While the fact that there has been an increase in immigration from Latin American countries is widely talked about, the forces that drive them to leave their native countries is not talked about nearly as often.
In an effort to learn more about the most recent immigration wave, I wanted to find a way to visualize our nation’s change in demographics in a more concrete way. I used Social Explorer as a mapping tool to see the increase of Latinx residents from 1980 to the present. It was interesting to see that in 1980 “Hispanic or Latino” was not yet a category on the U.S. census. The option for Latinos was “Persons of Spanish Origin.” This is interesting considering the indigenous people from Latin American countries would not identify as a “Person of Spanish Origin.”
In the first map, I show a slider map of the entire United States with the 1980 Hispanic population on one side and the current Latino population on the other side. Each red dot represents a population of 50,000. As depicted when moving the slider over, the Latino population has increased significantly but is still concentrated toward the West and East Coasts.
In the next map, I zoom in a little closer to focus on the Northeastern region of the United States. When moving the slider back and forth you can see that in 1980, Latino populations were concentrated mainly in areas near Manhattan. However, when you look at the side of the map that displays our current population you can see that some Latinos have ventured a little bit to the west.
For this project, I chose to focus on the Latino population in my hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. I figured this would give me the opportunity to look at the issue of immigration through a micro-lens. In the third map you can see the overall population density from 1980 on one side, and the current population density on the other side. The map shows that population density has slightly increased towards the center of the city. However, the next map that displays the Latino population in Allentown shows that there has been a huge increase in Latinos living in the area from 1980 to now. While the fact that there has been an increase in immigration from Latin American countries is widely talked about, the forces that drive them to leave their native countries is not talked about nearly as often. Due to this reason, I have chosen to curate a list of just a few structural reasons that have forced Latin Americans to leave their countries in order to seek a better life.
• Migration from the Dominican Republic to the United States started to occur at a higher rate beginning in the 1960s due to the economic and political unrest that began after dictator Rafael Trujillo was killed. The Dominican immigrant population in the U.S. was only 12,000 in 1960 but has grown immensely since then. As of 2012, the number of immigrants from the Dominican Republic stands at approximately 960,000.[1.Batalova, Jeanne and Nwosu, Chiamaka”Immigrants from the Dominican Republic in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org. 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.]
• In the twentieth century, the United States allowed Mexicans to legally enter the United States in order to work temporary farm jobs. This occurred under the Bracero Program, which lasted from 1942 to 1964. The Bracero Program allowed 4.6 million Mexicans to immigrate legally to the United States, and then safely return to their families in Mexico with some money. However, the Bracero Program was suspended in 1964, prompting illegal immigration rates to rise.[2. Schupak, Andy. “Repealing the Guest Worker Program.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.]
• Immigration from Honduras started to rise after Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998. Many people have left due to economic reasons because the economy there has not been able to come back from the global economic recession. Also, a coup d’état occurred in 2009 which created a crisis in the nation. When faced with economic inequality and political instability a lot of Hondurans have chosen to seek a better life.[3. Reichman, Daniel “Honduras: The Perils of Remittance Dependence and Clandestine Migration.” Migrationpolicy.org. 04 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.]
• Immigration to the United States from Guatemala increased significantly due to a thirty-six-year civil war that occurred from 1960-1996. Let’s not forget the United State’s implication in the Guatemalan civil war, which propagated the genocide of indigenous people. Approved by President Ronald Reagan, Guatemala received almost $8 million in military aid, even though President Carter had suspended assistance specifically because of human rights concerns.[4. Jonas, Susan “Guatemalan Migration in Times of Civil War and Post-War Challenges.” Migrationpolicy.org. 25 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.]
• In Colombia, the citizens have faced almost forty years of armed conflict and continuous violence associated withdrug trade. There is a multitude of forces struggling against each other, which includes the government’s official military, left-wing guerrillas, and extreme-right paramilitary groups.[5.Bérubé, Myriam “Colombia: In the Crossfire.” Migrationpolicy.org. 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.]
While this list details just a few reasons why some Latinos have left their countries, I also wanted to look at people’s personal stories. I created a website that hosts a few conversations with Latino residents of Allentown that detail how they ended up living there. Click on the image to read some of their stories.