The beginning of the 21st century is a period unparalleled in the long history
of Latina/os in the United States. Latina/os (people of Latin American descent
such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Central and
South Americans) have lived in the United States, or parts of North America
that would eventually become the United States, for centuries. In fact, the
story of Latina/os begins 500 years ago, when the Spanish began to cut their
disastrous path through the Caribbean and large swaths of the Americas
decades before French and English colonists would begin (in a similar man-
ner) to devastate the northeastern regions of native North America. Spanish
explorers entered New Mexico and what is now the U.S. Southwest in the
mid-1500s, and towns such as Santa Fe were established at roughly the same
time (the early 1600s) as English and French settlements in Jamestown, Vir-
ginia, and Quebec, Canada, were founded.
Since then, Latina/os have called North America home. In recent years,
the Latina/o population of the United States has risen rapidly, from 14 mil-
lion in 1980 to 22 million in 1990 to 35 million in 2000. In 2010, there were
over 50 million Latina/os in the United States. Included in this new Latina/o
population are 32 million ethnic Mexicans, 4 million Central Americans,
and 1.5 million Dominicans in the United States, with an additional nearly
2 million Cuban Americans and 5 million Puerto Ricans in the country’s
mainland. Los Angeles (6 million), New York City (4 million), and Houston
(2 million) are the cities with the country’s largest Latina/o populations.
Understanding Latino History: Excavating the Past, Examining the Present takes
a new approach to the history of Latina/os in the United States. In the past,
textbooks have divided the histories of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans,
Dominicans, and Central and South Americans into separate chapters, con-
centrating on the arrival and settlement of each group in the United States.
This book, while paying careful attention to the unique historical trajectory
of diverse Latina/o communities, takes a different path, drawing the various
groups into a single narrative and highlighting the interactions and shared
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