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Hispanic Heritage

Events in Hispanic American History, 1971+

1492-1600 | 1601-1700 | 1701-1800 | 1801-1825 | 1826-1850 | 1851-1875 | 1876-1900 | 1901-1940
1941-1970 | 1971-


La Raza Unida Party wins the city elections in Crystal City, Texas.


Ramona Acosta Bañuelos becomes the first Hispanic treasurer of the United States.


The right of the Puerto Rican people to decide their own future as a nation is approved by the United Nations. In 1978, the United Nations recognizes Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States.

An employment discrimination case, Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Company, argues discrimination toward an employee, Espinoza, on the basis of his citizenship status under the Civil Rights Act. However, the Supreme Court holds that there is nothing in Title VII, the equal employment opportunities provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of citizenship or alienage.

The Labor Council of Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) forms to promote the interests of Hispanics within organized labor.


Congress passes the Equal Educational Opportunity Act to create equality in public schools by making bilingual education available to Hispanic youth. According to the framers of the act, equal education means more than equal facilities and equal access to teachers. Students who have trouble with the English language must be given programs to help them learn English.


The Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1975 extend the provisions of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and makes permanent the national ban on literacy tests. Critical for Hispanic Americans, the amendments make bilingual ballots a requirement in certain areas.


The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) apprehends more than one million undocumented workers each year.

A group of young Cuban exiles called the Antonio Maceo Brigade travels to Cuba to participate in service work and to achieve a degree of rapprochement with the Cuban government.


The median income of Hispanic families below the poverty level falls from $7,238 in 1978 to $6,557 in 1987, controlling for inflation.


Hispanic female participation in the work force more than doubles, from 1.7 million to 3.6 million. In 1988, 56.6 percent of Hispanic women are in the work force, compared with 66.2 percent of white women and 63.8 percent of blacks.

The proportion of Hispanic children living in poverty rises more than 45 percent. By 1989, 38 percent of Hispanic children are living in poverty.


Political upheaval and civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala contribute to large migrations of refugees to the United States.


Japanese industrialists take advantage of the maquiladoras by sending greater amounts of raw materials to Mexico where they are finished and shipped duty-free to the United States.

The rates of immigration approach the levels of the early 1900s: legal immigration during the first decade of the century reached 8.8 million, while during the 1980s, 6.3 million immigrants are granted permanent residence. The immigrants are overwhelmingly young and in search of employment, and Hispanic immigrants continue to account for more than 40 percent of the total.

Programs to apprehend undocumented immigrants are implemented, and reports of violations of civil rights are reported.


Fidel Castro, reacting to negative worldwide press, announces that anyone who wants to leave Cuba should go to the Peruvian embassy there. Ten thousand Cubans descend upon the embassy grounds and receive exit visas. Cuban Americans in Florida organize a fleet of boats to pick up the Cuban exiles at Mariel Harbor. The Mariel Boatlift continues from April through September. By year end, more than 125,000 "Marielitos" migrate to the United States.

The Refugee Act of 1980 removes the ideological definition of refugee as one who flees from a Communist regime, thus allowing thousands to enter the United States as refugees.


The Reagan administration maintains that affirmative action programs entail quotas, constituting a form of reverse discrimination.

The number of Hispanics in the work force increases by 48 percent, representing 20 percent of U.S. employment growth.


After more than a decade of debate, Congress enacts The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), creating a process through which illegal aliens could become legal immigrants by giving legal status to applicants who had been in the United States illegally since January 1, 1982.


At this time, 70.1 percent of Hispanic female-headed households with children are living in poverty.


President Ronald Reagan appoints the first Hispanic Secretary of Education: Lauro F. Cavazos.


Median family income for white families is $35,210; for blacks, $20,210; and for Hispanics, $23,450. Per capita income is $14,060 for whites, $8,750 for blacks, and $8,390 for Hispanics.

Immigration from the Americas rises from 44.3 percent in 1964 to 61.4 percent. Of the major countries, Mexico accounts for 37.1 percent of total documented immigration to the United States, the next highest number of immigrants being from El Salvador, 5.3 percent.


President George Bush appoints the first woman and first Hispanic surgeon general of the United States: Antonia C. Novello.


The proposed North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada expands even further the maquiladora concept, offering potentially greater tax abatements for U.S. businesses.

Despite the U.S. Congress' refusal to consider the statehood of Puerto Rico, a referendum is held on the island, clearly showing that the population is in favor of statehood.

March. Unemployment among Hispanics in the United States reaches 10.3 percent, roughly double the rate for whites.

