4 Yearning to Breathe Free
- Ilan Stavans
The Oxford English Dictionary states that “it is the action of entering into a country for the purpose of settling in it.” The definition conveys a sense of individual freedom. The settler arrives out of choice. Yet not all people in the United States trace their ancestry to an immigrant relative. Plus, the definition erases the line differentiating immigrants and settlers. Was William Bradford, who wrote about the Plymouth plantation, an immigrant? And what about Africans brought as slaves to the New World? American Indians were in these lands before the Mayflower. As a result of historical forces, they were forced to relocate to reservations specially defined by the US government.
What are the meanings of “exile” and “refugee”?
These terms are different from “immigrant.” Exiles are forced to leave their native country because of political reasons. A refugee departs because of natural reasons, although there are also cases where refugees have to leave because of an economic crisis.
Two more words to connect to this nomenclature are “expat,” or a person living abroad for personal reasons, and p. 60↵“tourist,” or a person who leaves temporarily for leisure. And then there are two more words: “settler,” like those who lived in the Plymouth colony, and “slave,” denoting someone taken in indenture from one place to another.
Are all Latinos Immigrants?
With the exception of those living in the southwestern territories before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, the majority of Latinos are descendants of immigrants. There are some who have come to the United States as exiles and refugees, and a few who arrived as tourists but remained.
By the way, immigrants often arrive through the legal door. However, from the 1980s onward, when the economies of Mexico and Central America were unstable, millions came without documents. They are often referred to as “illegals,” or “illegal aliens.”
Is the term “illegal alien” derogatory?
Yes. Nobody is really illegal. The term is used as a noun, which means a person, not their actions, are illegal. In a speech, the Holocaust survivor and human-rights activist Elie Wiesel put it this way: “You who are called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” Latinos in general prefer to use “undocumented.”
What is the difference between an “immigrant” and a “migrant”?
An immigrant moves from one country to another. In that sense, the word “emigrant” denotes departure, whereas “immigrant” entails arrival. In contrast, a “migrant” moves p. 61↵swithin the same space. In that sense, Native Americans are migrants in the United States, having been relocated by the government a number of times in their history. So are Puerto Ricans. For sociologists, another way to describe this migration is as “internal immigration.” And, in general, the United States population is quite mobile. That is, it tends to migrate, principally due to family, education, labor, and retirement.
Isn’t the United States a country of immigrants?
Always. The land was populated by aboriginal tribes, and the British settlers were the first immigrants.
In 1883, as Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants were arriving to American shores from Europe, Emma Lazarus, an English-speaking Sephardic Jew, wrote a sonnet that is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Called “The New Colossus,” it is a manifesto in favor of immigration, though of a particular kind: the poor—whom Lazarus describes as “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She advocates for opening the nation’s doors to those in need. Her invitation isn’t for the rich and educated. Needless to say, this approach is not always embodied in policy. Here is the poem:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” p. 62↵
How have the waves of immigration changed over time?
In general terms, prior to roughly 1950 the vast majority of immigrants to the United States were white and came from Europe by boat. After 1950, immigrants became far more diverse, arriving from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and often by other means of transportation.
Has the United States ever encouraged mmigration from the Americas?
The notion of closed borders is new. Between the time of independence and the late 19th century, the country paid little attention to immigration. It was then when popular opinion began to shape around the number as well as economic and ethnic background of newcomers.
Were there any laws regulating immigration before the late 19th century?
There were the Alien and Sedition Laws of the 18th century, but these didn’t close the nation’s borders. Such was the need of labor that during the American Civil War the flow of immigrants multiplied.
Have laws been implemented to exclude a singular ethnic group?
The fear that dangerous people might be entering the country made Congress pass the Immigration Act of 1875, prohibiting criminals, convicts, and prostitutes from entering. This act also forbade “the immigration of any subject from China, Japan, or any Oriental country,” because they were deemed undesirable. That approach was ratified in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, in which Congress excluded only Chinese laborers and their wives already in the United States.p. 63↵
When did Mexicans become the largest group within the Latino minority?
The process took about 50 years. It was at the beginning of the 20th century, with the Mexican Revolution, that large numbers of Mexicans moved to the United States to work in agriculture and the industrial sector. The reasons were multiple. The fall of the 30-year-long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, from 1881 to 1911, brought along violence, political turmoil, and labor uncertainty. But those decades were also a period of economic expansion in America. Seasonal workers sought to fill that need by moving north. In 1927, for instance, there were 63,700 Mexicans in the Midwest but the number increased during the summer to 80,000.
