- Latinas and Latinos in the Midwest:Pocos, pero bien Contados
Near midnight on July 5, 2017, a 47-year-old Latino male walking on a sidewalk in a commercial area in Lansing, Michigan, was assaulted by two White Americans in what was investigated as a hate crime. The suspects, motivated by the hostile social and political environment of today, defined by nativism and racial intolerance, yelled, "Trump hates you" at the victim as they pummeled him into a bloody mess. The two male perpetrators then stapled a note on the victim's chest that read, "Go back to Mexico, Wetback." Within two weeks of the brutal crime, on July 18, representatives from the Latino community gathered with other community leaders, along with elected and appointed officials to publically condemn the cowardly act of hatred and violence. The event occurred because Latino and Latina leaders called for public condemnation; up to that point elected officials had remained silent on the incident. Although the Latino community in Michigan, as in the Midwest (apart from Chicago), may not be as large as in other parts of the country, the condemnation on that given day was firm and resounding—Lansing is a welcoming city, not a city of hate. Como dicen en Mexico, Pocos, pero bien contados. (As they say in Mexico, "Few, but very well represented.")
Pocos, pero bien contados is an accurate description of the Latino/a population in Michigan and in the rest of the Midwest. Despite representing only 5% of the population in Michigan and 7.6% in the entire Midwest (mostly in Chicago), there is a handful of Latinas and Latinos that are keenly aware of the challenges facing their communities.1 As in all minority communities there are community leaders who step up to resist acts of oppression and civil and human rights violations. Such is the case with Latinos and Latinas in the Midwest, who, despite their relatively low numbers, pursue progressive change in their neighborhoods, cities, states, and region. Across the Midwest, statewide Latino-focused commissions concentrate on issues confronting Latino communities. In today's highly polarized political climate, which is in direct response to the stagnant economy of recent years and the demographic "change of colors" in the United States, Latinos face a nativist pushback by White Americans who view them, regardless of citizenship, not only as a threat to "traditional" American culture but as "outsiders" taking jobs from White Americans. Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" represents the nativist sentiments held by many Americans in a period of increasing income and wealth inequality brought about by the policies of free-market ideologues.
Today, Latinos are a visible and growing minority population, one that has been in the Midwest for over a century.2 Their largest numbers were initially in the Kansas City metro area in the first third of the last century, but presently Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have the largest concentration. These days, Latinos are found throughout the 12 Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin); they are in urban and rural areas, in factories, service occupations, food processing plants, transportation, and educational institutions, to name but a few. Their presence continues to grow daily, and will continue to do so through natural increase, as they are a relatively young and fertile population. Further, because of their relative youth, they tend to have higher labor participation rates than White Americans, contributing significantly to the economy. Finally, Latinos embrace the democratic values that are the foundation of the American state, and thereby contribute to its preservation.
Despite the public view that Latinos are newcomers to the Midwest, they actually have an extensive history in the region dating back to the sixteenth century—1541 to be exact—when Francisco Coronado visited the area in present-day Kansas and Hernando de Soto explored the Mississippi River in areas that are part of present-day Midwestern states.3 By the turn of the nineteenth century the newly established Santa Fe Trail linked Independence, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico, establishing overland economic ties with [End Page...