Timeline of Important Dates
Saint Augustine brings the first European settlement to the United States, introducing Catholicism and the Spanish language in Florida.
New Mexico is settled by the Spanish—making it the largest and oldest Spanish settlement in the Southwest.
The colony of Jamestown is founded in Virginia.
Texas is made a separate Spanish province with Don Domingo de Teran as its governor.
Explorer Diego de Vargas leads an expedition in search of salt deposits in and around the Guadalupe Mountains, becoming the first non-Indian visitor to this area.
The mission at San Antonio is founded—it becomes one of the most prosperous and most important missions.
While the American colonies in the East declare their independence from Great Britain, the Spanish celebrate the founding of San Francisco in the West.
The Bill of Rights is adopted.
Separatist movements begin in Latin America.
The first Anglo settlers arrive in the Mexican state of Texas after being invited by the government of Mexico, which had recently declared its independence.
Slavery in Mexico is abolished by the new republican government that emerged after independence from Spain (1821).
The government of the Republic of Mexico challenges the power of the Catholic Church—ordering its missions secularized and land holdings broken up. Antonio Lopez Santa Anna is named President of Mexico.
Mexico's President, Antonio Lopez Santa Anna, dissolves the Congress to rule all Mexico with an iron hand. Texans and "Tejanos" unite in opposition.
In the autumn of 1835, Texans and Tejanos rise in rebellion against the oppressive Mexican government.
On the February 23, Mexico's, Antonio Lopez Santa Anna, takes possession of San Antonio.
On March 6, day 13 of the siege, Santa Anna's forces breach the Alamo defenses. All the defenders of the Alamo, 189 men, are killed.
On April 21, after joining forces with Sam Houston's army, Juan Seguin defeats the Mexican army in the Battle of San Jacinto—a battle that lasted all of 18 minutes.
Seguin is named Military Commander of West Texas, Senator, and later Mayor.
Seguin flees to Mexico, escaping Anglo threats.
Texas is officially annexed to the United States—which angers the Mexican government. Conflict over the official border line arises.
In April, Mexico and the United States go to war over disputed territory.
On June 14, Military Commander of California Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo is awakened by an angry mob of Anglo settlers—forcing him to sign the Articles of Capitulation to make California an independent republic.
Antonio Lopez Santa Anna returns to power as President of Mexico and during his time in office sells the land between Yuma, Arizona, and the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico, to the United States.
Cigar factories are built in Florida, Louisiana, and New York, bringing an influx of working class Cubans to the growing industry in the United States.
The Homestead Act is passed in Congress, allowing squatters in the West to settle and claim vacant lands—many of which were owned by Mexicans.
Angered by 300 years of Spanish rule, Cubans rise up in revolt. Many leave for Europe and the United States and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted, declaring all people of Hispanic origin born in the United States as U.S. citizens.
The Spanish government frees the slaves it owns in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican representatives in Spain win equal civil rights for the colony.
Slavery is abolished in Puerto Rico.
Juan Sequin, the lone survivor of The Alamo, dies. Eighty years later, his body would be returned to Texas and buried with honors.
The Partido Revolucionario Cubano is created to organize the independence movements in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Cuban rebels stage an insurrection, led by the poet Jose Martí.
Spain grants Cuba and Puerto Rico autonomy and home rule.
On February 15, in Havana Harbor, Cuba, an explosion destroys a U.S. battleship—killing 266 men aboard. The United States subsequently declares war on Spain. The war lasts 13 weeks.
The Cuban Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Cubano) strikes a deal with the U.S. Congress; in exchange for the rebels' cooperation with U.S. military intervention, the United States promises to leave Cuba at the end of the war.
The United States acquires Puerto Rico through war and claims it as a territory.
Under the Platt Amendment, the United States limits Cuban independence as written into the Cuban Constitution. The United States reserves the right to build a naval base on Cuba and enforces that Cuba cannot sign treaties with other countries or borrow money unless it is deemed agreeable to the United States. With these parameters in place, the U.S. government hands the government of Cuba over to the Cuban people.
