• Events in Hispanic American History

Events in Hispanic American History


October 12. The Spaniards land on an island called San Salvador — either present-day Watling Island or Samana Cay in the eastern Bahamas.

October 27, 1492. Columbus and his crews land on the northeastern shore of Cuba.



November 1493. On his second voyage, Columbus discovers the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.



After establishing Isabela on La Española (Hispaniola), the first permanent European settlement in the New World, Columbus sets sail and encounters Jamaica.



Juan Ponce de León sails in a small caravel for Puerto Rico, where he establishes friendly relations with the native chieftain, Agueibana, who presents him with gold.



Ponce de León is appointed governor of Puerto Rico.



Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar departs with more than 300 men to conquer Cuba, and lands at Puerto Escondido. Arawak chieftain Hatuey leads several deadly raids against the Spanish, but the Spanish defeat their resistance.



Velázquez is commissioned governor of Cuba. That same year the Cuban Indians are subjected to the encomienda system, in which each Spaniard is given land and Native American slaves to work it.



The Jeronymite Fathers in La Española decide to save the decimated Arawak population by gathering them into missions. Soon, missions spread like wildfire throughout the Spanish Empire.



Juan Ponce de León lands on the shores of Florida, exploring most of the coastal regions and some of the interior. At the time, there were an estimated 100,000 Native Americans living there.



Ponce de León is granted a patent, empowering him to colonize the island of Bimini and the island of Florida.

Diego Velázquez becomes a virtual feudal lord of Cuba, and establishes what are to become Cuba’s two largest cities, Santiago and Havana. He also directs the explorations of the Mexican Gulf.



Hernán Cortés sets out from Cuba to explore the mainland of Mexico in order to confirm reports of the existence of large, native civilizations in the interior.



Alonso Alvarez de Pineda claims Texas for Spain.

Hernán Cortés lands on the coast of Veracruz, Mexico.



Explorer Alvarez de Pineda settles the question of Florida’s geography: He proves it is not an island, but part of a vast continent.

July 1. Under the leadership of Cuitlahuac, the Aztecs force the Spaniards out of Veracruz, just a year after the Spaniards had come into the city. The Spaniards called this La noche triste (The Sad Night). Aztec chief Moctezuma was stoned to death by his own people during this debacle.



Continuing their maritime adventures, the Spanish explorers cruise along the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico, seeing Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, and also sailing up the Atlantic coast to the Carolinas.


Cortés and his fellow Spaniards level the Aztec empire’s city of Tenochtitlán, and begin building Mexico City on the same site.



King Charles establishes the Council of the Indies, designed to oversee the administration of the colonies of the New World.



In Mexico City rumors were that Cabeza de Vaca and his companions had discovered cities laden with gold and silver in the American Southwest, reviving the legend of the Seven Cities, which dated from the Moorish invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.



Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca returns to Spain and spends some three years writing La relación, an account of his wanderings in the North American continent. Published in 1542, La relación is a document of inestimable value because of the many first descriptions about the flora, fauna, and inhabitants of what was to become part of the United States.



May 18. From Havana, Cuba, Hernando de Soto sets sail for Florida and begins exploring the present-day U.S. Southeast



There are an estimated 66 Pueblo villages in the area of New Mexico, growing such crops as corn, beans, squash, and cotton.



April 23. Coronado sets out to reach Quivira-thought to be the legendary Cities of Gold-near present-day Great Bend, Kansas.



The New Laws are proclaimed, designed to end Spain’s feudal encomienda.

September 28.. Juan Rodríguez de Cabrillo, a Portuguese sailor commissioned by the viceroy to sail north of Mexico’s west coast in search of treasures, enters what he describes as an excellent port-present-day San Diego, California.



Spanish missionaries introduce grapes to California.



Saint Augustine, Florida, the earliest settlement in North America, is founded. It remains a possession of Spain until 1819.



The Franciscan order arrives in Florida to establish missions, which a century later would extend along the east coast of North America, from Saint Augustine, Florida, to North Carolina and westward to present-day Tallahassee.



Diseases have all but wiped out the Indians of Puerto Rico.



Juan de Fuca navigates his ships to the northern coast of the current state of Washington.



Portuguese sailor Juan de Oñate begins the colonization of New Mexico and introduces livestock breeding to the American Southwest.



Santa Fe, New Mexico is founded.



A Pueblo Indian named Popé leads a rebellion that forces the Spaniards and Christianized Indians out of northern New Mexico southward toward El Paso, Texas.


The first royal mercedes (land grants) are granted to Spaniards in the fertile valleys of Monclova, in northern Mexico, just south of the present border.



The first permanent Spanish settlement in Texas, San Francisco de los Tejas, near the Nueces River, is established.



Texas is made a separate Spanish province with Don Domingo de Terán as its governor.

Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino makes the first inroads into Arizona. By 1700, Kino establishes a mission at San Xavier del Bac, near present-day Tucson; he later establishes other missions in Arizona: Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Santa Gertrudis de Saric, San José de Imuris, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, and San Cayetano de Tumacácori.


The Spanish Crown orders the abandonment of its new province, Texas, because of fear of Indian uprisings.

Concerns about possible French encroachment prompt the Spaniards to reoccupy Texas in 1716 by establishing a series of missions, serving to both ward off the French and convert the natives to Catholicism. Of these missions, San Antonio, founded in 1718, is the most important and most prosperous.



