A Brief History of state-sanctioned violence and discrimination against Latinx People in the United States

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A Brief History of state-sanctioned violence and discrimination against Latinx People in the United States

Categories: News Archive, Op-Ed, YWCAllies On A Mission

(part 2 of a 2 part series)

By: Belen de Leon, YWCA Columbus Program Coordinator
Marisa Garverick Herrera, YWCA Columbus Program Manager
Lalitha Pamidigantam, YWCA Columbus Policy Analyst

In Part One of our series on Hispanic Heritage Month, we examined Latinx identity and discussed the experiences and struggles of Latinx people in Ohio and across the nation. In Part Two, we explore the untold history of state-sanctioned violence targeting Latinx people. As the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., it is important to address how this diverse group of people experience racially divisive political rhetoric, and unearth their disparate treatment under the United States carceral system.

Despite the manufactured stereotyping of Latinx people as “foreign”, Indigenous Latinxs have always occupied land in the US.  Doubly colonized by two imperial powers, these groups of people experienced oppression under Mexican rule, followed by the American annexation of their territory. By the mid 1800’s, when the US annexed 55% of Mexico’s territory in a feverish bid for expansion, the Mexican people that came with it were considered an unwelcome bonus.

Gold miners and self-proclaimed “pioneers” who rushed to the West chafed against the largely mestizo (mixed race) resident population that continued to boom as American employers recruited cheap labor from neighboring Mexico. Consequently, racialized violence exploded; manifesting in mob attacks, racial slurs and the lynching of at least 547 Latinx people (mainly people of Mexican, Peruvian and Chilean origin) between 1848 and 1928.

While mob violence was often carried out under the guise of “enforcing the law”, Latinx people of this region were policed and brutalized for anything perceived as “too Mexican.” In reality, this meant any action which challenged the status quo that upholds white supremacy.

By the early 1900s, anti-immigrant and, specifically, anti-Mexican-American rhetoric appeared clearly in American policy. The Southwest turned to a familiar discrimination tactic; imposing a pattern of codified racism termed “Juan Crow.”  For years, Latinx people were subject to laws that forced them to attend inferior schools, barred them from entering “whites only” establishments, and challenged their voting rights. Sterilization laws were introduced, targeting Latinx women who were deemed “weak minded and sexually delinquent”. Latinx folks and allies protested against these racial injustices but international events, including neighboring Mexico’s 1910 Revolution, derailed their efforts.

As the Mexican Revolution played out transnationally, refugees began entering into the country in numbers, seeking safety in South Texas. White Americans used this migration to fan the flames of anti-Mexican sentiment. Entire Mexican-American villages were massacred, lynchings surged, and white vigilantism in the Southwest was all but encouraged.

Police brutality also intensified. Many Texas police officers were involved in the killings of Latinx persons. In fact, historians note that the Texas Rangers were as feared in Texas as the Ku Klux Klan was in the Deep South.  This era of racially motivated bloodshed is appropriately remembered as the hora de la sangre,” or hour of blood.

Despite the proliferation of racist policies and rhetoric targeting Latinxs, the American economy desired cheaper labor to maximize profit, which meant the exploitation of low-wage workers from Mexico resumed. In fact, the US government has a cyclical history of recruiting Latinx migrants as a cheap, exploitable labor force while simultaneously criminalizing them, thus fomenting anti-Latinx sentiment and violence.

When economic downturns occurred in the early 1930s and in 1955, unconstitutional military style deportation raids were carried out, sweeping away Latinx citizens and noncitizens alike. Not unlike the raids that have occurred in contemporary times, these mass deportation efforts have left lasting scars in Latinx communities.


In the 1960s, invigorated by the success of Black Civil Rights Movements, Latinx activists made their fight for equality more visible. In 1962, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association and by 1965, they organized a boycott on grape growers that exploited their Latinx workforce. In 1968. Latinx students, parents and educators continued the fight against inequities in education, staging massive walkouts across the country. Activists also began to decry police killings of young Black and brown people during this time, and developed organizations like the Community Alert Patrol; meant to keep Latinx communities safe and hold police accountable. The Chicano movement also ramped up in the 1960s. Leaders reclaimed “Chicano”, formerly a slur, as an emblem of their diverse Latinx heritage, and advocated for social change in several areas – from labor rights to land reclamation. By the 1970s, Latinx urban uprisings proliferated across the country, as anger around police killings in their communities escalated.


Today, Latinx activists have been building movements to tackle ongoing issues with law enforcement, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the larger “Crimmigration” apparatus – a phenomenon that describes the convergence of the criminal justice system and immigration law. Crimmigration has extended the history of Latinx discrimination, exclusion and marginalization in this country by systematically criminalizing, incarcerating and deporting Latinxs. Alleging human, constitutional and civil rights violations by ICE, Latinx activists call for the abolishment of ICE and an overhaul of the immigration system.

In recent years, with the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Latinx voices amplified cries against police violence in their communities. A New York Times poll found that 21% of Latinx voters said they’d participated in BLM protests, on par with the 22% of Black voters who said they had done so. Marching in protests with signs reading “Tu lucha es mi lucha” (your struggle is my struggle), the Latinx community has demonstrated a growing awareness of the undeniable interconnectedness between the Black Lives Matter movement and Latinx civil rights movement. The legacy of activism lives on through the stories of the Latinx people that we honor this Hispanic Heritage month. Their voices can longer be ignored.