The need for a larger immigrant labor force increased during World War II, as soldiers left behind jobs to enlist in the Army. Their absence made it clear that America was suffering from a shortage of workers, and that an emergency program was needed.
Since they are de facto US citizens, why should Puerto Ricans be considered immigrants?
It hasn’t always been that way. Puerto Ricans became citizens with the Jones-Shafroth Act, a piece of legislation named after Congressman William A. Jones of Virginia, which was signed in 1917. The document left intact the island’s colonial status but it affected its governing structure. It included a Bill of Rights and a 19-member Senate in Puerto Rico.
What caused the Puerto Rican migration?
It was the result of the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, fought in 1898, in which Spain lost its satellites in the Caribbean Basin (Cuba, Puerto Rico) and in the Pacific (the Philippines and Guam). The United States intervened militarily three p. 64↵years earlier, but it was after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, bringing an end to the war, that the status of Puerto Ricans changed dramatically.
In the second half of the 19th century, Puerto Rican and Cuban political exiles lived in New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Tampa, and Key West, in settlements called colonias. Along with these, there were business ties, as sugar-related exports and tobacco connected the Caribbean with the United States. When tobacco shops and factories opened in Tampa and New York City, Puerto Rican and Cuban workers were employed to work in them. Plus, a group of separatists fighting for the independence of the Antilles—including José Martí, Ramón Emeterio Betances, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, Eugenio María de Hostos, Sotero Figueroa, Francisco “Pachin” Marin, and Lola Rodríguez de Tió occasionally made their headquarters in the northern and southern parts of the East Coast.
By the late 1910s, Puerto Rican migration to the United States intensified as the government in the island made it possible for mainland companies to hire agricultural and industrial workers from the island. A significant number were employed in New York City in the manufacturing and service industries.
Who were the jíbaros?
Jíbaro is a Puerto Rican word used to describe an impoverished dweller from the island’s countryside. After World War II, Puerto Rican communities in metropolises like New York City, Chicago, Newark, and Philadelphia grew. This wave is known as the Great Migration. Between 1940 and 1950 the number of Puerto Ricans in the mainland grew by 330.7%, and between 1950 and 1960 by 194.5%. To a large extent, jíbaros moved from agricultural jobs on the island to factories in urban environments in the United States. p. 65↵
What was the reason for their migration?
The island underwent a process of industrialization, leaving the agricultural sector in bankruptcy. It began with what became known as Operation Bootstrap—in Spanish, Operación Manos a la Obra. In order to reduce unemployment, the Puerto Rican government promoted migration to the mainland. For decades after this mobilization, Puerto Rican culture was the lightning rod for Latinos in the Northeast. But by the 1980s, the Census Bureau began to register a stabilization and even diminution of this community and the explosion of other national groups within the Latino minority in the region, especially Mexicans and Central Americans (Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, etc.).
When did Puerto Ricans first settle in New York?
The first settlers arrived in the late 19th century. They were mostly tabaqueros, or cigar workers. They were known as the educated segment of the working class. There were also munitions factories employing Puerto Ricans. The diaspora increased after the Spanish-American War. Bernardo Vega, a tabaquero activist born in 1885, described the urban landscape in his Memoirs. His book is an invaluable resource for understanding the circumstance of Puerto Ricans and their connection with Tammany Hall. Another important early figure, also interested in politics, was Jesús Colón, author of A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches.
The community increased after the Depression, when the arrival of jíbaros reconfigured it. By the end of World War II, New York had the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans outside San Juan. (Philadelphia, Chicago, and Newark followed closely.) That tide, which took place by airplane, is known as the Great Migration. It was also the time of Operation Bootstrap. This resulted in an emergence of a fresh culture in the United States. The list of artists connected with New York p. 66↵City is enormous, from Tito Puente to Marc Anthony. Julia de Burgos wrote about it in Canción de la verdad sencilla (1939), as did Pedro Pietri, in Puerto Rican Obituary (1971).
What is the Loisaid?
The term was coined in the 1970s by the activists Chino García and Bimbo Rivas to refer to the area of Manhattan where Puerto Ricans lived predominantly. It is a Spanglish variation of the name Lower East Side, an area from east of Avenue A bounded by 14th Street, Houston Street, and the East River.