English and French slave trading companies secure permission to bring African slaves into Spanish lands in the Americas.

The San Antonio de Béjar and de Valero churches are built where the city of San Antonio is located today.



The first free black community in what became the mainland United States was established at Fort Mose in Spanish Florida.



Captain Blas Maria de la Garza Falcón obtains a grant to 975,000 acres of land in Texas. In time, this ranch will become the King Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in the United States. Large-scale ranching in Texas has begun.

In the peace treaty after the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), France cedes claims to American holdings. Britain gains Canada and all of the French territories east of the Mississippi, and also receives Florida from Spain. France gives Louisiana and its lands west of the Mississippi to Spain to keep them out of British hands. Overnight, New Spain’s territory expands dramatically.



King Charles III expels the Jesuits from the Spanish Empire. With the Jesuits gone, the Franciscans become the primary missionaries in Spanish America.

September 17. The presidio of San Francisco is founded, becoming Spain’s northernmost frontier outpost.



July 3. Franciscan missionary Junípero de Serra establishes the first mission of Alta California in what would become San Diego. Serra eventually founded ten missions, traveled more than 10,000 miles, and converted close to 6,800 natives.



At least 50,000 African slaves are brought to Cuba to work in sugar production.



Pedro de Garcés, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, founds the first overland route to California.



Anglo-Americans declare their independence from England The thirteen former British colonies come to be known as the United States of America in 1781.



Spain regains Florida.



Hispanic settlements begin to thrive in Pimería Alta (California). At one point as many as 1,000 Hispanics live in the Santa Cruz Valley.



The Alien Act of 1798 grants the U.S. president the authority to expel any alien deemed dangerous. Opposed by President Thomas Jefferson, the Alien Act expires under its own terms in 1800.

The Naturalization Act of 1798 raises the number of years, from 5 to 14, an immigrant has to live in the United States before becoming eligible for citizenship.



Large, sprawling haciendas with huge herds of cattle and sheep characterize the economy and society of northeast New Spain.



A powerful France under Napoleon Bonaparte acquires from Spain the Louisiana Territory, which was ceded during the Seven Years’ War in the previous century. Napoleon, vying for dominance in Europe and in need of quick revenue, sells the vast territory to the United States, thus expanding the borders of the infant nation to connect directly with New Spain.



To the consternation of Spain, President Thomas Jefferson funds the historical expedition of Lewis and Clark. Spain is obviously worried that the exploration is a prelude to the settlement of the territory by Anglos.



In Mexico, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla leads a grass roots movement for independence from Spain. He and his followers set up a government and take several cities, but are defeated by the royalists in Mexico City. Hidalgo is executed, but the Spanish hold on Mexico is weakened.

September 16. With the insurrection of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla, the Spaniards withdraw their troops from the frontier presidios.

An insurrection breaks out in Texas, fighting against Spanish control. Royalists crush the rebellion.

Father José María Morelos y Pavón declares Mexico’s independence from Spain once again. A constitution is drafted and proclaimed in 1814, but royalists again defeat the new government.

José Matías Delgado, a priest, gives the first call for Central American independence from Spain in San Salvador.



Simón Bolívar leads an army of revolutionaries, winning victory over the Spanish in new Granada (now Colombia) in 1819, in Venezuela in 1821, and in Quito (now in Ecuador) in 1822. Proclaiming the birth of the Republic of Gran Colombia, which included present-day Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia, Bolívar becomes president.

Andrew Jackson leads a U.S. military force into Florida, capturing two Spanish forts.



Anglo-American frontiersman Stephen Long leads a revolt against the Spanish in Texas, but because of his ties to the United States, his rebellion threatens to open Texas to American control. Spain finally enters into deliberations with Moses Austin, a Catholic from Missouri, to settle Anglo-Catholic families in Texas.

Mexico acquires its independence from Spain, when liberals, Freemasons, and conservative Creoles (Spanish Americans) unite to support Creole Agustín de Iturbide. Itubide and his army take Mexico City in September. Independent Mexico at this time includes settlements in California, southern Arizona, south Texas, southern Colorado, and most of New Mexico. Soon after Mexico gains independence, Anglo-American settlers begin to move into the Mexican territories of the present-day U.S. Southwest, especially Texas.



The sun sets on Spanish Florida when the peninsula is purchased by the United States for $5 million.



Erasmo Seguín, a delegate to the national congress from Texas, persuades a willing U.S. Congress to pass a colonization act designed to bring even more Anglo settlers to Texas. Between 1824 and 1830, thousands of Anglo families enter east Texas, acquiring hundreds of thousands of free acres and buying land much cheaper than they could have in the United States. By 1830, Texas has 18,000 Anglo inhabitants and their African slaves, who number more than 2,000.



