AN ETHNIC TAPESTRY
Chapter 39

In 1848, when California became a U.S. possession, the province’s population numbered only an estimated 7,500 persons, most of whom spoke Spanish. Yet, only a few decades ago, California’s population was referred to as predominantly “Anglo.” This imprecise term is used to mean “white,” which is a misnomer for Caucasians who speak English. Today, as in the province’s earliest years, ethnic minorities, with Latinos composing the largest group, again constitute the majority of the state’s population.

By the 1920s, uncertain conditions in Mexico and in the rest of Latin America, caused thousands of former peons to cross the border in search of better job opportunities up north. After World War II broke out, labor shortages in the United States grew so severe that the federal government initiated a program to import foreign workers. They were known as braceros, which literally translated means “helping hands.”

For many years after the war, the number of new undocumented, or “illegal,” immigrants arriving soared. By 2002, they numbered over 8 million. California now has more illegal aliens than any other state. Los Angeles alone became home to more such immigrants than any other place in the nation. Today, L.A. contains the largest concentration of Mexicans outside of Mexico City itself. Indeed, the city has been described, as “capital of the third world.” One could almost say that the “third world” begins at the San Diego-Tijuana border, a virtual sieve for undocumented aliens. Among them are Salvadorans, Costa Ricans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, Guatemalans, and Ecuadorians as well as Mexican nationals.

Whether documented or not, these Latino immigrants have been too routinely labeled as dysfunctional. Critics maintain that these people have great difficulty assimilating into the mainstream of society. A recent study indicates,

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