This was a region populated by Jewish immigrants at the end of the 20th century and prior to them by Irish newcomers. The photographer Jacob Riis depicted it in his provocative book How the Other Half Lives (1890), in which he portrayed the disastrous living conditions of the working class.
Puerto Ricans originally settled in East Harlem, North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and La Loisaida. The Harlem section came to be known as El Barrio. Literary representations of it include Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets (1967) and Edward Rivera’s Family Installments (1982). The term “Nuyorrican” refers to a type of double consciousness, one defined by identities in transition, in hybrid stage.
Why are Puerto Ricans perceived by other Latinos as unique?
They are US passport carriers. Also, their American citizenship makes them eligible for a series of government programs, including welfare. They are seen as neither refugees nor immigrants.
Where is Vieques?
It is an island, also known as Isla Nena, off of Puerto Rico’s east coast. It became a municipality of Puerto Rico in 1843 but the American government, after the Spanish-American War, used p. 67↵it as a strategic site to engage in military practice. It has been a sore point for Puerto Ricans as it signified the US dominance of the island. Protests have been staged to push out the US army.
Has there been another wave of Puerto Rican migration?
Yes. In 2014, a financial crisis in the island, mainly a result of debt owned by the government and inept politicians, resulted in a precarious economy and a default on a bond of $58 million. The crisis caused an enormous amount of job losses and an exodus of Puerto Ricans to the mainland United States. Unlike all prior crises, this one predominantly caused a relocation of upper-class and middle-class people, who moved to Florida, California, and states in the Midwest.
Where does the word “Caribbean” come from?
The etymology comes from Carib, a West Indian tribe. They apparently moved from the Orinoco rainforest in Venezuela to the Caribbean archipelago and were known in Europe for their violent, combative character. Several of their words, like “hurricane,” have become part of the English language. Shakespeare never left England, yet his play The Tempest (1611), about a ruler called Prospero and two opposing characters, the spiritual Ariel and the brutish Caliban (the latter a clear reference to his origins), could have been inspired by the tribe.
What kind of immigration took place after Fidel Castro’s 1958–1959 revolution?
During the first three years of Castro’s regime, the middle and upper classes stampeded out of the island. The diaspora relocated to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, Germany, the Nordic countries, but especially in the United States. Florida and New Jersey in particular became Cuban safe havens. This departure wasn’t only about ideology and economics. p. 68↵The Communist regime forbade free enterprise but also freedom of religion. In the end, whites were highly represented among the exiles. The result was a darkening of Cuba’s population.
It is important to remember that exile has been a fixture of Hispanic life since the 15th century. The forced conversion and expulsion of the Jewish and Muslim populations from the Iberian Peninsula constitute “an unwilling absence from one’s own country or home,” which is the standard definition of exile. That absence might be caused by ethnic, political, and religious factors. For example, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an Argentine intellectual known for the canonical work Facundo: or, Civilization and Barbarism (1845), and the future president of his country, lived in Chile to escape the tyrannical regime of Juan Manuel de Rosas. Cubans themselves had experienced other exiles in the past. José Martí was forced out of the island and lived in Key West, Florida, and New York, among other places.
How did the Cuban émigrés assimilate to the American way of life?
As Cuban émigrés entered the United States as political refugees, they were eligible to receive government benefits (education, health care, and so on) that other Latinos don’t enjoy. The first generation of exiles after the revolution was mostly educated. Their first years were spent waiting for Castro’s power to implode. When that didn’t happen, they began to assimilate to the United States, soon becoming business executives, political leaders, journalists, teachers, and other professionals.
What kind of relationship does the exile community have with Havana?
This is a tense relationship defined by anger and frustration. The exiles in Miami are known in Cuba as gusanos, or p. 69↵worms. They are portrayed as C.I.A. operatives eager to unsettle Castro’s government. In turn, the Cuban exiles accuse the Communist regime of abuse of power, corruption, intimidation, and torture. Sometimes members of the same family, separated by an abysmal nine miles, are the protagonists of this animosity.
What was Operation Peter Pan about?
With Castro’s ascent to power in Havana, upper- and middle-class parents feared for the future of their children. They made an effort to secretly send them to the United States on a temporary basis. Starting on December 26, 1960, some 14,000 unaccompanied children, between the ages of 6 and 18, were part of the exodus. In Spanish, the effort was known as Operación Pedro Pan, a reference to the children’s literature character prematurely forced into adulthood.