The Federación Libre de los Trabajadores (Workers Labor Federation) becomes affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, which in turn breaks from its prior policy of excluding non-whites.
The Reclamation Act is passed, dispossessing many Hispanic Americans of their lands.
Cuba declares its independence from the United States
The Mexican Revolution begins as a revolt against President Porfirio Diaz. The railroads that had once served as a means for trade and development now serve as the main escape from the violence of the revolution.
Puerto Ricans are granted U.S. citizenship.
In February, Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1917, which enforces a literacy requirement on all immigrants.
On April 6, the United States declares war against Germany, joining WWI.
With many able-bodied American men off to war, "temporary" Mexican workers are encouraged and permitted to enter the United States to work.
In May, the Selective Service Act becomes law, obligating Mexican immigrants in the United States to register for the draft even though they are not eligible.
Limits on the number of immigrants allowed in the United States are imposed for the first time in the country's history.
The "Border Patrol" is created by Congress.
The United States government begins to deport Mexicans. Between 300,000 and 500,000 Mexican Americans would be forced out of the United States in the 1930s.
The Roosevelt Administration reverses the policy of English as the official language in Puerto Rico.
Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado is overthrown.
The Platt Amendment, which restricted the Cuban government, is annulled.
As WWII sets in, many Latinos enlist in the U.S. military—as a proportion, the largest ethnic group serving in the war.
The Fair Employment Practices Act is passed, eliminating discrimination in employment.
On August 23, Macario Garcia becomes the first Mexican national to receive a U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, yet is refused service at the Oasis Café near his home in Texas.
Prompted by the WWII labor shortage, the U.S. government launches an agreement with Mexico to import temporary workers (braceros), to fill the void in agricultural work.
D-Day invasion of Europe on June 6.
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 is passed, providing settlements for veterans. Mexican American veterans, however, have trouble receiving these benefits.
Operation Bootstrap, a program initiated by Puerto Rico to encourage industrialization and to meet U.S. labor demands, fuels a large wave of migrant workers to the United States.
Puerto Rico gains political autonomy when it becomes a commonwealth.
Dr. Hector Garcia, a witness to racial injustice, begins holding meetings for Mexican Americans to voice their concerns, and in March they establish a new Mexican American movement: the American GI Forum.
This group gets national attention after a Latino soldier killed in action, Pvt. Felix Z. Longoria, is refused burial in Texas. Then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, appalled by this blatant bigotry, makes arrangements for Longoria to be buried at the prestigious Arlington National Cemetery.
The U.S. Congress advances Puerto Rico's political status from protectorate to commonwealth.
The Bracero Program is formalized as the Mexican Farm Labor Supply Program and the Mexican Labor Agreement, and will bring an annual average of 350,000 Mexican workers into the United States until its end in 1964.
In the case Hernandez v. The State of Texas, the Supreme Court recognizes that Latinos are suffering inequality and profound discrimination, paving the way for Hispanic Americans to use legal means to fight for their equality. This is the first Supreme Court case briefed and argued by Mexican American attorneys.
1954 to 1958
Operation Wetback is put into place by the U.S. government. The initiative is a government effort to locate and deport undocumented workers—over the four-year period, 3.8 million people of Mexican descent are deported.
Nearly a dozen bills are introduced into the Senate to preserve segregation. Henry B. Gonzalez, determined to stop them, stages an effective filibuster, speaking for 22 straight hours. He would later represent San Antonio in Congress.
The landmark production of West Side Story premieres on Broadway, chronicling the racial tensions of the '40s and '50s.
Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries march into Havana, following an armed revolt that ends in the overthrow of military dictator Fulgencio Batista.
John F. Kennedy runs for President, with Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate. Johnson enlists in the help of Dr. Hector Garcia to help carry the Latino vote. Garcia forms "Viva Kennedy" clubs, greatly aiding Kennedy's narrow victory.
On October 24, a ship called the City of Havana ferries Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro's reign. Over the next three years, more than 200,000 Cubans flee to Miami.