Fray Junípero de Serra’s death does not stop missionary activity in California. His fellow Franciscans establish another 12 missions. The famous mission trail of California includes the missions

  • San Diego de Alcalá (1769)
  • San Carlos de Monterey (1770)
  • San Antonio de Padua (1771)
  • San Gabriel Arcángel (1771)
  • San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772)
  • San Francisco de Asís (1776)
  • San Juan Capistrano (1776)
  • Santa Clara de Asís (1777)
  • San Buenaventura (1782)
  • Santa Bárbara (1786)
  • La Purísima Concepción (1787)
  • Santa Cruz (1791)
  • San José de Guadalupe (1797)
  • San Juan Bautista (1797) San Miguel Arcángel (1797)
  • San Fernando Rey (1797)
  • San Luis Rey (1798)
  • Santa Inés (1804)
  • San Rafael Arcángel (1817)
  • San Francisco Solano (1823).



Slavery in Mexico is abolished by the new republican government that emerges after independence.



Anglo-Texans resist the military rule of Antonio López de Santa Anna, dictator of Mexico. Santa Anna leads a large army north to San Antonio, Texas, and surrounds the Texans at the Alamo mission. Eventually the Mexican army kills all the resisters. Six weeks later Anglo-Texan forces defeat the Mexican forces and declare the Republic of Texas independent of Mexico.

The Texas constitution stipulates that all residents living in Texas at the time of the rebellion will acquire all the rights of citizens of the new republic, but if they had been disloyal, these rights are forfeited. Numerically superior Anglos force Mexicans off their property, and many cross the border to Mexico.



To meet the wage-labor demands, 125,000 Chinese are brought to Cuba between 1840 and 1870 to work as cane cutters, build railroads in rural areas, and serve as domestics in the cities. Also, the influx of European immigrants, primarily from Spain, increases during that period. Newly arrived Spaniards become concentrated in the retail trades and operate small general stores called bodegas.



Texas is officially annexed to the United States. This angers the Mexican government and a conflict arises over the official border between Texas and Mexico.



The United States invades Mexico under the banner of Manifest Destiny. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War that same year. Under the treaty, half the land area of Mexico, including Texas, California, most of Arizona and New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, is ceded to the United States. The treaty gives Mexican nationals one year to choose U.S. or Mexican citizenship. Approximately 75,000 Hispanic people choose to remain in the United States and become citizens by conquest.



The gold rush lures a flood of Anglo settlers to California, which becomes a state in 1850. Settlement in Arizona and New Mexico occurs at a slower pace, and they both become states in 1912.



The Foreign Miners Tax, which levies a charge for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen, is enacted.



After the United States took over California in 1846, the biggest issue for Californios (Hispanic Californians) is land ownership. These former Mexican citizens have to prove what land they owned before the takeover, especially because newly arriving Anglos want the land. Therefore Congress passes the Calfornia Land Act to help Californios prove their claims. Many Californios, however, lose their land.



General Santa Anna returns to power as president of Mexico and, through the Gadsden Treaty, sells to the United States the region from Yuma (Arizona) along the Gila River to the Mesilla Valley (New Mexico).



Vagrancy laws and so-called “greaser laws” prohibiting bear-baiting, bullfights, and cockfights are passed, clearly aimed at prohibiting the presence and customs of Californios. (“Greaser” was a negative term Anglos used for their Hispanic neighbors.)

Anglo businessmen attempt to run Mexican teamsters (wagon-drivers) out of south Texas, violating the guarantees offered by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.



Cigar factories are built in Florida, Louisiana, and New York to make genuine Cuban cigars. Many working-class Cubans follow the industry to jobs in the United States.



The Homestead Act is passed in Congress, allowing squatters in the West to settle and claim vacant lands, often those owned by Mexicans.

April 27. Spanish troops stationed in Puerto Rico mutiny, and are executed by the colonial governor.



Cubans leave for Europe and the United States in sizable numbers during Cuba’s first major attempt at independence from Spain.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted, declaring all people of Hispanic origin born in the United States to be U.S. citizens.

September 17. A decree in Puerto Rico frees all children born of slaves after this date. In 1870, all slaves who are state property are freed, as are various other classes of slaves.

September 23. El Grito de Lares, the shout for Puerto Rican independence, takes place, but disorganized insurrectionists are easily defeated by the Spanish.

October. Cuban rebels led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes declare independence at Yara, in the eastern portion of the island.



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 finally abolished in Puerto Rico.



The U.S. Supreme Court in Henderson v. Mayor of New York rules that power to regulate immigration is held solely by the federal government.

The Ten Years’ War, a series of unsuccessful Spanish attempts to evict rebels from the eastern half of Cuba, comes to an end with the signing of the Pact of El Zajón. The document promises amnesty for the insurgents and home rule, and provides freedom for the slaves that fought on the side of the rebels.



A Cuban independence movement is forcefully put down by Spanish forces.



In Cuba, slavery is abolished by Spain in a gradual program that takes eight years. The influx of new European immigrants has made Cuba more heterogeneous, leading to the social diversity that is still apparent today.

Mexican immigration to the United States is stimulated by the advent of the railroad.



The Partido Revolucionario Cubano is created to organize the Cuban and Puerto Rican independence movement.



The Alianza Hispano Americana is founded in Tucson, Arizona, and quickly spreads throughout the Southwest.



José Martí and his Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) open the final battle for independence.



A Revolutionary Junta is formed in New York to lead the Puerto Rican independence movement.



Spain grants Cuba and Puerto Rico autonomy and home rule.



April. The USS Maine mysteriously explodes in Havana Harbor. On April 28, President William McKinley declares war against Spain.