The program highlighted the tension between Cuba and the American government. It was seen by Castro’s regime as a psychological strategy. Approximately 6,000 children ended up in the care of friends and relatives while the remaining 8,000 were under the care of the federal government. Harrowing stories of separation, nostalgia, and reunion were a fixture of the Cuban American community.
What is the Mariel Boatlift?
In 1980 a public protest took place in Havana when at first dozens, then hundreds of people occupied the Peruvian embassy protesting Castro’s curtailing of individual freedom. Soon the protest became a diplomatic crisis of international proportions. Images of the standoff were broadcast on TV constantly. Eventually, Fidel Castro, el líder máximo, allowed the mob to leave the island in boats. But he also emptied the country’s jails, sending criminals into exile. That generation of Cuban exiles is known as marielitos.
The word means rafter in Spanish. In their desire to escape repression, Cubans sought any available alternative to leave the island, including building makeshift boats out of empty oil drums, truck tires, wood, and any other floating object. Miami is 90 miles away from Cuba. At night one is able to see the lights across the ocean. The outpouring of balseros varied, according to security and the weather. According to some estimates, approximately 17,000 balseros had arrived in the United States from Cuba by 1994.
What was the Elian Gonzales affair about?
A victim of the balsero rift, Gonzales was a five-year-old boy who left the island, along with his mother, Elisabet Brotons, to come to the United States. Elian’s father, from whom his mother was divorced, remained in Cuba. Elian’s mother drowned at sea, and the child was found floating in the ocean off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving Day 1998. His rescue became an international case as relatives who took guardianship of Elian blamed Fidel Castro’s regime for generating the kind of poverty and repression that resulted in balseros risking their lives. The father, supported by the Cuban government, demanded that the boy be returned. The Cuban exile community declared that they would never willingly return Elian. At the same time, a majority of non-Cuban Latinos sided with the American mainstream in their support of the child’s return to his father. Eventually, US Attorney General Janet Reno ordered federal officers to break into the relative’s house on April 22, 1999, and take the boy away. He was returned to his father, with whom he stayed for some time in the United States. They returned to Cuba in June of that year.
What about the Dominican Republic?
It shares a border with Haiti and, together, the two form the island once called Hispaniola, where Columbus first settled. p. 71↵The roots of the Dominican American community date back at least to 1844, when the Dominican Republic achieved its independence from Spain. Soon after, President Ulysses S. Grant attempted to annex it, just as the United States had done with Puerto Rico and, to some extent, Cuba, but he encountered opposition from various senators. In 1905 it became a protectorate of the United States, which ruled over it through a military regime between 1916 and 1924. In short, the political, economic, and cultural facets of the island have always been dependent on American interests.
What caused the flight of immigrants from the Dominican Republic?
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, whose dictatorship lasted from 1930 to 1961, was a fervent anti-Communist who sided with the Allies during World War II. He was one of the only Latin American leaders who opened up national borders to Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe in the 1930s. The effort was in tune with his policy of “whitening” the population of the Dominican Republic. In 1937, he ordered the massacre of 20,000 dark-skinned Haitians. On the other hand, he was instrumental in the modernization of his country, allowing the middle class to steadily grow and, in general, improving the economic situation, particularly in the agricultural sector. He was also repressive and destroyed his enemies, as was the case of the Mirabal sisters, chronicled in Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies (1994). It was after his regime was overthrown that the Dominican Republic entered a period of recession and unemployment that brought people out.
Where is the Dominican American community based?
They are mostly concentrated in New York, especially the neighborhood of Washington Heights. The vast majority of Dominican Americans are of a mix of African slaves and p. 72↵aboriginal ancestry. The second and third generations retain a strong loyalty toward their island of origin. As is the case for Puerto Ricans living in the United States, Dominican American culture is shaped by the interplay between island and US-born Dominican American culture. At times this mixing erases the line between the native and diasporic. Aside from Alvarez, the community has produced intellectuals, performance artists, and scholars like Pedro Henriquez Ureña, Silvio Torres-Saillant, Josefina Báez, Daisy Cocco De Filippis, and Frank Gutiérrez.
Has immigration from Spanish-speaking countries always been incessant?
