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barrios mexican immigrants poor

Barrios are urban neighborhoods within the United States that have a high concentration of Hispanics, variably identified as Latinos, Hispanos, Mexicans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, or other nationalities from Central and Latin American. These neighborhoods often have deep emotional and cultural meanings for those who live there, for they are places where families and friends share both the positive and negative experiences of growing up Latino in the United States. Individuals often have a strong identification with their barrio, a pride in being from this place and of knowing other people from the barrio. It is a place where the inhabitants can be themselves, speak Spanish, conduct business, and generally feel accepted by others. It also serves at times as a refuge for poor and marginalized people who have been affected by the consequences of poverty, segregation, and discrimination. The barrio, then, is a both a place of familial and cultural identification and a place where there is often an experience of crime, poverty, and racism. Many barrios are characterized as having poor housing, bad schools, gangs, police harassment, and illicit drugs. Nevertheless, the Latinos who live there often feel a pride in being “from the barrio.”


Perhaps the first barrio within the United States was the Tlasclalan barrio of Analaco, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This barrio was inhabited by the Mexican Indian servants and slaves who accompanied the Spanish settlers to New Mexico in 1598. After 1848 many barrios grew up within Southwestern cities as the result of the Anglo-American military conquest. Sometimes, as in the case of Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Tucson, the Mexican barrio grew out of the historic pueblo or town where the Mexicans had always lived. As Anglo-Americans came to predominate in these areas, they surrounded and isolated the barrios, which became segregated areas where Mexican workers and their families were expected to live.

Before World War II, the mining towns of New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado were strictly segregated, with the Mexican miners being restricted to the less favorable part of town, where they were forced to live by the mining company who owned the dwellings. By custom, and sometimes by regulation, Mexican residents were expected to stay on their side of the town. In the agricultural towns of California and Texas, Mexican farm workers and their families were often segregated by having to live “on the other side of the tracks” in dilapidated housing. In the late nineteenth century, white Americans developed a culture of segregation with respect to African Americans, and they often applied this to dark-skinned Mexicans, who were also segregated to prevent mixing with whites in public places such as movie halls, schools, parks, “plunges” (swimming pools), barber shops, churches, and the like. Almost everywhere in the Southwest before World War II, ethnic Mexicans were segregated in public schools, public facilities, and housing.

As a result of this segregation, Latinos developed their own ways of surviving, fashioning a culture that relied on family and cultural relationships within the barrio. They formed social, political, and cultural groups, and mutual aid societies sprang up in the barrios to provide emergency relief for those who were unemployed or to pay for funeral expenses of loved ones. The barrio was also the place where Mexican musicians, singers, dancers, and performers could find an eager audience. Local restaurants, owned and operated by barrio residents, catered to Mexican and local tastes. In southern Texas, especially before World War II, the barrio was the political base of many aspiring Tejano leaders who managed to achieve modest electoral successes because of the voter concentrations in the barrio.


Barrios emerged outside of the traditional Southwest as different groups from Latin America immigrated to the United States. Puerto Rican immigrants established urban barrios in New York City, and especially in Brooklyn, following World War II. Over the years their barrios have grown in size, mixing with other urban poor, particularly African-American and Afro-Caribbean immigrants in central Brooklyn. Puerto Rican immigrants also found their way to south Chicago, where they lived in barrios along with Mexican immigrant working-class families. The Puerto Rican barrios, whether in New York or Chicago, remain vital communities in the early twenty-first century, and new immigrants from Puerto Rico still go there to find jobs, housing, and a familiar culture. As the numbers of poor urban residents increase, however, so do the accompanying problems of family stress, illicit drugs, underemployment, and school dropout rates.

Cuban immigrants to the United States came in great numbers after the end of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Encouraged by the U.S. government and given special assistance, the Cuban enclave established itself primarily in Miami, Florida, living in several barrios. Because of the large number of educated, middle-class Cuban immigrants who were assisted by the U.S. government because they were anticommunist, the barrios developed into a launching pad for economic success and political achievement. Within their barrios, the Cubans have an extremely high sense of cohesion and unity. Spanish is spoken by rich and poor alike, and family solidarity and assistance is high. Involvement in local, state, and national politics is the norm, and Cubans have a high rate of graduation from secondary schools and colleges. There are also poor Cuban and other Caribbean immigrants in the barrios, and they provide the low-wage laborers for Cuban-controlled businesses.

Barron, Bill(actually, William Jr.) [next] [back] Barrett, Syd

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