May. The U.S. military invades San Juan in pursuit of Spaniards, and is welcomed by the cheering crowds, longing for independence.

December 10. Spain signs the Treaty of Paris, transferring Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States.

The Foraker Act establishes a civilian government in Puerto Rico under U.S. dominance. The law allows for islanders to elect their own House of Representatives, but does not allow Puerto Rico a vote in Washington.



Under the Platt Amendment, the United States limits Cuban independence. Cuba cannot sign treaties with other countries or borrow money unless it is agreeable to the United States. The United States also reserves the right to build a naval base on Cuba. With these limitations written into the Cuban constitution in 1901, the United States turns the government of Cuba over to the Cuban people.


The Federación Libre de los Trabajadores (Workers Labor Federation) — or FLT — becomes affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, which breaks from its policy of excluding non-whites.


The Reclamation Act is passed, dispossessing many Hispanic Americans of their land.

Cuba declares its independence from the United States.


The Mexican Revolution begins, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing north from Mexico and settling in the Southwest.


In Mexico, the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz comes to an end when he is forced to resign in a revolt led by Francisco Madero.


Brutality against Mexican Americans in the Southwest territories is commonplace. Lynchings and murders of Mexican Americans in California and Texas result in a formal protest in 1912 by the Mexican ambassador of the mistreatment


During World War I, “temporary” Mexican farm workers, railroad laborers, and miners are permitted to enter the United States to work.

The Jones Act is passed, extending U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans and creating two Puerto Rican houses of legislature whose representatives are elected by the people. English is decreed the official language of Puerto Rico.

February. Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1917, imposing a literacy requirement on all immigrants aimed at curbing the influx from southern and eastern Europe, but ultimately inhibiting immigration from Mexico.

May. The Selective Service Act becomes law, obligating non-citizen Mexicans in the United States to register with their local draft boards, even though they are not eligible for the draft.


Limits on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States during a single year are imposed for the first time in the country’s history.

As the first of two national origin quota acts designed to curtail immigration from eastern and southern Europe and Asia is passed, Mexico and Puerto Rico become major sources of workers.

A depression in Mexico causes severe destitution among Mexicans.



The Border Patrol is created by Congress.



July. Rioting Puerto Ricans in Harlem are attacked by non-Hispanics as the number of Puerto Ricans becomes larger in Manhattan neighborhoods. By 1930 they number 53,000.



With the onset of the Great Depression, Mexican immigration to the United States virtually ceases and return migration increases sharply.

The League of United Latin American Citizens is founded in Texas by frustrated Mexican Americans who find that opportunities for them in the United States are limited.



The United States controls 44 percent of the cultivated land in Puerto Rico; U.S. capitalists control 60 percent of the banks and public services, and all of the maritime lines. In the period between 1930 and 1934, approximately 20 percent of the Puerto Ricans living in the United States will return to the island.



Many Mexican workers are displaced by the dominant southern whites and blacks of the migrant agricultural labor force.


The Roosevelt Administration reverses the policy of English as the official language in Puerto Rico.

Mexican farm workers in the Central Valley, California cotton industry go on strike, supported by several groups of independent Mexican union organizers and radicals.

Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado is overthrown.

September. Fulgencio Batista leads a barracks revolt to overthrow Cuban provisional President Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada, becoming the dictator of the Cuban provisional government.



The Platt Amendment is annulled.



Young Mexican and Mexican American pecan shellers strike in San Antonio.



The independent union Confederación de Trabajadores Generales is formed and soon replaces the Federación Libre de los Trabajadores (FLT) as the major labor organization in Puerto Rico.

Fulgencio Batista is elected president of Cuba.



Unionization among Hispanic workers increases rapidly, as Hispanic workers and union sympathizers struggle for reform.



The Fair Employment Practices Act is passed, eliminating discrimination in employment.

Hispanics throughout the United States enthusiastically respond to the war effort as the country enters World War II.



Prompted by the labor shortage of World War II, the U.S. government makes an agreement with the Mexican government to supply temporary workers, known as braceros, for American agricultural work.

The so-called “Zoot Suit” riots take place in southern California. Some elements of the California press had been portraying Mexican Americans as unwelcome foreigners. Bands of hundreds of sailors, marines, and soldiers in southern California range the Hispanic neighborhoods, looking for Mexican American young men in zoot suits. When they find them, the soldiers beat them and tear their suits off of them.



Fulgencio Batista retires as president of Cuba.

Operation Bootstrap, a program initiated by the Puerto Rican government to meet U.S. labor demands of World War II and encourage industrialization on the island, stimulates a major wave of migration of workers to the United States.



The first Puerto Rican governor, Jesús T. Piñero, is appointed by President Harry Truman.



More than 20 airlines provide service between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Miami, and San Juan and New York.

The American G.I. Forum, a new civil rights organization, is founded by Mexican American veterans in response to a Three Rivers, Texas, funeral home’s denial to bury a Mexican American soldier killed in the Pacific during World War II.



July 3. The U.S. Congress upgrades Puerto Rico’s political status from protectorate to commonwealth.



Throughout the early 1960s, segregation is abolished in Texas, Arizona, and other regions, largely through the efforts of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Alianza Hispano Americana.

Immigration from Mexico doubles from 5.9 percent to 11.9 percent, and in the 1960s rises to 13.3 percent of the total number of immigrants to the United States.



