Latinos in the rural midwest: The twentieth-century historical context leading to contemporary challenges

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

12 Scopus citations


As this historical review demonstrates, Latinos had a rural presence in the Midwest for most of the twentieth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, auto companies, steel plants, and the sugar beet industry recruited Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans to the Midwest. Discrimination against newcomers is historically linked to the strength of the economy and access to jobs, and indeed, during times of economic hardship, many Latinos were voluntarily and involuntarily deported to Mexico (Vargas 1993). Further, subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination led Latinos to create social institutions parallel to those of Anglos, with their own businesses, organizations, and churches. This strategy served to set Latino culture apart from that of the Anglo mainstream and to create a situation in which anti-Latino sentiment could easily grow. Latinos are even more visible in the contemporary Midwestern landscape. Although many continue seasonal residence because of employment in agriculture, others have moved into stable, year-round manufacturing employment in rural communities. As in the past, recent anti-Latino sentiment and overt discrimination against Latinos may wax and wane with the strength of the economy and the availability of well-paid jobs for the Anglo majority. The challenges that contemporary Latinos face in the rural Midwest are strikingly similar to the experiences of Midwestern Latinos at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is clear, however, that Latinos are in the region to stay, even after accounting for the high turnover of Latinos in some nonmetropolitan locales. Indeed, Latinos will continue to be attracted to the rural Midwest by employment opportunities, direct recruitment by employers, and social networks, even as government surveillance and deportation activities increase in the region. Nevertheless, widespread recognition of the historical and contemporary contributions of Latinos to the region would do much to decrease hostility and aid the political, social, and economic incorporation of Latinos into the rural Midwest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationApple Pie and Enchiladas
Subtitle of host publicationLatino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest
PublisherUniversity of Texas Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9780292702776
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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