Economic insecurity and political repression in Latin America are the central factors in the massive northbound movement of people across the hemisphere. Ever since newly formed republics like Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru fought against Spain to achieve their independence, their path to stability has been filled with landmines. Only in the late 20th century did democracy become a pattern in most of them and even then it hasn’t been free of threats. Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States have run away from repressive regimes and uncertain labor conditions. Their arrival, legal and otherwise, has been ongoing since the 1920s. Different groups have arrived at different periods, depending on the national juncture. The largest portion of Spanish-speaking immigrants at the dawn of the late 19th century was from Puerto Rico.
What is the apex of Central American immigration?
The civil wars in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in the 1980s forced people to emigrate. The United States became a favorite target. Depending on the country of origin—from p. 73↵Honduras and Costa Rica to Panama—the journey included a passage through various borders.
What kinds of wars?
Political instability began in Guatemala in 1944 and continued until the 1970s. The nation’s population, divided into Mayans and mestizos, each using a different language and living in different parts of the country, was in turmoil as a result of repeated coup d’états as well as social and economic divisions. A 36-year-long civil war started in 1970. It would ultimately claim 200,000 victims. It was during the dictatorial regime of Efraín Ríos Montt, in 1982–1983, that most people left—500,000, according to some estimates. (The country had a total population of more than 10 million.) Most Guatemalan Americans today retain connections with the homeland.
In El Salvador, economic malaise and political repression prompted a rebellion, with the goal of attaining improvement for large numbers of the poor. (Eventually the dollar was adopted as the nation’s currency.) A civil war took place between 1980 and 1992 in which it is estimated that 75,000 people were killed. Running away from the strife, thousands left the country. By the middle of the 1980s, it was estimated that approximately 850,000 Salvadorans lived in the United States. Their immigration had been minimal before the war.
The United States has used Nicaragua as a playing field for foreign policy since the early 20th century, in large part because the two countries share a passage—the Nicaragua Canal— joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1912 US marines invaded the country. Augusto Cesar Sandino emerged as a leading figure of the opposition but was assassinated; instead a corrupt dictatorship, led by Anastasio Somoza and his sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr., prevailed. In the 1970s the Sandinista National Liberation Front emerged as an alternative force for the poor and disenchanted. After violent confrontations, the p. 74↵Sandinistas defeated the dictatorship in 1979. The United States sought to bring the Front down in what became the Iran-Contra Affair.
What was the Iran-Contra Affair about?
After the Iran hostage crisis in the early 1980s, within President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet an effort was made to orchestrate a counterrevolution against the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. The money for weapons came from Middle Eastern sources and it went to support a group called the “Contras,” designed to undermine the Sandinistas. Because Congress didn’t approve funds for the rebellion, when the channeling of money from other government sources became known it was quickly deemed illegal. This revelation became a scandal in the United States that almost brought down Reagan’s presidency. The civil war in Nicaragua resulted in a massive northbound movement of people seeking refuge. This migration took place over several years and itself became a subject of controversy. Nicaraguans in the United States were allowed to apply for political asylum, given their status as refugees. A strong community developed, especially in Miami.
How about immigration from South America to the United States?
Because the region is not as geographically close to the United States, it has not been much of a target for American intervention. However, from Colombia to Uruguay, economic debacles and political strife have resulted in an exodus that, again, found its magnet north of the Rio Grande. This is not to say that the United States has not supported coups and repressive governments in the region. In 1973—on September 11—Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean general backed by the United States, orchestrated an insurrection against the p. 75↵elected president Salvador Allende, pushing Allende to commit suicide, and then started a dictatorship.
At one point in the 1990s the Census Bureau added a category of Latinos called “Central and South Americans.” It included people from Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Paraguay. The category was eventually eliminated. In any event, counted together, there were more South Americans in the United States in 2014, 2,856,000, than Cubans. The country where the largest number of immigrants came from was Colombia with 707,000, followed by Peru with 449,000, and Ecuador with 424,000.
Why has Colombia been a source of immigration?
The exodus from Colombia toward the United States was the result of violence, economic instability, and the cartels that turned Colombia into a major provider of drugs—el narcotráfico—in the Western Hemisphere. People from all backgrounds have moved north, not only from metropolitan centers like Bogotá and Medellín but from rural areas too. They have mostly settled in Florida, but also in New York, New Jersey, and Texas.
And Venezuela: in what way have people from there been drawn to the United States?