On April 17, 1,400 U.S.-trained Cuban exiles invade Cuba—within 72 hours, Fidel Castro's forces easily defeat the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
Aspira (Aspire) is founded to promote the education of Hispanic youth and acquires a national following, serving Puerto Ricans wherever they live in large numbers.
West Side Story is made into a film; the role of Anita goes to a Puerto Rican, Rita Moreno, who takes home an Academy Award for her performance.
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, is assassinated in a C.I.A.-backed plot.
U.S. reconnaissance planes discover Soviet missiles in Cuba. Travel to and from Cuba is prohibited. The United States blocks a Soviet plan to establish missile bases in Cuba. The Soviet Premier withdraws the missiles on the condition that the United States publicly declares it will not invade Cuba.
After the Community Service Organization turns down Cesar Chavez's request, as their President, to organize farm workers, Cesar and Dolores Huerta resign from the CSO. They form the National Farm Workers Association.
On November 22, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, leaving Lyndon B. Johnson as successor. President Johnson appoints more Mexican Americans to positions in government than any president before; he passes landmark legislation advocating desegregation.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act establishes affirmative action programs, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender, creed, race, or ethnic background: "to achieve equality of employment opportunities and remove barriers that have operated in the past" (Title VII). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is also established through Title VII to prevent job discrimination.
The Bracero Program, the government program initially put in place during WWII, ends. It brought Mexican laborers into the country to replace the American men who were fighting overseas. When the war ended the program continued.
Striking workers are subjected to physical and verbal attacks throughout their peaceful demonstrations, and on March 16, the Senate Sub-Committee on Migratory Labor held hearings in Delano.
March 17, the morning following the hearings, Cesar Chavez sets out with 100 farm workers to begin his pilgrimage to the San Joaquin Valley. After 25 days, their numbers swell from hundreds, to an army of thousands.
On Easter Sunday, the state capital is finally in sight. With public sympathy mounting and the spring growing season upon them, growers finally agree to meet with union representatives.
With Martin Luther King, Jr. organizing in the South and Cesar Chavez organizing in California, East L.A. high school teacher Sal Castro begins looking for ways to organize students.
On March 6, a walkout is planned and coordinated among East L.A. high schools. Approximately 10,000 students peacefully walk out of four schools and are joined by parents and supporters. Police are sent to maintain order—and things get out of hand.
Following the police riot, on March 7 the students walk out again. The walkouts continue for two weeks until the demands are met.
Just days after the opening of the HemisFair in San Antonio, Chicano high school students stage walkouts—first in San Antonio, then in 39 towns across Texas, eventually spreading to nearly 100 high schools in 10 states.
Jose Angel Gutierrez is the mastermind behind much of this activism.
Herman Badillo is elected into the U.S. House of Representatives, making him the first Puerto Rican to serve in Congress.
In Crystal City, Texas, Jose Angel Gutierrez forms a political party, La Raza Unida ("The United Race").
Elections in April see an unprecedented victory for Chicanos. Gutierrez is elected county judge and La Raza Unida controls not only the school board, but city and county government as well.
Miami officially becomes bilingual, following a referendum sponsored by its growing Cuban community.
Maurice Ferre becomes mayor of Miami, making him the first Puerto Rican to lead a major city in the mainland United States.
Willie Velasquez of San Antonio organizes thousands of voter registration drives across the Southwest, encouraging the Latino population to vote.
He notices, however, that the problem is not the number of Latino voters, but the electoral system. He later would file voting rights lawsuits—never losing a case.
Congress passes the Equal Educational Opportunity Act to create equality in public schools by offering bilingual education to Hispanic students.
Russian-born immigrant Emmy Shafer spearheads a campaign to put an end to bilingualism and make English the official language of Miami. Her push for an English-only Miami is a harbinger of broader anti-immigrant sentiment that would spread across the country in the late 20th and early 21st century.
