.
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
January 24, 2024
6:00 p.m.
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
September 28, 2023
6:00 p.m.
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library