Mar 12, 2019 in Sociology
Immigration to the United States Based on the Book Harvest of Empire

The book "Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America" by Juan Gonzalez offers many examples of the factors leading to migration. People came to the United States for many reasons. Some of them left their native country because of economic problems; the others escaped from the political persecution or civil unrests. They were also the precedents of a state-sponsored migration in the history of the United States. 

The conditions that made thousands of Puerto-Ricans come to the United States can be referred to the economic ones. The country was in an economic stagnation; and its citizens were starving and working hard in horrible conditions to feed their children. The Puerto-Ricans had no other choice then to migrate to the United States, hoping that their children would be more educated, luckier, and happier than they had been before. The author of the book illustrates the economic conditions in Puerto-Rico with the life story of his family. His grandparents were living during the Spanish-American war, which led to the military occupation of Puerto-Rico. The plantations were bought by the Americans being not interested in raising the level of life of their Puerto-Rican workers. People were working there until they died.

Gonzalez cites Roosevelt, who described what he had seen in the country in the following way, “I have stopped at farm after farm, where lean, underfed women and sickly men repeated again and again the same story – little food and no opportunity to get more”. However, the personal tragedy of the author's grandmother is more striking than general descriptions of poverty. The situation was so difficult that the woman had to give her five children away as servants; and another five kids died in those conditions. One of her sons was constantly sexually abused by his teacher in an orphanage. Such a psychological trauma had made him become an alcoholic. Perhaps, every family who migrated from Puerto-Rico at that time had similar stories of personal dramas. The lives of thousands of people were broken because they had been put in inhuman conditions. 

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Mexican people have also come to the United States in a search of a better life. An extremely high rate of birth and desperate poverty in the country have led to the fact that nowadays nearly two of three Latinos in the United States are of the Mexican origin. The problem that the Mexicans faced several centuries ago and still experience it that the production their country makes does not belong to them. Gonzalez writes: “A disturbing proportion of its national wealth flows outside its borders each day and into the pockets of Wall Street shareholders”. The biggest part of the profit of their gross domestic product makes belongs to the American businessmen. Gonzalez describes this economical problem on the example of the Canales’ family story. It starts in the end of the seventeenth century. He started his business in the small town in Southern Texas. Soon the Anglo settlers came to that land and thought that they had the right to rob, cheat, and kill the Mexicans. They did not fully understand their rights and even if they understood, they had no possibility to defend them in the official courts.

Lynching of the Mexicans had continued until 1917, as the members of the Canales family witnessed. With the time, all land became officially American. The Mexicans, who were living in those places for years, became the cheapest work force that can be imagined. People tried to fight against the Anglo expropriation of their land, which led to a series of Cortina wars. However, the rebellion did not improve the economic situation much; and the overall picture is rather depressing, even nowadays. The only improvement is that no one is lynching the Mexicans without a further punishment from the government.

It is possible to state that political reasons for immigration are as popular as the economic ones. Political refugees from Cuba who decided to search for a shelter in the United States were numerous in the second half of the twentieth century. The revolution of Fidel Castro which happened in 1959 made many middle-class Cubans leave their homeland in a search of more convenient conditions for their life. After the Communism became the main and only ideology in Cuba, there were four waves of the massive immigration to the United States. The peculiar thing about the Cuban community in the Unites States was the following one. The majority of them had a descent level of education, some professional technical skills, and were the representatives of the upper middle class in their country. Another interesting issue about the immigrants from Cuba was that they had received an official support and financial help from the American government until 1994. Such privilege was not available from other immigrants, among which were the thousands of Puerto-Ricans and Mexicans. As it is written in the book, “The CIA had employed many of them as trusty Cold Was foot soldiers. Neither Dominicans fleeing the civil war of 1965, nor Haitians got comparable treatment”. 

Such a special position of the immigrants from Cuba in the American political life was determined mainly by the Cold War. Cuba was a military base and an ideological supporter of the USSR. It was perceived by the United States as the menace for the peaceful life. The American government could not pay less attention to the bastion of communism near its borders and made all possible attempts to prevent the spread of the red alert in the hemisphere. However, not all immigrants from Cuba were middle-class professionals that did not support the ideology of the Communist state and being used by the CIA afterwards. There were also many poor people, who left their country on self-made rafts not because they were persecuted for political reasons, but because they wanted to live in better conditions and finally overcome poverty. 

The mass immigration from the Dominican Republic started after the uprising in 1965. An attempt to restore the rule of Juan Bosch, the first democratically elected president, grew into the fight of people with the troops of the state army and American soldiers. The radicals of the Dominican Republic began to oppress those supporting the government of Juan Bosch. The repressions and mass assassination had continued for almost thirty years. Thousands of people were killed and tortured; the others managed to escape from the country. The overall unstable political situation became a serious reason for the Dominicans to immigrate to the United States. 


In the book, there is a story of Ana Maria's family, who was living in the Dominican Republic after the uprising. One of her brothers had undergone the terror of the Trujillo dictatorship. He belonged to the radical political party. Once he criticized the political direction of El Jefe, he was arrested after it. He was thrown into the La Cuarenta prison without any clothes and was tortured there. As a result of this, the man lost an ability to hear and became insane. After he was released from prison, he became homeless and was living in the street until his death. It happened because his relatives were afraid to take the enemy of the regime back home. People were living under a constant fear. No one knew who was cooperating with the government and who would inform the police against them. The rules in the country were absolutely inhumane at that time. If someone was called a traitor, he/she was automatically condemned to death. In case that a person ran away from the police, the police came to his/her house and killed all members of the family. That is why no one even tried to escape. Gonzalez cite one of the ambassadors  who worked in the Dominican Republic: “Telephones were tapped. Hotel rooms were wired with microphones. Mail was opened, cables scrutinizes”.Such a political situation incited mass immigration of the Dominicans to the United States. 

There were also the episodes in the American history when the state asked the Latinos to come to their country. Before the World War II, the Mexicans underwent the migration program that was sponsored by the US government. Before the war they were massively deported from the places where they had lived for years. It happened only because they were not white. A high unemployment rate during the Great Depression supported this hysteria against the immigrants. However, when the United States faced a lack of working force and soldiers during the war, the situation changed radically. The President Roosevelt started a program of welcoming the workers from Mexico for seasonal works. It was called the bracero program. After the farming season ended, many of those workers managed to stay illegally in the United States. Gonzalez notes that “Until the 1969s few paid attention to the human traffic along the border, least of all the inhabitants of the inhabitants of the area, for whom the international demarcation line was more a fantasy of the politicians than an everyday reality”.The situation with the army forces was also interesting. The American government welcomed the Mexican men who wanted to serve there. Thousands of them went through the combats and received some medals of honor. After the war, those men and their families stayed in the United States. It is difficult to state that they did not face the racism from the side of the white population, as it had been before the war. The only distinction that appeared after the war was that those Mexicans could not accept it and started to fight for their rights. 

The factors that made thousands of Latinos to come to the United States vary. Some of them escaped the political regimes like it has been in the cases of the Cubans and the Dominicans. The others tried to improve their lives, escaping from the extreme poverty, like the Mexicans and the Puerto-Ricans had done. Sometimes even the government welcomed the immigrants, when the country needed the work force. All those stories form the unique history of the US. They are important in understanding the current world view of the Latino community. 


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