latinx american history

by Alessandro Iaia

What Does it Mean to be Hispanic?

The terms Hispanic and Latinx seem to be thrown around as generally interchangeable terms which most people define as someone from a Spanish speaking country. Although most of the time these definitions are representative of these populations, there exists a distinct difference between Latinx and Hispanic in terms of definition. The word Hispanic is derived from the word Hispanicus, which is essentially an alternative name for Iberian. The Iberian Peninsula was called the Hispanicus Peninsula for a great part of early European history until 1823 when a French geographer named the peninsula the Iberian Peninsula. This history is important to take note of as it is a reminder that Hispanic is a title appropriate for individuals who can trace back their heritage to Spanish heritage, generally meaning they are of a mestizo mix, meaning half indigenous, half European. The term Latino/Latinx is meant to be more inclusive as to who is included, Latinx generally associated with the geographical location. This location covers all of Latin America, meaning Latinx includes Brazilian individuals as well.

The History of Texas and it’s American Unification

Texas was officially named a province in 1691; this province remained under the Spanish rule in a regular colonial format which was practiced throughout modern-day Latin America. For centuries Texas was almost exclusively just Spanish and indigenous peoples; this began to change in 1821 when Mexico began to invite land-hungry settlers into the state hoping to profit from their present and expand the economic products of the territory. These efforts were widely seen as a failure mainly because almost all the Anglo-Americans who immigrated to Texas practiced separate cultural practices and widely disagreed with the new governments. After many years of political mismanagement, the Mexican government lost control over Texas. The United States annexed Texas in 1845 and declared war on Mexico the following year on the basis of territorial disputes which ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gave the United States Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Meaning that over 80 million Americans currently live in states which have historical ties to Mexico and Latino culture.

The History of Hate and Oppression

The Latinx community in the United States has lived through various traumatic moments in history. Beginning with the interrogation into the Union, Latinx individuals were widely seen as different and generally were oppressed and limited in their capabilities. Beginning in the 1870s, Latinx children were banned from white schools and were sent to Latinx schools which were run down in comparison to the white schools. In addition to their segregated schools, Latinx individuals lived through other various forms of hate-based attacks. Examples of these race-based attacks are actually found around the nation in individual cases of mistrialled individuals who would be lynched for crimes which they had not committed. An example of an accused individual was Josefa Segovia who was accused of murdering a white man; after a fake trial, she was sentenced to death. Similar cases exist in the case of Antonio Gomez, where he was accused of murder and killed by a public lynching, he was 14. Another famous case of antiLatinx behaviour was the Porvenir Massacre which killed a total of 15 unarmed Mexican men mainly on the basis of race. The massacre began when Texas Rangers came into the town of Porvenir looking for men who were related to the Brite Ranch Raid. When they entered the town, the rangers under the command of Captain James Monroe Fox ordered the separation of 15 men and boys (all Latino) from their families. Captain Fox escorted the 15 individuals out of the town and ordered for all of them to be shot without a trial or any evidence proving that they were guilty. The only guns they found in the town of Porvenir belonged to a white man who was not arrested nor was he executed. The most famous instance of racially charged hatred against Latinx individuals can be found in the Zoot suit riots of 1943, where white and Latino men began a huge fight which resulted in the injury of over 150 individuals, and the arrests of 500 Latino men. This riot began because of the style of suit which the Latino men were wearing which were called Zoot Suits. The “controversial” parts of a Zoot Suit was the fact that it required extra fabric which was seen as an unpatriotic thing to require as the United States was at war. These attacks were not limited to only Latino men, Italian, African American, and Filipino men also wore these suits.

Notable Latinx Americans - Joseph Marlon Hernandez

Joseph Marlon Hernandez is considered to be the first politician in the United States to ever assume the role as a Latino American individual. His contribution to American politics can be seen in his extensive work in the Florida house of representatives; although he failed in his Senate run under the Whig Party in 1845, his contribution to the world of Latin American Americans can be felt to this day as there are 25 Hispanic members in the House of Representatives today.

Notable Latinx Americans - Baruj Benacerraf

Dr. Baruj Benacerraf was the first Latinx American to have been awarded a Nobel Prize. His highly decorated career began in New York City; his passion for science led him to Columbia University where he graduated in 1942. He continued his studies in medicine in the Medical College of Virginia. At the time, many medical schools turned down students on the basis of their ethnic beliefs and race; being a Columbian Moroccan Jew, his blend of cultures caused many Medical Schools to not accept him, regardless of his impressive accomplishments. His research in Medicine originally landed him a position in the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where he researched and practiced until he moved to New York University. After 12 years, he was offered a position in the NIH where he worked for 2 years until he joined Harvard University. His extensive years of research across the top institutions of the world would eventually lead him to a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1980 for understanding the way by which autosomal genes function in response to certain antigens. His work in the fields of medicine revolutionized the following generations of research as his work is widely attributed as a turning point in understanding the working of autosomal genes.

Notable Latinx Americans - Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa was the first Latinx woman to ever go into space. Her amazing career began in her academic studies in San Diego State University where she graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa; following her undergraduate success, she received her Masters in Science in Stanford University, where she also received her Ph.D. Her career then took off, literally, as she became an astronaut for NASA, and in 1993 she went to space as a mission specialist. She went back into space in 2002 as a flight engineer and a mission specialist. She retired from being an astronaut in 2007 and spent the rest time at NASA as a manager of the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations, and later became the first Hispanic director of the NASA Johnson Space Center. In 2018 she became Vice-Chair of the National Science Board.


A message from the author:

Alessandro Iaia

Understanding the history behind us is a key tool in growing and further developing as a society as well as an individual. In understanding the long existence of a cultural struggle, one not only understands what is the value of hope, but also the beauty of progression. If individuals never stood up against the status quo, human and historical progression would remain stagnant in a period where division would continue its reign and hate would presides over unity. These short lessons on the history of minority groups in our country allow us to reflect on the mistakes that we as a society have made, as well as establish the barriers to deepen the understanding of the direction of progress and true equality.