Latinx Homeownership and the Postwar Metropolis

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of ALANA Historians and ALANA Histories and IEHS

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Latino/a; Urban and Suburban


In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, researchers found that the housing market collapse disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinxs. The matter of subprime loans and exploitative lending recentered questions of race and housing. Historians of Latinx peoples in the United States, however, have examined questions of housing since the field’s inception. Early works, such as those by Camarillo (1979) and Romo (1983), considered how housing became a core component of structural marginalization of Latinxs in the United States. Sánchez (1993) then showed that, segregation and stagnant economic mobility notwithstanding, homeownership was critical to the process of immigrant acculturation and the “making” of Mexican Americans. González (2017) then described the process of Mexican American suburbanization, paying attention to the impact of homeownership on Mexican American politics in postwar Los Angeles. This panel builds on these foundational works to further explore the importance of homeowning Latinxs to postwar urban history. Becky Nicolaides’s paper will provide empirical grounding of Latinx homeownership in Los Angeles County from 1960 through 2010. Her paper will pay particular attention to the changed meaning of “homeownership” as greater numbers of racialized minorities, including Latinxs, became homeowners. G. Aron Ramirez will examine the development of a “property rights” political ethos through a case study of the Philadelphia-based Hispanic Federation for Social and Economic Development (1973 – 1985). Carie Rael’s paper will describe how Latinx homeowners in Orange County mobilized against various forms of state violence against lower-income immigrants from 1973 through 1986. Jerry González, whose book is a launch pad for these papers, will chair the panel. The panel will make three principal interventions. First, it will expand the scope to study Latinx homeownership outside of California—in this case, by including the northeastern United States. Second, the panel will further describe how homeownership and housing endow particular and peculiar political interests. Just as Freund (2007), Self (2003), and Sugrue (1996), have charted the effects of “homeowner liberalism” on political economy and racial politics, this panel will examine how Latinx political behavior has responded to new material interests as homeownership increased. Nonetheless, the panel will emphasize the political diversity of homeowning Latinxs. Rather than describing homeownership as an arena for Latinx conservatism, these presentations will show instead that homeowning Latinxs encompassed a range of political behaviors, from anti-gentrification and anti-deportation to bootstraps-style economic developmentalism. Third, the panel will emphasize the disparities of class and—following the lead of Gutiérrez (1995)—of citizenship between communities of Latinx homeowners. In much the same way that the “new” suburban history described the class diversity of United States suburbs, this panel will examine the multiple paths toward Latinx homeownership. The goal of this panel is to build on earlier scholarship and provide new empirical evidence of Latinx homeownership in postwar cities. These papers will do so in a way that suggests new directions for future research and asserts the relevance of Latinx homeownership to historiography on postwar cities, race, and class formation.

Papers Presented

Self-help housing and homeownership in the making of property-rights politics in Latinx Philadelphia, 1973 – 1985

Historians have examined “self-help” housing as a low-cost federal assistance program to foster homeownership and “middle-class modernity” in low-income areas of the United States and the world. Works by Nancy Kwak, Amy Offner, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor have illuminated how these programs gave rise to economic planning that privatized risk and incubated the type of liberal economic thinking that doomed traditional welfare states. The flipside of self-help housing programs—that is, its effects on new homeowners themselves—has been less explored. In this paper, I will examine the effects of self-help housing programs on the development of “homeowner liberalism” (as described by Self and Sugrue) among Latinxs in Philadelphia. I will do so through a narration of the short history of the Hispanic Federation for Social and Economic Development, a nonprofit organization that operated in Philadelphia from 1973 – 1985. The Federation’s activity sought to lift Latinxs out of poverty through property ownership, primarily of self-built homes. By narrating this history, I hope to connect the Federation’s activity to broader questions ranging from Latinx homeownership rates to the ascent of low-income housing aid achieved through private property and privatization.

Presented By
G. Aron Ramirez, Yale University

Fighting Displacement: Latinx Residents Combat Redevelopment, Criminalization, and Deportations in Conservative Orange County, 1973 - 1986

In postwar suburban Orange County, fights over labor, policing, and housing became intertwined and contested grounds between local officials and Latinx residents in Anaheim and Santa Ana, the two Orange County cities with the largest Latinx populations. From 1973 to 1986, Latinx residents, predominantly Mexican and Mexican Americans, organized against redevelopment, police brutality, INS deportations, labor exploitation, and slum conditions in low-income housing. The legacy of Latinx activism from 1973 to 1986 reframes Orange County politics from the perspective of these vibrant communities who fought for their residency in the face of New Right conservatism and the rise of criminalization.

Presented By
Carie Renee Rael, Rutgers University New Brunswick

Suburban political cultures among Latinx homeowners in Los Angeles

In 2010, Los Angeles suburbs crossed a threshold that disrupted long-lived patterns around race and property –non-white homeowners outnumbered white homeowners, for the first time in the region’s history. This crossover signaled a profound and important change in the racialization of suburban property. In this paper, I will explore the political implications of this shift for Latinx people in L.A. I will begin by documenting the pace of Latinx homeownership from 1960-2010 and trace those trends geographically within L.A. County. Then, I will explore the political culture of suburban communities with significant numbers of Latinx homeowners, seeking to discern their political values and behaviors.

Presented By
Becky Nicolaides, Research Affiliate, Huntington-USC Institute on CA and the West, UCLA Center for the Study of Women

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Jerry B. Gonzalez, University of Texas at San Antonio
Jerry González is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, San Antonio. He is also the Director of the UTSA Mexico Center. His research centers on the historical relationship between Latinos and the growth and social development of American metropolitan places. He published his first book, In Search of the Mexican Beverly Hills, in 2018.

Presenter: Becky Nicolaides, Research Affiliate, Huntington-USC Institute on CA and the West, UCLA Center for the Study of Women
Becky Nicolaides, a research affiliate at USC and UCLA, specializes in American suburban history. She is author of the forthcoming The New Suburbia: L.A. Suburbs Since 1945 (Oxford), My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 (Chicago), and co-editor with Andrew Wiese of The Suburb Reader (Routledge), two editions. She served on the governing council of the American Historical Association from 2017-2020, and on the Los Angeles Civic Memory working group, run out of Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, 2019-2021.

Presenter: Carie Renee Rael, Rutgers University New Brunswick
Carie Rael is a doctoral student in U.S. history who focuses on im/migration, Latinx community building, and the carceral state in Southern California. She received her B.A. and M.A. from California State University, Fullerton in History.

Presenter: G. Aron Ramirez, Yale University
G. Aron Ramirez is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Yale University. His dissertation explores the divergent histories of "property rights" in twentieth-century Latinx history.