Making Home: Building Latinx Stakes in Post–World War II Metropolitan Areas

Endorsed by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Immigration and Internal Migration; Latino/a; Urban and Suburban


During the second half of the twentieth century, the Latinx population in the United States grew from roughly two million to over thirty million. Much of that increase occurred in major metropolitan centers, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but also smaller in municipalities such as Lawrence, Newark, Hialeah and elsewhere. Until recent years, however, historians have tended to write about these Latinx Americans as bystanders in the tremendous shifts that transformed postwar metropolitan areas: suburbanization, the urban crisis, pro-business conservatism, gentrification, among many others, which have often obscured the broader impact of Latinx migration and settlement on such processes. This panel brings together the approaches and perspectives of nascent historians who map the significance of Latinx experiences in a range of locations across the country, including Los Angeles, Metro Atlanta, San Jose, and New York City. By tracing migration patterns, political coalitions, cultural place-making practices, and emerging forms of work, the panelists both lay bare the structural forces that shaped Latinx life as well as the everyday actions of Latinx residents who laid claim to urban and suburban sites since World War II. In particular, these papers meditate on the importance of grasping relational community formation across race and ethnicity in LA’s neighborhoods since the 1970s; how Chicanx students bridged gaps between California’s public universities and the communities they were intended to serve during the 1960s; the combined efforts of various institutions (from churches to restaurants) in incorporating recently-arrived compatriots in the scattered neighborhoods of Metro Atlanta during the postwar period; and the methods that Latinx women, Dominican, Ecuadoran, and others, used to sustain community as New York’s economy dramatically shifted during the 1970s and 1980s. Our collective goal is to mine the spaces and locate the moments wherein these communities resisted erasure and asserted belonging within existing juridical structures and beyond. Contributing to the growing field of Latinx metropolitan history, these papers thus examine how Latinxs impacted and (re)shaped postwar metro areas economically, politically, and culturally to make home.

Papers Presented

The Right to the Campus: Chicanx Struggles for Higher Education in 1960s California

In the late 1950s, California embarked on one of the most ambitious projects in American history— the attempt to provide free public higher education to all high school graduates in what would soon be the nation’s largest state. Doing so entailed encouraging the growth of existing campuses and establishing new ones at the UC, state college, and community college levels. As California moved to expand its system of public higher education, politicians and administrators debated the relative merits of various campus sites. For example, the decision to locate a new state college in white and wealthy Northridge, instead of diverse, working class Pacoima, would significantly impact the emergence of on-campus organizing. This paper explores the development of campuses, and the ways in which Chicanx students worked to bridge the gaps between their schools and nearby communities of color in the late 1960s—from UC San Diego to Fresno State to Oakland’s Merritt College. Over time, Chicanx and other working class students of color developed tutoring and recruitment programs in diverse communities, culminating in the creation of Educational Opportunity Programs which institutionalized affirmative action across California. As the attendees of a 1969 conference at UC Santa Barbara put it, Chicanx activists needed to utilize “the resources open to the school for the benefit of Barrio at every opportunity.” Through their efforts, these students-activists would help to make real the unfulfilled promise of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education—free quality education for all Californians.

Presented By
Andrew Stone Higgins, Emerson College

Selective Inclusion and Relational Community Formation in Multiracial Los Angeles