Black workers continue to be the most numerous migrants along the eastern seaboard states, while Mexican and Mexican-American workers soon dominate the migrant paths between Texas and the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountain region, and the area from California to the Pacific Northwest.


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 to the United States until its end in 1964.



Fulgencio Batista seizes power of Cuba again, this time as dictator, taking Cuba to new lows of repression and corruption.



In the landmark case of Hernandez v. Texas, the nation’s highest court acknowledges that Hispanic Americans are not being treated as “whites.” The Supreme Court recognizes Hispanics as a separate class of people suffering profound discrimination, paving the way for Hispanic Americans to use legal means to attack all types of discrimination throughout the United States. It is also the first U.S. Supreme Court case to be argued and briefed by Mexican American attorneys.



Operation Wetback, a government effort to locate and deport undocumented workers, results in the deportation of 3.8 million persons of Mexican descent. Only a small fraction of that amount are allowed deportation hearings. Thousands of U.S. citizens of Mexican descent are also arrested and detained.



In the early 1950s, Hispanic Americans had begun to buy time on local television stations for Spanish-language programs. New York, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Harlingen, Texas, have extensive Hispanic programming. The first Spanish-language television station in the United States is San Antonio’s KCOR-TV in San Antonio.



The Cuban Revolution succeeds in overthrowing the repressive regime of Batista; Fidel Castro takes power. Cuban Americans immigration to the United States increases sharply after this date. Large-scale Cuban immigration to the United States occurs much more quickly than that from either Puerto Rico or Mexico, with more than one million Cubans entering the country since 1959.

Most of the two million Puerto Ricans who have trekked to the U.S. mainland in this century are World War II or postwar-era entries. Unlike the immigrant experience of Mexicans, or Cubans before 1959, the majority of Puerto Rican immigrants entered the United States with little or no red tape.



A third phase of labor migration to the United States begins when the established patterns of movement from Mexico and Puerto Rico to the United States are modified, and migration from other countries increases. The Bracero Program ends in 1964, and, after a brief decline in immigration, workers from Mexico increasingly arrive to work under the auspices of the H-2 Program of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as well as for family unification purposes, or as undocumented workers.

Young Mexican Americans throughout the United States become caught up in the struggle for civil rights and seek to create a new identity for themselves. These efforts become known as the Chicano Movement. The movement sparks a renaissance in the arts among Mexican Americans. Many Chicano artists call attention to inequalities faced by Mexican Americans, developing new styles of art that eventually gain acceptance in mainstream literary and art scenes.


Aspira (Aspire) is founded to promote the education of Hispanic youth by raising public and private sector funds. Aspira acquires a national following, serving Puerto Ricans wherever they live in large numbers.

April. Anti-Communist Cuban exiles who are trained and armed by the United States, attempt a foray into Cuba that is doomed from the beginning. The failure of the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion embitters thousands of exiled Cubans, while strengthening Castro’s position at home. Many observers throughout the world criticize President John F. Kennedy’s administration for this attempt.



The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee in California, begun as an independent organization, is led by César Chávez. In 1965 it organizes its successful Delano grape strike and first national boycott. It becomes part of the AFL-CIO in 1966. Today the union is known as the United Farmworkers of America.

Congress enacts the first comprehensive civil rights law since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period when it passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One result of the act is the establishment of affirmative action programs. Title VII of the Act prohibits 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.” Discrimination is prohibited in advertising, recruitment, hiring, job classification, promotion, discharge, wages and salaries, and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a monitoring device to prevent job discrimination.

October. The United States blocks a Soviet plan to establish missile bases in Cuba. Soviet Premier Khrushchev agrees to withdraw the missiles with the proviso that the United States declare publicly that it will not invade Cuba.



The Organization of American States (OAS) meets in Washington, D.C., voting to cut diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba and to impose restrictions on travel there.

The Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) is the centerpiece of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The EOA also creates the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer a number of programs on behalf of the nation’s poor. These include the Job Corps, the Community Action Program (CAP), and the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).



The end of the bracero program forces many Mexicans to return to Mexico. They settle near the U.S. border. To provide jobs for them, the Mexican and U.S. governments begin border industrialization programs, allowing foreign corporations to build and operate assembly plants on the border. These plants, known as maquiladoras, multiply rapidly, transforming the border region. The maquiladors attract companies because they provide cheap labor close to American markets. They employ hundreds of thousands of Mexicans in assembly work, but often in poor working conditions.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is passed, aimed at African American enfranchisement in the South. Obstacles to registration and voting are faced by all minorities, but the act’s potential as a tool for Hispanic Americans is not fully realized for nearly a decade.

For the first time, the United States enacts a law placing a cap on immigration from the Western Hemisphere, becoming effective in 1968.

Fidel Castro announces that Cubans can leave the island nation if they have relatives in the United States. He stipulates, however, that Cubans already in Florida have to come and get their relatives. Nautical crafts of all types systematically leave Miami, returning laden with anxious Cubans eager to rejoin their families on the mainland.

A major revision of immigration law results when Congress amends the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. The national origin quota system is abolished.



Hundreds of Chicago Puerto Rican youths go on a rampage, breaking windows and burning down many of the businesses in their neighborhoods. Ostensibly, the riots are in response to an incident of police brutality, but the underlying causes are broader, linked to the urban blight that characterizes their life in Chicago.

