Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000

Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000

Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000

Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000


Latino City explores the transformation of Lawrence, Massachusetts, into New England's first Latino-majority city. Like many industrial cities, Lawrence entered a downward economic spiral in the decades after World War II due to deindustrialization and suburbanization. The arrival of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in the late twentieth century brought new life to the struggling city, but settling in Lawrence was fraught with challenges. Facing hostility from their neighbors, exclusion from local governance, inadequate city services, and limited job prospects, Latinos fought and organized for the right to make a home in the city.

In this book, Llana Barber interweaves the histories of urban crisis in U.S. cities and imperial migration from Latin America. Pushed to migrate by political and economic circumstances shaped by the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, poor and working-class Latinos then had to reckon with the segregation, joblessness, disinvestment, and profound stigma that plagued U.S. cities during the crisis era, particularly in the Rust Belt. For many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, there was no "American Dream" awaiting them in Lawrence; instead, Latinos struggled to build lives for themselves in the ruins of industrial America.


To feel like you belong to a city and to feel intimately linked to its
roots, it is not enough to just reside in a city. To accept a city as
your own, you have to have lived, worked, suffered, and forged the
history of that city.

Lawrence community organizer Isabel Melendez

In the summer of 1984, two furious crowds faced off along a narrow, tenement-lined street in Lawrence, Massachusetts. in a race riot that would bring international attention to this small city, white and Latino rioters exploded in a rage that had been building in the city for years. tv news footage showed the two sides divided by burning trash cans, hurling rocks and insults at each other as Molotov cocktails arced through the sky, lighting up aging triple-decker apartment houses. the white rioters chanted, “Who’s American? We’re American,” “Go back where you came from,” and “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Both sides shouted out their anger over the course of two hot summer nights, while homes and businesses burned. Whenever the police or firefighters tried to approach, the two sides joined forces to pelt fire trucks and squad cars with rocks, sticks, or beer cans. Latino rioters made clear to the media that they were protesting both virulent bigotry from their neighbors and racialized abuse from the police. They trumpeted their fury about being excluded from city governance and the ongoing evisceration of Lawrence’s economy.

Like many cities in the Northeast and Midwest, Lawrence had been an industrial giant in the early twentieth century, its colossal mills powered . . .

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