This presentation examines the power of relational community formation among African Americans and Latina/o residents invested in the future of post-World War II South Central Los Angeles. South Central Los Angeles, both locally and nationally, is viewed as an African American community characterized by urban poverty and economic neglect. This depiction has obscured Latina/o immigration and settlement into South Central since the early 1970s and its influence on this interracial community’s struggle for belonging and justice. In the face of diminishing U.S. government social services, economic disinvestment, increased immigration enforcement, and police surveillance, African American and Latina/o immigrant South Central residents have grown and persevered in an investment towards making South Central home together. Following the theme of the conference, “Pathways to Democracy,” this presentations centers on the creative, ingenious, and urgency with which an interracial community of residents foster solidarity and collaboration. By using oral life histories and archival research, I Identify and discuss contemporary local South Central branding efforts and electoral campaigns shaping this community’s current neighborhood interactions and investments to elaborate on the importance of building on the investments, relationships, and ties that have sustained community building, placemaking, and friendships over the course of decades in South Central. The onset of gentrification and the rise in underemployment, homelessness, border enforcement, and police brutality are highlighted as realities that render an inclusive approach towards relational community formation. The range of feelings framing these shifts in the midst of demographic change speaks to this community’s relational interracial formation, humanity, and livelihood.

Presented By
Abigail Rosas, California State University, Long Beach

Barrio-less Destinations: The Search for a Latinx Atlanta, 1960–1990

In 1983 Mexican-American author and reporter Ron Arias traveled from Los Angeles, California to Atlanta, Georgia, where he was interested in writing about the southern city’s growing Latinx population. “To be sure, Atlanta does not have a typical Hispanic community,” Arias wrote, “one that is crowded off into low-income neighborhoods, one that feels Latin like Miami’s Little Havana, New York’s Spanish Harlem, Chicago’s Pilsen, or L.A’s Eastside.” Arias’s attempt to make sense of Atlanta through the cases of cities with long-standing, historically present Latinx communities proved unfruitful, as the search for Atlanta’s barrios did not produce results. Atlanta was, and would remain, a primarily barrio-less destination as Latinx migratory trajectories shifted in the late twentieth-century. Drawing on archival material and oral histories, this paper traces individual and institutional efforts to identify, map, and incorporate Atlanta’s relatively small Spanish-speaking community in the decades preceding the large scale arrival of Latinxs to the city. Through tracing the efforts of individuals, religious institutions, universities, and social service organizations to incorporate Spanish speakers into a variety of activities, the paper highlights how region and the ethnospatial construct of the barrio served as central ways through which to understand the growing Latinx population and its impacts on the city.

Presented By
Iliana Y. Rodriguez, Emory University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Llana Barber, State University of New York Old Westbury
Llana Barber is Associate Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. She obtained her Ph.D. at Boston College and received her B.A. at the University of California at Berkeley. She received the 2017 Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in North American Urban History from the Urban History Association, and was named the co-winner of the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize by the New England American Studies Association.

Presenter: Andrew Stone Higgins, Emerson College
Andrew Higgins earned his doctorate in twentieth century US history at the University of California, Davis. His book project, Higher Education for All: Racial Inequality, Cold War Liberalism, and the California Master Plan, captures the tumultuous story of politics in 1960s California, from the inherent limitations of liberal reform, to the near simultaneous emergence of a diverse student movement and a rising New Right, through an exploration of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. A secondary project explores the influence of the Old Left on the student movement of the 1960s. He currently teaches at Emerson College in Boston.

Presenter: Iliana Y. Rodriguez, Emory University
Yami Rodriguez is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale University. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on Latinx history, migration, culture, and labor within the southern United States. Her dissertation project, “Constructing Mexican Atlanta, 1980-2016,” examines the varied place-making practices of Mexican migrants as they established community in a sprawling southern metropolis that had no large Latinx community prior to the 1980s. During the 2019-2020 academic year, Yami was an in-residence predoctoral fellow at Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.

Presenter: Abigail Rosas, California State University, Long Beach
Assistant Professor of Chicano and Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC. Her research has been supported by a UCLA Institute for American Cultures Post-Doctoral Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Dissertation and Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, and the OAH Nathan Huggins-Benjamin Quarles Award. She was just elected to the OAH’s ALANA Committee (2020-2023). Her book, South Central Is Home: Race and the Power of Community Investment in Los Angeles with Stanford University Press is an examination of the relational community formation of Latina/os and African Americans in South Central Los Angeles in the postwar period.