If there ever was a time in which people needed to understand Latin American history and Latin American people, today may be the most essential of all.
In the Southeast alone people of Latin American-descent have been present since before the 1970s. If we take into consideration the relationships formed between Spanish colonizers and Creek natives in what is now Florida and Georgia, then the history, perhaps, arguably goes back much further.
To study Latin American history is an attempt to wonder about complex social creations. Where does Latin American history start? Does it start as soon as European settlers first stepped foot on this continent? Or do racial hierarchies and experiences of today’s Latin American people suggest that the history goes back much further? To study Latin American history is to study human movement and nature.
Where were we after our ancestors first carried maize’s ancestor, teosinte from South America and developed it in Mesoamerica’s fertile land? What memories can we recall on our hour-long high-school history session about Latin America? The Mexican-American War? The Mexican Revolution, perhaps? Ojala! Does our migrant history start in the Southeast when North Mexican people arrive in Georgia during the 1980s, or can we try and understand the broader socioeconomic history between Mexico, Central America and not surprisingly, the United States, in order to understand the brown people in our classrooms today?
Dr. Julie Weise, Professor at Oregon State University accounted the oral histories of early migrant Mexicans in the late 1970s in Tift County, Georgia in her book called Corazon de Dixie. She also researched how Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution had different experiences east of Texas in the early 1900s. They experienced racial categories classified differently than in the U.S. Some Mexicans surprisingly were allowed to go to White-only schools while others who faced harsher discrimination for their skin complexion were forced to go to segregated schools.
It may be surprising to many that Mexicans are not alone in the diverse human migration story on this continent South of the border. Throughout the Cold-War the United States of America’s drive to influence and even physically change the political landscape of Latin America caused much social upheaval. Such social, economic, and political change caused Nicaraguans to make a home in Los Angeles and for Guatemalan people to work America’s fields, kitchens, and construction sites.
In the era of family separation at the border and condemnation of Puerto Rican lives, we must invest in understanding. Though politicians demonize us, we have a home here. We have migrated this continent for thousands of years, and this is the latest chapter told of our human migration. We flourish where we go. We create our Spanish speaking communities and speak Spanglish in our attempt to live all the worlds that we are part of. We create indigenous-language speaking communities of Chol, Mixtec, Tzeltal, Otomi, though they are unaccounted for. We work alongside Asian and Haitian migrants, though they have a deep history in Latin America as well. We must know our history to know where we will go. The face of Latin American migration to the US changed several times. From the Southwest and some Caribbean islands, migration also overlapped to a stream of people from Central America and some from South America. What are their stories?
As the Venezuelan waitress at my favorite Mexican restaurant takes my order, I think of the beauty and struggle of my people throughout history to persist, love and create a home. And though I am filled with sadness about the political unrest in Venezuela, I can only hope for compassion and true human understanding of another chapter of Latin Americans in America. For this untold history and for many more reasons the History and Government Club will start a book club on Tuesday about Latinx History. The meeting will be at 5 pm at King 113. It will be every two weeks. We will begin with a book about the Mexican Revolution. Along with discussing history books, we will discuss podcasts about contemporary issues in the Latin American community. September 15 and 16 marks the anniversary of the independence for Mexico and many Central American countries. It also marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. If you have any questions, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org