Latina/os and United States Political Histories



and United States Political Histories

Paper Abstracts

•           •           •



            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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.


Rafael Aguilera

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
, 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
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
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

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


Brian D. Behnken

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.

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.

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.

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 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


•           •           •


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

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

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

•           •           •


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.


•           •           •



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.


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


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.


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.


•           •           •


Chicanas belong in the House and in
the Senate: Feminism shaping Latino Political Culture during the late Twentieth


Tiffany González, University of Kansas

In July 1975, an article published by the Daily Pilot, a newspaper of the Los
Angeles Times
, titled “Political Influence ‘Go West’” announced the
election of two women from California elected to serve in a national position
for the National Women’s Political Caucus. One of the women was Chicana Helen
Barrios from Newport Beach, California. Barrios noted that “the national caucus
has missed input from western chapters,” given its eastern-centered location
with the national office in Washington, D.C. “Because the caucus (headquarters)
is located in Washington which is where it should be located, the western
states tend to be isolated,” Barrios said. Barrio and the other woman
campaigned “as westerners” the reporter wrote. Barrios was to some degree
correct about the lack of representation of women of the west in the NWPC.
However, Chicanas such as her had been engaged with the NWPC since its
established in 1971.

the organization’s formation, Chicanas the NWPC as a strategic approach for
social change in U.S. politics, which also influenced the transformation of
Latino political culture to incorporate feminist activism. Though the newspaper
report, mentioned nothing regarding the political labor that other Chicanas
from Texas or even Illinois had done within the organization to recruit more
Chicanas into the mainstream political scene via the NWPC. The newspaper report
is perhaps one example of the historical of how Chicanas have frequently been
overlooked in historical records and collective memory because they are viewed
as regional and parochial within the realm of national politics. Nevertheless,
the NWPC was a space where Chicanas resisted and disrupted racism within the
organization’s structure and mission. As such, Chicanas were able to wrestle
control of feminist politics and position themselves in the national spotlight.

•           •           •


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

Ramón A. Gutiérrez

History Dept.

University of Chicago


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.


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.


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”. 


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


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


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.

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. 

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

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.