This month, a gunman in El Paso looking to kill Mexicans massacred 22 people, marking possibly the worst U.S. hate crime against Latinos in decades. But attacks against Latinos are nothing new. Just as Latinos have deep roots in the United States, the history of violence against them is lengthy too.
And while these incidents rarely get widespread attention, from anti-Mexican lynchings in Texas to the forced repatriation of U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage to Mexico in the 1930s, each has reverberated for generations for the families that lived them.
Below is a brief history of anti-Latino attacks in the United States. It is far from comprehensive.
At Sutter’s Mill, where the discovery of gold set off California’s Gold Rush, mobs forced out all Spanish speakers in the spring of 1849. In the following months, mobs also forced Mexicans off three California rivers where prospectors were panning for gold.
Starting in July 1857, white vigilantes in and around the Texas town of Goliad began attacking Mexican American ox cart drivers and stealing their cargo. About 70 Mexican American drivers were killed, some of them hanged from a tree that would come to be known as the Cart War Oak. The racist violence took place in an area where there were repeated clashes between Mexicans and whites, dating back decades.
In Bakersfield, a mob of about 100 men seized from jail five Mexican men who had been accused of theft — Antonio Maron, Francisco Encinas, Miguel Elias, Fermin Eideo and Bessena Ruiz — and hanged them after a mock trial.
“From summer through late fall of 1915, Texas Rangers indiscriminately shot and killed dozens of Mexicans without questioning, solely based on the assumption of allegiance to bandits” in Cameron County, Texas, according to the Refusing to Forget project. The period of time is known as “La Matanza,” or the massacre. The names of dozens of victims are known, but many others are probably lost to history.
In the early morning of Jan. 28, 1918, a group of Texas Rangers, soldiers and local ranchers surrounded the residents of the village of Porvenir, in West Texas. They woke families from their beds, separated 15 unarmed men and boys from the rest of the community and executed them. As a result of the lynching, residents of Porvenir abandoned the village and fled to Mexico.
Around 300 armed men marched through town demanding that Mexican residents leave. “When representatives from the Mexican community appealed to the mayor for protection, he replied that he could not guarantee their safety,” wrote William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb in their book, “Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928.”
Immigration agents stormed La Placita, in the heart of Los Angeles, pulling hundreds of men and women into vans and taking them to trains for deportation to Mexico. The raid set off nearly a decade of so-called repatriations of men and women of Mexican heritage, many of whom were U.S. citizens.
For several days in the summer of 1943, sailors and other American servicemen in Los Angeles led targeted attacks on young Mexican men and other men of color who dressed in zoot suits, beating them and stripping them of their clothes. The so-called riot bears the name of its victims.
Seven teenagers in Suffolk County, New York , who told friends they were going to attack “a Mexican” found Marcelo Lucero, an immigrant from Ecuador. They surrounded and punched him before one of them stabbed him in the chest with a knife and killed him. When the case went to court, it was revealed that the teens considered violent attacks on Latinos, which they called “beaner hopping,” to be a sport.
Sources: “Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928"; “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas"; “Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s"; Refusingtoforget.org; Texas State Historical Assn.; news reports.