A program is initiated to airlift Cubans to the United States. More than 250,000 Cubans are airlifted to the United States before the program is halted by Castro in 1973. About 10 percent of the island’s population immigrates to the United States between 1966 and 1973.



Chicano student organizations spring up throughout the nation, as do barrio groups such as the Brown Berets. Thousands of young Chicanos pledge their loyalty and time to such groups as the United Farmworkers Organizing Committee, which, under César Chávez, has been a great inspiration for Chicanos throughout the nation. An offshoot of both the farm worker and the student movements, is La Raza Unida party in Texas, an organization formed in 1968 to obtain control of community governments where Chicanos are the majority.



After the establishment of the Central American Common Market in the 1960s leads to economic growth and improved conditions in the region, the border war between Honduras and El Salvador brings its collapse and a rapid decline of economic conditions in Central America.



Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Leonard Chapman claims that there are as many as 12 million undocumented workers in the country. Other observers most commonly place the number in the range of 3.5 million to 5 million people.

At this time 82 percent of the Hispanic population of the nation lives in nine states, with the proportion rising to 86 percent in 1990. The largest Hispanic populations are in California, Texas, and New York, and to a lesser degree Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey.

A Chicano Moratorium is announced in a protest against the Vietnam War organized in Los Angeles. More than 20,000 Chicanos and supporters draw attention to the disproportionately high number of Chicano casualties in that war. Conflicts erupt between police and demonstrators. Journalist Rubén Salazar, not involved in the struggle, is accidentally killed by police.

The struggle over affirmative action continues when opponents coin the term “reverse discrimination,” suggesting that white males are victims of discrimination as a result of affirmative action on behalf of women, blacks, Hispanics, and other under-represented groups.

Brutality against Mexican Americans continues. In López v. Harlow, a case filed in an attempt to bring the violence under control, a police officer shoots and kills López, a Mexican American, allegedly in self-defense, because he thought López was about to throw a dish at him.

The amendments constituting the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1970 add a provision that is designed to guard against inventive new barriers to political participation. It requires federal approval of all changes in voting procedures in certain jurisdictions, primarily southern states. This act prevents minority votes from being diluted in gerrymandered districts or through at-large elections.


1970s-early 1980s

The rise in politically motivated violence in Central America spurs a massive increase in undocumented immigration to the United States.



La Raza Unida Party wins the city elections in Crystal City, Texas.



Ramona Acosta Bañuelos becomes the first Hispanic treasurer of the United States.



The right of the Puerto Rican people to decide their own future as a nation is approved by the United Nations. In 1978, the United Nations recognizes Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States.

An employment discrimination case, Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Company, argues discrimination toward an employee, Espinoza, on the basis of his citizenship status under the Civil Rights Act. However, the Supreme Court holds that there is nothing in Title VII, the equal employment opportunities provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of citizenship or alienage.

The Labor Council of Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) forms to promote the interests of Hispanics within organized labor.



Congress passes the Equal Educational Opportunity Act to create equality in public schools by making bilingual education available to Hispanic youth. According to the framers of the act, equal education means more than equal facilities and equal access to teachers. Students who have trouble with the English language must be given programs to help them learn English.



The Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1975 extend the provisions of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and makes permanent the national ban on literacy tests. Critical for Hispanic Americans, the amendments make bilingual ballots a requirement in certain areas.



The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) apprehends more than one million undocumented workers each year.

A group of young Cuban exiles called the Antonio Maceo Brigade travels to Cuba to participate in service work and to achieve a degree of rapprochement with the Cuban government.



The median income of Hispanic families below the poverty level falls from $7,238 in 1978 to $6,557 in 1987, controlling for inflation.



Hispanic female participation in the work force more than doubles, from 1.7 million to 3.6 million. In 1988, 56.6 percent of Hispanic women are in the work force, compared with 66.2 percent of white women and 63.8 percent of blacks.

The proportion of Hispanic children living in poverty rises more than 45 percent. By 1989, 38 percent of Hispanic children are living in poverty.



Political upheaval and civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala contribute to large migrations of refugees to the United States.



Japanese industrialists take advantage of the maquiladoras by sending greater amounts of raw materials to Mexico where they are finished and shipped duty-free to the United States.

The rates of immigration approach the levels of the early 1900s: legal immigration during the first decade of the century reached 8.8 million, while during the 1980s, 6.3 million immigrants are granted permanent residence. The immigrants are overwhelmingly young and in search of employment, and Hispanic immigrants continue to account for more than 40 percent of the total.

Programs to apprehend undocumented immigrants are implemented, and reports of violations of civil rights are reported.



Fidel Castro, reacting to negative worldwide press, announces that anyone who wants to leave Cuba should go to the Peruvian embassy there. Ten thousand Cubans descend upon the embassy grounds and receive exit visas. Cuban Americans in Florida organize a fleet of boats to pick up the Cuban exiles at Mariel Harbor. The Mariel Boatlift continues from April through September. By year end, more than 125,000 “Marielitos” migrate to the United States.

The Refugee Act of 1980 removes the ideological definition of refugee as one who flees from a Communist regime, thus allowing thousands to enter the United States as refugees.