In 2014 there were 216,000 Venezuelan immigrants in the United States. Venezuela was a relatively stable country until the 1980s, when an economic crisis brought along unemployment and people began to look for ways of escape. There was inflation, currency devaluation, coup d’états, and presidential impeachment, and, eventually, the election of a leftist leader, Hugo Chavez. Chavez aligned with Fidel Castro’s policies, fashioning himself as a hemispheric leader seeking to galvanize the resentment against, and opposition to, the United States for decades of abuse of power in Latin America. Chavez’s rhetoric found its target in President George W. Bush, an unpopular p. 76↵figure worldwide because of his decision to invade Iraq and bring down the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, whom he claimed was building weapons of mass destruction. In speech after speech, Chávez turned himself into a kind of Robin Hood of the poor nations, eager to fight the rich. His power depended not only on words but on Venezuela’s considerable oil resources. The country is a main provider to several neighbors, from Brazil to Argentina. It also used to sell crude to the United States.
Chávez died in 2013 at the age of 59. His hand-picked successor was Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver loyal to Chávez but with little political experience. His reign was marked by egregious mismanagement of the economy, widespread scarcity of goods in the nation’s supermarkets, and heightened ideological tension with the United States. Venezuelans tried to leave in hordes. Nearby countries like Colombia, Panama, Peru, and Chile became magnets of immigration. And in the Dominican Republic, the size of the Venezuelan community quadrupled in only a few years.
Middle-class Venezuelans immigrated to the United States in the 1990s. Their favorite destinations became Florida, New York, Texas, New Jersey, and California. After Chávez’s death, the exodus also included people from lower-income brackets.
Are Brazilians considered Latinos?
The conquest of the Americas wasn’t carried out by Spain alone. Portugal was another major colonial empire in the 16th century. And the French and Dutch also took a role in exploring the New World. Each left an imprint on their colonies.
Brazil, which stands as the largest country in South America, not only geographically but in demographic terms too, adopted an idiosyncratic Portuguese as its language. In 2014, the Brazilian population was 207,847,528, while the number of Brazilian immigrants in the United States numbered p. 77↵336,000—in other words, about 1.6% of that country’s population. Brazil has traditionally been seen as something of an island within the South American continent. The Dominican writer Pedro Henríquez Ureña campaigned to debunk the term América latina, claiming it was misleading. Instead, he suggested the proper term for Latin America would be an amalgam of Hispanic and Luso (e.g., Portuguese) Americas, or la América hispánica y la América portuguesa, stressing the linguistic and cultural uniqueness of the continent’s colonial pasts. As a result of their distinctiveness, Brazilians are and are not part of the minority. That distinctiveness is evident in their colorful style and contagious music, from samba to bossa nova. Issues of race are approached in Brazil with an openness unmatched in other parts of the region. The country was a target of the Portuguese slave trade, and thus blacks were brought there in large numbers.
Where have Brazilians settled in the United States?
Primarily in Florida, Massachusetts, California, New York, and New Jersey. There is a “Little Brazil” near 46th Street in Manhattan. Immigrants are from all walks of life: black and white, working class and well-to-do, male and female.
What brought along the Brazilian immigration?
Brazil used to be known as a target, not a source, of immigration. Jews, Germans, Italians, Japanese, and other national groups arrived at various points before the mid-20th century. The reversal started with the Gétulio Vargas dictatorship, which lasted from 1930 to 1945 and from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. During this period the labor force migrated to industrial nations when needed, including the United States.
A decade after Vargas’s suicide, another coup d’état brought a new military regime to Brazil that lasted until 1985. The period was marked by what became known as “the Brazilian p. 78↵miracle,” a sense that the nation’s economy was destined to be a major player in world affairs. But a series of mismanaged financial decisions brought along inflation, which in turn created a stagnant financial market. Finally, in 1984 a presidential election took place in which opposition civilian candidates won.
The United States has been the home—temporary and permanent—of intellectuals, politicians, and artists. Such figures have included Carmen Miranda, Cândido Portinari, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Juscelino Kubitschek.
What were living conditions like for Mexican immigrants in the United States during the 20th century?
After World War II, the living and labor conditions of Mexican Americans in the Southwest were depressed. Xenophobia and racism played a role in keeping Spanish-speaking people in low-entry jobs. The Latino middle class was small and, in general, disconnected from the grass roots. The poor lived in ghettos in major urban centers on both coasts of the country, including East L.A. in California and Spanish Harlem in New York.
