Latinos - History and Cultural Relations



Mexicans can trace their roots to settlements in what is now the southwestern United States as early as 1598; this area was once the northern reaches of Mexico proper and was colonized before the settlement of New England by people from Europe. The region was prospering when Anglo-Americans began arriving in the early nineteenth century, setting in motion events that led to the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. In the aftermath of the war, relations between Anglo-Americans and Mexicans were often characterized by culture conflict and intercultural hostility. With increased immigration in the wake of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the Mexican population burgeoned in all previously established settlements, a process that has continued to this day.

Puerto Ricans and Cubans became associated with the United States as a result of the 1898 Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States and now has limited sovereignty within its commonwealth status. A migrant stream, increasing considerably after World War II, connected Puerto Ricans with the city of New York and brought the eastern seaboard its first large Latino population. Like Mexicans, Puerto Ricans have had a problematic relationship with Anglo-Americans, in their case further aggravated by the issue of national independence versus Commonwealth status, which has strained both intergroup and intragroup relations. Cubans immigrated to the United States in large numbers after the socialist revolution of 1959. The first waves were primarily from the upper-middle and upper classes and most immigrants were people of European racial backgrounds; the second wave began in 1980 and involved mostly poorer, darker-hued "Marielitos," including many expelled from Cuban prisons. American foreign policy and actions have been affected by events in Cuba, especially the rise of anticommunism.

Large-scale immigration from the Dominican Republic occurred in the early 1960s. Central Americans, mostly from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, made their entrance in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Coupled with the changes brought by Cuban events, the radical upheavals in Central America have tended to generate even more anticommunist fears. Political and economic refugees from these nations have accounted for a substantial proportion of recent Immigration to the United States.

American military conquests in the nineteenth century made Mexican residents of the southwest and Puerto Ricans on their island subjugated peoples. For subsequent migrants from Mexico and Puerto Rico, this intensified the scorn and discrimination that has been the traditional lot of poor Immigrant populations in the United States. Cuban immigrants were initially comparatively well-off economically, especially because of federal government subsidies for refugee resettlement, which ameliorated economic problems for them. In all instances, however, the dynamic processes of immigration and adaptation have affected all groups in the direction of assimilation and acculturation. Latinos' relations with other racial minorities have been less antagonistic than with Anglo-Americans, although not tension-free, largely because Latinos and other minorities internalize Anglo-American stereotypes of each other. Civil rights measures and changing public attitudes over the last twenty-five years have substantially reduced these interethnic problems, but tensions remain, especially with regard to language and immigration issues.

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