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Episode 4: The New Latinos

Friday, February 12th @ 3-5

Dr. Ellie Walsh will lead a discussion of Episode IV: “The New Latinos” in order to put into a larger regional and world-historical context the immigration wave most familiar to some older members of our community.  Linking the local and the global, this episode draws our attention to the Cold War’s influence on many Latin Americans’ decisions to emigrate to the United States.  Additionally, the Cold War era provides an historical example of the kind of contemporary political and cultural polarization that the NEH is trying to address in its “The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square” initiative.  This will allow those attending the screening to discuss similarities and differences between the earlier and the current contexts and to address fundamental issues related to the rights of citizenship and belonging.

Episode Description

IV. The New Latinos (1946-1965)

Until World War II, Latino immigration to the United States was overwhelmingly Mexican-American. Now three new waves bring large-scale immigration from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. As the Puerto Rican government implements a historic overhaul over a million Puerto Ricans are encouraged to leave for the US mainland, to alleviate the economic pressure. A young Juanita Sanabria arrives in New York, works hard in the garment district, but encounters hostility and discrimination. Ethnic tensions explode in youth gang warfare depicted in films like West Side Story, etching the stereotype of the knife wielding Puerto Rican in the American consciousness.

In the film, Rita Moreno plays the role of Anita and wins an Oscar. But for most Puerto Ricans empowerment remains elusive. A young Puerto Rican lawyer, Herman Badillo, takes on the political establishment, opening the door for unprecedented Puerto Rican participation in electoral politics. In the early 60s, the first Cubans flee the left-wing Castro regime, a relatively white, middle-class flight that soon forms a refugee enclave in Miami. A child of 11 at the time, Gustavo Perez Firmat believes like most refugees, that it is only a matter of weeks before the American government will wrest Cuba from the Communist regime. But Castro survives. Maria de los Angeles Torres is only six years old when she leaves Havana without her parents, one of 14,000 children are smuggled out through an underground network. Unable to leave legally, Manuel Capo and his two military age sons – make a dramatic journey to the US. With skills honed in the family furniture business in Cuba and support from the federal government, the Capos build thriving business marketing to the growing Cuban population.

In 1965, fearing another Communist takeover in the Caribbean, President Johnson sends Marines to the Dominican Republic, triggering a third wave of immigration. With a US visa in hand, 20 year-old university student, Eligio Peña, flees to New York. Eventually he brings his family to New York as Dominicans build a new home in Washington Heights. Julia Alvarez would take the immigrant experience – her own and that of her fellow Dominicans – to unprecedented literary heights in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. In her work, she explores the hybrid identity taking shape in a new generation of Latinos, who are now demanding their place in America.