In the spring, Fidel Castro announces that any Cuban who wishes to leave may do so. Shortly after this declaration, a ramshackle armada sails from South Florida to the port of Mariel.
Over a period of five months, more than 125,000 Cubans arrive in South Florida.
The newly arrived Cubans are quickly branded as mentally ill or criminal, following a CBS News story. Although only 4 percent are from mental hospitals, more than 25,000 have criminal records.
The media perpetuates the stereotype of mentally ill or criminal in shows and movies, such as Miami Vice and Scarface.
The English-only campaign comes roaring back, with Emmy Shafer again at the helm. In the 1980 election, voters approve the ordinance to end official bilingualism.
Seeking to bring illegal immigration under control while maintaining a stable agricultural labor force, President Ronald Reagan signs the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). It is intended to toughen U.S. immigration law; border security is to be enforced and employers are now required to monitor the immigration status of their employees. It also, however, grants amnesty to nearly three million immigrants – mostly Mexicans – who had quietly slipped across the border during the 1970s and '80s.
The National Hispanic Leadership Institue addresses the underrepresentation of Latinas in the corporate, nonprofit and political arena.
Voter rights advocate Willie Velasquez dies in May, and is posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian peacetime award.
President George Bush appoints the first woman and first Hispanic surgeon general of the United States: Antonia C. Novello.
The proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States, and Mexico expands and exploits the maquiladora concept, offering potential tax reductions to U.S. businesses.
A series of peace agreements finally ends the bloodshed in El Salvador.
Ellen Ochoa becomes the first Hispanic woman to go to space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
President Bill Clinton names Federico Peña as Secretary of Transportation and Henry Cisneros as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, making them both the first Hispanics to hold those positions. He also appoints Norma Cantú, former Director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, to the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights within the Department of Education. Twenty-five other Hispanics are appointed to positions needing Senate confirmation under this presidency.
NAFTA takes effect, eliminating all tariffs between Canada, Mexico, and the United States within 15 years. Imports from the maquiladoras become duty-free.
On November 8, Californians pass Proposition 187 with 59 percent of the vote. This bans undocumented immigrants from receiving public education and benefits such as welfare and subsidized health care (with the exception of emergency services); makes it a felony to manufacture, distribute, sell, or use false citizenship or residence documents; and requires any city, county, or state officials to report any suspected or apparent illegal aliens.
Proposition 187 is ruled unconstitutional, on the grounds that only the federal government has the authority to regulate immigration. Eliseo Medina spearheads the movement to file lawsuits against Proposition 187.
Medina becomes the first Mexican American Vice President of the Service Employees International Union.
Hispanics are pronounced the nation's largest minority group—surpassing African Americans.
CHLI is the premier organization founded by members of Congress to advance the Hispanic Community's Economic Progress with a focus on social responsibility and global competitiveness.
Anti-immigrant sentiment reaches a tipping point when Arizonans organize a group of volunteers known as "The Minutemen" to patrol the border.
In April, the Minutemen began patrolling the border. They report unauthorized border crossings or other illegal activity to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Antonio Villaraigosa becomes the first Mexican American mayor of Los Angeles in more than a century.
The Freedom Tower is designated a National Historic Landmark, considered the "Ellis Island of the South" for its role as the Cuban Assistance Center in Miami during 1962–1974, offering nationally sanctioned relief to Cuban refugees.
Puerto Rican Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.
With no new comprehensive federal immigration policy in place, states began to enact their own.
In April, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signs the broadest and toughest anti–illegal immigrant law in U.S. history. The legislation, SB-1070, cracks down on anyone harboring or hiring undocumented immigrants and gives local police unprecedented powers.
Marco Rubio, a second-generation Cuban American, is elected U.S. Senator from Florida.
Georgia enacts its own version of Arizona's SB-1070—anyone stopped without a driver's license or proof of residency can be handed over to the immigration authorities.
Hispanics make up about one-sixth of the U.S. population—nearly 51 million people. By the middle of the century, the Latino population is expected to reach 127 million—nearly 30 percent of the projected population of the country.