The Reagan administration maintains that affirmative action programs entail quotas, constituting a form of reverse discrimination.

The number of Hispanics in the work force increases by 48 percent, representing 20 percent of U.S. employment growth.



After more than a decade of debate, Congress enacts The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), creating a process through which illegal aliens could become legal immigrants by giving legal status to applicants who had been in the United States illegally since January 1, 1982.



At this time, 70.1 percent of Hispanic female-headed households with children are living in poverty.



President Ronald Reagan appoints the first Hispanic Secretary of Education: Lauro F. Cavazos.



Median family income for white families is $35,210; for blacks, $20,210; and for Hispanics, $23,450. Per capita income is $14,060 for whites, $8,750 for blacks, and $8,390 for Hispanics.

Immigration from the Americas rises from 44.3 percent in 1964 to 61.4 percent. Of the major countries, Mexico accounts for 37.1 percent of total documented immigration to the United States, the next highest number of immigrants being from El Salvador, 5.3 percent.


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 between Mexico, the United States, and Canada expands even further the maquiladora concept, offering potentially greater tax abatements for U.S. businesses.

Despite the U.S. Congress’ refusal to consider the statehood of Puerto Rico, a referendum is held on the island, clearly showing that the population is in favor of statehood.

March. Unemployment among Hispanics in the United States reaches 10.3 percent, roughly double the rate for whites.

October 23. President George Bush signs the Cuban Democracy Act, also known as the Torricelli Bill, which bans trade with Cuba by U.S. subsidiary companies in third countries and prohibits ships docking in U.S. ports if they have visited Cuba. The Torricelli Bill is heavily backed by Cuban Americans, and Bush makes a point of signing it in Miami. Upon passage of the Cuban Democracy Act, the United States is condemned by the United Nations General Assembly for maintaining its 30-year embargo of Cuba; the vote is 59 to 3, with 71 countries abstaining. Even most of the United States’ allies either vote to end the embargo or they abstain.


President Bill Clinton names Federico Peña to the position of Secretary of Transportation; he is the first Hispanic to hold that post.

President Bill Clinton names Henry Cisneros to the cabinet position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); he is the first Hispanic to hold that post.

President Bill Clinton appoints Norma Cantú, the former director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, to the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Department of Education. The president also appoints 25 Hispanics to positions that need confirmation by the Senate.

Ellen Occhoa becomes the first Latina in space when she serves on the space shuttle <i>Discovery</i>.



January 1. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) takes effect to eliminate all tariffs between trading partners Canada, Mexico, and the United States within fifteen years from this date. Regarding Mexico and the United States, on this date 53.8 percent of U.S. imports from Mexico become duty free, while 31 percent of imports from the United States, excluding those imported by maquiladoras, become duty free. NAFTA passage is opposed in the United States by labor unions, which fear the continuing loss of jobs to Mexico, and domestic industries artificially protected by tariffs, such as textiles.

January 1. In Mexico, as many as one thousand Mayan guerrillas, baptizing themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army, take over the important southern city of San Cristobal de las Casas, as well as the towns of Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, and others. This leads to bloody confrontations with and repression by the Mexican Army until a cease-fire is accepted by both sides on January 12, with an agreement to dialogue on the problems of the Mayas in Chiapas. The Mayas of southern Mexico have suffered poverty and dispossession of their communal lands for years. After a cease-fire is established, the government and Mayan rebels sign a tentative 32-point accord on March 2. In the months following the cease-fire, Mayan farmers seize some 75,000 acres of ranch lands, claiming that the lands had been stolen from them as far back as 1819 Thus, the issue of land remains on the table in the continuing negotiations with the Mayas.

November 8. Californians pass Proposition 187 with 59 percent of the vote. The initiative bans undocumented immigrants from receiving public education and public benefits such as welfare and subsidized health care, except in emergency circumstances; makes it a felony to manufacture, distribute, sell, or use false citizenship or residence documents; and requires teachers, doctors, and other city, county, and state officials to report suspected and apparent illegal aliens to the California attorney general and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Governor Pete Wilson issues an executive order for state officials to begin following the initiative by cutting off government services to undocumented pregnant women and nursing home patients. On November 9, 1994, eight lawsuits are filed in state and federal courts protesting the measure.

November 16. In Los Angeles, California, Federal District Court Judge William Matthew Byrne, Jr., temporarily blocks the enforcement of Proposition 187, stating that it raises serious constitutional questions. Judge Byrne exempts the provisions that increase penalties for manufacturing or using false immigration documents.



A nationwide boycott of ABC-TV by Hispanic Americans is held in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Fresno, in protest of the network’s failure to provide Latino themed programming in its 1994 line-up.

Federal Judge Mariana Pfaelzer rules that Proposition 187 is unconstitutional.

February 21. President Bill Clinton is successful in arranging for an international loan-guarantee package of $53 billion, with $20 million from the United States, to prop up the devalued peso and restore confidence in the Mexican economy, which is in a state of crisis.



Proposition 209, introduced as a ballot initiative, is passed by the California voters. The initiative bars preferential treatment based on race or gender, virtually eliminating affirmative action in state hiring, public contracts, and education. Although challenged in court, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, and Proposition 209 eventually takes effect in California.