What does bracero mean?
In Spanish bracero refers to a legally contracted worker. The program ran from August 4, 1942, to December 31, 1964. It was a formal binational agreement between the governments that allowed the United States to import labor from Mexico. In those 22 years a total of five million Mexican workers entered, and settled, in 24 different states of the nation. Many of those workers were employed in the railroad industry.
The provisions of the program were clear-cut: braceros were provided free housing and sanitary labor conditions; they were paid at least the equivalent to what American citizens received for the same job and not less than 30 cents an hour; they were p. 79↵guaranteed employment for three months of the contract period and a subsistence wage of $3 in case they lost their job; and they were guaranteed round-trip transportation from and to Mexico.
Was the program well received nationwide?
It was controversial to say the least. There were those who argued that American domestic workers were being impacted by it. Others believed that illegal workers were taking advantage of the system to infiltrate the country. In response, the Eisenhower administration started Operation Wetback, a program to deport illegal Mexicans back to their native country. The program was supported by Attorney General Herbert Brownell.
How many people were deported during Operation Wetback?
According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, some 1.3 million people were sent back to Mexico, but the exact number is impossible to know.
Have most undocumented immigrants come from Mexico?
The majority of undocumented immigrants from the 1980s onward were from Mexico and Central America. The civil wars in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua forced people to seek better opportunities in El Norte. By 2015, about half of all undocumented immigrants were from Mexico. The other half was from Central America.
Who are the DREAMers?
The DREAM Act comes from the acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. It was introduced as legislation in 2001 by US senators Dick Durbin and Orrin p. 80↵Hatch. The DREAMers are the children of undocumented immigrants who crossed the border from the 1980s onward. These minors were either born or raised in the United States and are not considered accountable for the decisions to immigrate made by their parents. The DREAM Act proposes an amnesty to those who are law-abiding citizens and have not committed a crime.
Did the DREAM Act pass?
It never did. It was caught in ideological battles between liberals and conservatives. These battles were exacerbated during the Obama administration. Donald Trump campaigned in 2016 with the message that undocumented aliens—he repeatedly called them “illegals”—needed to be deported back to Mexico.
Why deport undocumented immigrants to Mexico if half of them come from other countries?
Trump frequently uses “Mexico” as a metonym to refer to all Latinos. He once purportedly said that “Puerto Ricans are the worst Mexicans.”
Was Donald Trump the first US president to deport undocumented immigrants?
No, George W. Bush was the first, although the number of deported people was small in comparison to the number sent back during the Obama administration. The latter administration deported close to 3 million, up 23% from the Bush years.
Was there legislation to counteract this massive movement?
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was designed to stop it. Among other strategies, it required employers to ask laborers for proof of citizenship. It also legalized noncitizens p. 81↵who met certain criteria, so it was a de facto amnesty program. This act was amended in 1990, giving preference to workers who were professionals with advanced degrees.
Is deportation legal?
It depends on the moment in history one refers to. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was evidently designed to eliminate the undesirables through deportation. And the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, brought in to reinforce the legislation passed in 1952, allowed law enforcement to deport or exclude a person without a formal hearing. This allowed for the deportation of large numbers of people crossing the border.
What about the mass protests of2006?
After the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the government declared war on Al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for orchestrating the attacks. That war materialized first in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime in power, then in Iraq against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Simultaneously, the nation’s geographic borders attracted much attention. Could another attack take place inside the United States? What efforts could be implemented to stop potential terrorists from infiltrating the country?
At the same time, dramatic ethnic changes became evident as the Census Bureau declared, in 2002, that the Latino minority, ahead of all expectations, was already the largest in the country, with Spanish the second most frequently used language. Conservative groups reacted with unease. On the one hand, the nation was visibly under threat from the outside; on the other, it was undergoing an internal turmoil with an equally difficult outcome. Were Latinos learning English at the same speed as previous immigrants? Was the United States about to be divided along ethnic, cultural, and linguistic lines? p. 82↵
As Congress and the Senate debated immigration reforms, including a guest-worker program that would be a form of amnesty, the toughening of border patrols, and the building of a wall along the US-Mexico border, people of different persuasions took to the street to let their views be known. From Los Angeles to Dallas and Washington DC, supporters of a lax approach to immigration marched while opponents to any type of amnesty manifested themselves in newspapers and on TV and in other media.
Since when did the US-Mexico border become a nation unto its own?