October 23. President George Bush signs the Cuban Democracy Act, also known as the Torricelli Bill, which bans trade with Cuba by U.S. subsidiary companies in third countries and prohibits ships docking in U.S. ports if they have visited Cuba. The Torricelli Bill is heavily backed by Cuban Americans, and Bush makes a point of signing it in Miami. Upon passage of the Cuban Democracy Act, the United States is condemned by the United Nations General Assembly for maintaining its 30-year embargo of Cuba; the vote is 59 to 3, with 71 countries abstaining. Even most of the United States' allies either vote to end the embargo or they abstain.


President Bill Clinton names Federico Peña to the position of Secretary of Transportation; he is the first Hispanic to hold that post.

President Bill Clinton names Henry Cisneros to the cabinet position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); he is the first Hispanic to hold that post.

President Bill Clinton appoints Norma Cantú, the former director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, to the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Department of Education. The president also appoints 25 Hispanics to positions that need confirmation by the Senate.

Ellen Occhoa becomes the first Latina in space when she serves on the space shuttle <i>Discovery</i>.


January 1. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) takes effect to eliminate all tariffs between trading partners Canada, Mexico, and the United States within fifteen years from this date. Regarding Mexico and the United States, on this date 53.8 percent of U.S. imports from Mexico become duty free, while 31 percent of imports from the United States, excluding those imported by maquiladoras, become duty free. NAFTA passage is opposed in the United States by labor unions, which fear the continuing loss of jobs to Mexico, and domestic industries artificially protected by tariffs, such as textiles.

January 1. In Mexico, as many as one thousand Mayan guerrillas, baptizing themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army, take over the important southern city of San Cristobal de las Casas, as well as the towns of Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, and others. This leads to bloody confrontations with and repression by the Mexican Army until a cease-fire is accepted by both sides on January 12, with an agreement to dialogue on the problems of the Mayas in Chiapas. The Mayas of southern Mexico have suffered poverty and dispossession of their communal lands for years. After a cease-fire is established, the government and Mayan rebels sign a tentative 32-point accord on March 2. In the months following the cease-fire, Mayan farmers seize some 75,000 acres of ranch lands, claiming that the lands had been stolen from them as far back as 1819 Thus, the issue of land remains on the table in the continuing negotiations with the Mayas.

November 8. Californians pass Proposition 187 with 59 percent of the vote. The initiative bans undocumented immigrants from receiving public education and public benefits such as welfare and subsidized health care, except in emergency circumstances; makes it a felony to manufacture, distribute, sell, or use false citizenship or residence documents; and requires teachers, doctors, and other city, county, and state officials to report suspected and apparent illegal aliens to the California attorney general and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Governor Pete Wilson issues an executive order for state officials to begin following the initiative by cutting off government services to undocumented pregnant women and nursing home patients. On November 9, 1994, eight lawsuits are filed in state and federal courts protesting the measure.

November 16. In Los Angeles, California, Federal District Court Judge William Matthew Byrne, Jr., temporarily blocks the enforcement of Proposition 187, stating that it raises serious constitutional questions. Judge Byrne exempts the provisions that increase penalties for manufacturing or using false immigration documents.


A nationwide boycott of ABC-TV by Hispanic Americans is held in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Fresno, in protest of the network's failure to provide Latino themed programming in its 1994 line-up.

Federal Judge Mariana Pfaelzer rules that Proposition 187 is unconstitutional.

February 21. President Bill Clinton is successful in arranging for an international loan-guarantee package of $53 billion, with $20 million from the United States, to prop up the devalued peso and restore confidence in the Mexican economy, which is in a state of crisis.


Proposition 209, introduced as a ballot initiative, is passed by the California voters. The initiative bars preferential treatment based on race or gender, virtually eliminating affirmative action in state hiring, public contracts, and education. Although challenged in court, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, and Proposition 209 eventually takes effect in California.


On June 2, California voters pass Proposition 227, which bans bilingual classroom education and English as a second language programs, replacing them with a one-year intensive English immersion program. A federal judge denies challenges to the proposition in July, and 227 goes into effect in California schools in August.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports a decline in the number of black and Hispanic Americans living in poverty.

African Americans and Hispanic Americans represent 16 percent of voters in the United States, compared to 1994, when the two groups made up 12 percent of U.S. voters.


Hispanic groups join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in protesting the lack of minority roles in prime-time shows in the fall line-up. Studies show that 63 percent of Latinos do not feel that television represents them accurately. Hispanic groups, such as the NCLA, urge viewers to participate in a national brownout of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC television networks the week of September 12, to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Week. The four major networks all publicly respond to the protest, and a flurry of hiring of minority actors for added-on roles in fall shows has been noted.

