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Latino Migration Politics in Chicago from the 1930s to the 1970s

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This study examines how Latino migration politics developed in Chicago from the 1930s to the 1970s. Although scholars usually identify the emergence of Latino immigration activism in the 1960s and predominantly in the region of the Southwest with the farm workers movement, this study argues that immigration activism began much earlier in the Midwest from the 1930s onwards in settlement houses and expanded with local and state reformers. I examine Latino migration politics in three stages: settlement activism, local and state activism, and community activism. This framework of activism at the local and state levels is unique since most scholarship associates the contest over immigration reform at the national level, centering on issues of immigration enforcement and nationality requirements. Activists and social reformers shared an agenda in favor of Latino immigrants’ rights, which consisted of making their contribution visible as Chicago’s workers and as community members. Social reformers and immigrant rights activists formed a civic front that incorporated different reform agendas at local and state levels, focusing on urban, social, and community reforms. Consequently, the city’s Latino social reformers created a diverse agenda that aimed to improve the social conditions of immigrants, an intricate part of the story of immigrant rights in Chicago. I used archival material to document Latino migration politics with the work of social organization and Illinois state reformers, such as the Immigration Protective League, Northwestern University Settlement, Spanish Speaking Peoples Commission, the Illinois Migrant Council, Latino Institute, and Mujeres Latinas in Acción. Altogether, these reformers crafted immigration right activism in Illinois. They expanded an advocacy model that goes beyond the more traditional assimilation framework that centered on naturalization programs, but in a broader model that helped them gain employment and specialized needs like bilingual education and programs for immigrant women.

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