The transformation started after World War II. The border extends from southern California through central Arizona and New Mexico, to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. On the other side, it connects the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. It has a length of 2,000 miles. Its present form was established in 1848, after the Mexican-American War ended and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase were signed. It brings together—or apart, depending on how one sees it— two dramatically different civilizations: the English-speaking Anglo to the north, and the Spanish-speaking Hispanic to the south.
Throughout history, the border has been extraordinarily porous. The United States has gone from welcoming braceros and other crossers to blocking their passage through a specially trained patrolling force. This force has at times been supported by vigilantes and other volunteers. The passage runs in more than one way: people running away from the law and from financial problems cross from north to south too.
There are approximately 25 million people living in and around the region. Sweatshops, known as maquiladoras, employ workers, particularly young women, in the manufacturing of inexpensive items designed for export. A global economy has p. 83↵forced countries like Mexico to create these types of industrial growths.
Depending on the location, the language spoken along the US-Mexico border might range from English to Spanish and— more consistently—Spanglish.
When was the US Border Patrol formed?
It was established in 1924 to police the US-Mexican border. Its purpose was to limit newcomers perceived to be potential “public charges,” that is, welfare users.
Has the rationale for exclusion always used nationality?
Not at all. Among the most significant is the Immigration Act of 1924, known for introducing a literacy test. This is also the act that famously refused entry for “all idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; persons afflicted with tuberculosis of any form or with loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such alien to earn a living.” The test established by the act served as a filter. Mexican laborers able to enter the United States before 1917 were no longer accepted because they failed the test.
What other acts followed?
The National Origins Act of 1921, designed as a response to post-World War I immigration, was the first to establish quotas. It was legislated and approved by Congress three years later. Then the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, a preferential p. 84↵system, was established in reaction to the onslaught of refugees after World War II. Congress allocated the first 50% of the quota to skilled immigrants and the second to relatives of citizens and persons already in the United States.
Then came the 1965 Immigration Nationality Act, which eliminated restrictions on Asian immigrants. It also announced specific numbers: a limit of 120,000 newcomers from the Western Hemisphere was set, with no country exceeding 20,000. This act also emphasized family connections, giving preference to people with established ties to Americans.
Are anti-Trump protests connected to his views on deportation?
Yes. During his presidential campaign, he repeatedly stated that one of his priorities was to build a wall between Mexico and the United States and have Mexico pay for it. This infuriated large numbers of people who saw the approach as a refutation of globalism. Of course, Trump is against international trade. He is a pragmatic populist and an antiglobalist. He has offered to create millions of jobs to compensate for those that have been lost to trade agreements with China and Mexico. Trump sees the deserving beneficiaries of those jobs as, for the most part, white Americans who didn’t benefit from global trade agreements made over the last few decades of the 20th century.
Is Trump anti-immigrants and anti-Latino?
It is hard to say what Trump’s views are. It is also difficult to assess if he is a Hispanophobe, although at times it appears that way.
Have Latino immigrants prospered in the United States?
No doubt, although entrance to the middle class has been slow. The number of small businesses in barrios all across the nation p. 85↵has multiplied exponentially, at three times the national average, in the 21st century.
What is the overall position of Latinos on Immigration?
More than 75% of Latino families include at least one recent immigrant (and sometimes more). Overall, judging by educational, media, and other manifestations, it is obvious that patriotism—love for, and gratitude to, the United States—is a strong collective emotion. It would be a mistake to suggest that all Latinos are supportive of a more lenient policy toward immigration. As is the case of Americans in general, there is a solid number of Latinos eager to tighten the US-Mexico border. This was clear before and on March 1, 2006, when a series of national marches, from Los Angeles to Dallas, and from Chicago to Boston, took place. These marches were largely constituted by Latinos and other ethnic Americans who opposed a proposal, debated in the Senate and Congress, to, among other things, create a guest-worker program, offer amnesty to some illegal residents in the United States for some years, and build a wall on the border.
Is the issue of immigration linked to national security?
In the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, where scores of legal and undocumented workers died, along with thousands of other Americans, in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and onboard the commercial flights piloted by terrorists, the issue of security became politically charged. Even though there were instances of attempted terrorists infiltrating the United States from Canada, the US-Mexico border was seen as more porous. As security was emphasized, the question of who is allowed into the country became relevant. Thus, immigration was at the center of the nation’s political radar.