On June 2, California voters pass Proposition 227, which bans bilingual classroom education and English as a second language programs, replacing them with a one-year intensive English immersion program. A federal judge denies challenges to the proposition in July, and 227 goes into effect in California schools in August.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports a decline in the number of black and Hispanic Americans living in poverty.

African Americans and Hispanic Americans represent 16 percent of voters in the United States, compared to 1994, when the two groups made up 12 percent of U.S. voters.



Hispanic groups join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in protesting the lack of minority roles in prime-time shows in the fall line-up. Studies show that 63 percent of Latinos do not feel that television represents them accurately. Hispanic groups, such as the NCLA, urge viewers to participate in a national brownout of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC television networks the week of September 12, to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Week. The four major networks all publicly respond to the protest, and a flurry of hiring of minority actors for added-on roles in fall shows has been noted.

The Clinton administration okays expanded American travel to Cuba, approving direct charter flights from Los Angeles and New York. Tourists are still not allowed to travel to Cuba, but humanitarian-aid workers (including family members), athletes, scholars, teachers, researchers, journalists, and government officials make up the estimated 140,000 passengers from the United States to Cuba in 1999.

September. New York Hispanic leaders criticize Hilary Rodham Clinton, probable Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate. Clinton had proposed that her husband, President Bill Clinton, should withdraw his clemency offer for 16 imprisoned members of the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which was linked to more than 100 U.S. bombings. U.S. Representative José Serrano states that he withdraws his support for her, voicing the common complaint that Mrs. Clinton did not consult with the Puerto Rican leaders or try to understand the situation before making her statement. Many leaders express the sentiment that the Hispanic community is too significant a vote in New York to be ignored.


June. Elián González returns to Cuba with his father. On Nov. 25, 1999, 6 year-old Elián was rescued off the coast of Florida after his mother and ten other people died trying to reach the U.S. from Cuba. For seven months Elián’s Cuban-American relatives fought to keep him in the United States while his father, Juan Miguel, wanted him returned to him in Cuba. When Elián’s father flew to America to retrieve his boy, armed federal agents had to raid the Miami home of González’s relatives in order to reunite the boy and his father. Immigration officials and a series of court rulings all supported his father’s wishes and Juan Miguel and Elián returned to Cuba after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Miami relatives.

California makes César Chávez Day a full, paid holiday for state employees. Texas currently has the holiday on a “volunteer” status and Arizona is working on adding the holiday in the upcoming elections.

Thousands protest the Vieques Agreement. Puerto Ricans are fighting to stop the U.S. Navy from resuming bombing exercises on the island of Vieques. The Puerto Rican government recently agreed to let the U.S. resume training exercises after a civilian security guard was killed in an accidental bombing in April.

Hispanic Web presence grows. Several Spanish-language Web sites have been launched in 1999 and 2000, including Spanish versions of AOL and Yahoo!. The Spanish company Terra Networks also signed a deal with Lycos to target Hispanic Americans on the Web, while Yupi.com, another Spanish-language portal, has been making plans to offer stock to the public. To further boost the Hispanic presence on the Internet, Gateway invested $10 million in quepasa.com and Microsoft announced the creation of a new Spanish-language Web portal in Mexico. Spanish-language Web sites are expected to grow exponentially over the next few years.


Rosario Marin is sworn in as the 41st treasurer of the United States, becoming the first Mexican-born citizen to head the Treasury and the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the Bush Administration.

Cari Dominguez is appointed chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the nation’s foremost civil rights agency.


President George W. Bush appoints Dr. Richard Carmona to the position of surgeon general of the United States.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, speedskater Derek Parra becomes the first Mexican American to medal in the Olympics Winter Games, winning the gold and setting a world record of 1:43.95 in the 1500 meter race, as well as setting an American record and winning a silver medal in the 5000 meters race.

Speedskater Jennifer Rodríguez becomes the first Cuban American to compete in the Olympics Winter Games, winning two bronze medals in the ladies’ 1000 meter and 1500 meter races.


Hispanics are pronounced the nation’s largest minority group — surpassing African Americans — after new Census figures are released showing the U.S. Hispanic population at 37.1 million as of July 2001.

Cuban-born Nilo Cruz becomes the first Hispanic playwright to win the Pulitzer for drama for his play Anna in the Tropics, about Cuban Americans working in an Ybor City cigar factory in 1929 Tampa.


President George W. Bush appoints Carlos M. Gutierrez to the position of Secretary of Commerce.


Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general of the United Sates.

December. The U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill (H.R. 4437) intended to strengthen enforcement of immigration laws and enhance border security. The law would impose criminal penalties on aliens who illegally enter the United States, require employers to verify employment eligibility, and authorize the construction of fences along the U.S.-Mexico border. Opponents fear that the legislation will result in unfair treatment of immigrants, particularly in communities along the Mexican border, and create new roadblocks to gaining citizenship. The bill is sent to the Senate.


According to the Census Bureau, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew three times faster than the national average for all U.S. businesses.

Thousands of people join rallies in cities across the country to protest proposed immigration reform. The protests, organized by labor, civil rights, community, labor and religious interests, culminate on April 10 in a “National Day of Action.”


Univision, the most-watched Spanish language broadcast television network in the country, is sold for a reported $13.7 billion.

June. The immigration reform bill (H.R. 4437) dies in the Senate.