The Clinton administration okays expanded American travel to Cuba, approving direct charter flights from Los Angeles and New York. Tourists are still not allowed to travel to Cuba, but humanitarian-aid workers (including family members), athletes, scholars, teachers, researchers, journalists, and government officials make up the estimated 140,000 passengers from the United States to Cuba in 1999.

September. New York Hispanic leaders criticize Hilary Rodham Clinton, probable Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate. Clinton had proposed that her husband, President Bill Clinton, should withdraw his clemency offer for 16 imprisoned members of the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which was linked to more than 100 U.S. bombings. U.S. Representative José Serrano states that he withdraws his support for her, voicing the common complaint that Mrs. Clinton did not consult with the Puerto Rican leaders or try to understand the situation before making her statement. Many leaders express the sentiment that the Hispanic community is too significant a vote in New York to be ignored.


June. Elián González returns to Cuba with his father. On Nov. 25, 1999, 6 year-old Elián was rescued off the coast of Florida after his mother and ten other people died trying to reach the U.S. from Cuba. For seven months Elián's Cuban-American relatives fought to keep him in the United States while his father, Juan Miguel, wanted him returned to him in Cuba. When Elián's father flew to America to retrieve his boy, armed federal agents had to raid the Miami home of González's relatives in order to reunite the boy and his father. Immigration officials and a series of court rulings all supported his father's wishes and Juan Miguel and Elián returned to Cuba after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Miami relatives.

California makes César Chávez Day a full, paid holiday for state employees. Texas currently has the holiday on a "volunteer" status and Arizona is working on adding the holiday in the upcoming elections.

Thousands protest the Vieques Agreement. Puerto Ricans are fighting to stop the U.S. Navy from resuming bombing exercises on the island of Vieques. The Puerto Rican government recently agreed to let the U.S. resume training exercises after a civilian security guard was killed in an accidental bombing in April.

Hispanic Web presence grows. Several Spanish-language Web sites have been launched in 1999 and 2000, including Spanish versions of AOL and Yahoo!. The Spanish company Terra Networks also signed a deal with Lycos to target Hispanic Americans on the Web, while Yupi.com, another Spanish-language portal, has been making plans to offer stock to the public. To further boost the Hispanic presence on the Internet, Gateway invested $10 million in quepasa.com and Microsoft announced the creation of a new Spanish-language Web portal in Mexico. Spanish-language Web sites are expected to grow exponentially over the next few years.


Rosario Marin is sworn in as the 41st treasurer of the United States, becoming the first Mexican-born citizen to head the Treasury and the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the Bush Administration.

Cari Dominguez is appointed chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the nation’s foremost civil rights agency.


President George W. Bush appoints Dr. Richard Carmona to the position of surgeon general of the United States.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, speedskater Derek Parra becomes the first Mexican American to medal in the Olympics Winter Games, winning the gold and setting a world record of 1:43.95 in the 1500 meter race, as well as setting an American record and winning a silver medal in the 5000 meters race.

Speedskater Jennifer Rodríguez becomes the first Cuban American to compete in the Olympics Winter Games, winning two bronze medals in the ladies' 1000 meter and 1500 meter races.


Hispanics are pronounced the nation's largest minority group — surpassing African Americans — after new Census figures are released showing the U.S. Hispanic population at 37.1 million as of July 2001.

Cuban-born Nilo Cruz becomes the first Hispanic playwright to win the Pulitzer for drama for his play Anna in the Tropics, about Cuban Americans working in an Ybor City cigar factory in 1929 Tampa.


President George W. Bush appoints Carlos M. Gutierrez to the position of Secretary of Commerce.


Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general of the United Sates.

December. The U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill (H.R. 4437) intended to strengthen enforcement of immigration laws and enhance border security. The law would impose criminal penalties on aliens who illegally enter the United States, require employers to verify employment eligibility, and authorize the construction of fences along the U.S.-Mexico border. Opponents fear that the legislation will result in unfair treatment of immigrants, particularly in communities along the Mexican border, and create new roadblocks to gaining citizenship. The bill is sent to the Senate.


According to the Census Bureau, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew three times faster than the national average for all U.S. businesses.

Thousands of people join rallies in cities across the country to protest proposed immigration reform. The protests, organized by labor, civil rights, community, labor and religious interests, culminate on April 10 in a “National Day of Action.”


Univision, the most-watched Spanish language broadcast television network in the country, is sold for a reported $13.7 billion.

June. The immigration reform bill (H.R. 4437) dies in the Senate.

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