Latino Studies Houston
Tatcho Mindiola
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0021


The presence of Mexicans in Houston is a 20th-century phenomenon. Thus, unlike other Texas cities like El Paso and San Antonio, there is not an old Mexican town in Houston with a plaza that predates the arrival of the white population. The Mexican roots of Houston are found in the immigrants who migrated to the city in the early 1900s, and by 1920 had developed into a community. Since then, the growth of the Latino population has been extraordinary, thanks to continuous immigration from Mexico and Central American, along with relatively high birth rates. Central Americans began arriving in the 1970s and are second in population size to Mexicans. Salvadorans are the largest of the Central American groups. In absolute terms, Houston is home to the third-largest number of Latinos in the country, behind New York City and Los Angeles. They are expected to become the majority group in Houston in the very near future, perhaps by the year 2020. The demographic transformation to a Latino majority city has happened relatively fast. Indeed, for many native Houstonians, the author included, it has occurred during their lifetimes. As might be expected today, Latinos are very visible in Houston, and not only in their numbers. Latino culture is pervasive in the city, as indicated by the widespread use of the Spanish language, the proliferation of Mexican restaurants, and the noticeable and ubiquitous work crews, especially in the service sector. There is also a significant Spanish-language media, and Latino students are the numerical majority in the Houston Independent School District. Although there is a small but significant Latino middle class, the majority of Latinos are from the working and lower classes, and among them are many immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Although they will soon be the numerical majority in the city, Latinos remain a minority group in terms of their social and economic characteristics. However, because of their numbers, they are collectively an economic and culture force, and potentially a significant political force. The newness of the Latino community is reflected in the relatively small amount of research that focuses on the population, although this does not wholly explain why research is lacking. Another reason is the absence of a Latino intellectual class, which did not begin to form in Houston (and elsewhere) until the 1970s. Along with other scholars, Latinos started researching and documenting the community’s history and activities. Two in particular stand out: the sociologist Nestor Rodriguez, and the historian/archivist Tom Kreneck. These scholars have written more about Houston than any other researchers, and consequently they are cited numerous times in this bibliography.


The first Mexicans to appear in the Houston area were the Mexican soldiers captured at the Battle of San Jacinto in April 1836 by General Sam Houston, for whom the city was named. The prisoners were used to clear the land around the bayou where John and Augustus Allen founded the city in August 1836. Others were used as servants. Yet, according to De León 1989, Kreneck 1989, and Garza 2011, Mexicans did not constitute a significant presence in the city until the 1910s. The Mexican Revolution, the expansion of the railroad, and the digging of the Port of Houston all served to pull Mexicans to the city. Thus, by 1920, two significant barrios had developed: one in the Second Ward, and the other in Magnolia Park, adjacent to the Second Ward. As Rosales 1985 notes, it was difficult in those early years, as the community was very poor and encountered severe discrimination. Rinehart and Kreneck 1988 describes how, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, many Mexicans in Houston left, either voluntarily or by force, and returned to Mexico. The community, nevertheless, persevered. As noted in Treviño 2006, García 2000 and De León 1989, the community established churches that took advantage of social services and started mutual aid societies. They also challenged discriminatory treatment. Of particular interest, as noted in Kreneck 1981, was a group of young women who established an organization that came to the defense of the community. Throughout their history, as documented in Rosales 1985, Mexicans in Houston have dealt with issues of identity in white America. One of the community’s significant organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), in particular, has been criticized for promoting the idea that Mexicans are part of the white race. Prewitt 1995 argues that the criticism is unfair because it obscures the organization’s emphasis on cultural pride and work on behalf of the working class. Of central importance to the history of Latinos in Houston is the Hispanic Collections established in 1976 in the Houston Metropolitan Research Center in the Houston Public Library. Holdings include ninety-eight archival collections, including the papers of individuals, families, organizations, and institutions. They range in date from 1703 to the present. There are also over one hundred oral history interviews with various members from Houston Hispanic communities.

  • De León, Arnoldo. Ethnicity in the Sunbelt: A History of Mexican Americans in Houston. University of Houston Series in Mexican American Studies 4. Houston: Mexican American Studies Program, University of Houston, 1989.

    The community’s development and changing ideological orientations are described in this comprehensive history of Mexican Americans in Houston.

  • García, María Cristina. “Agents of Americanization: Rusk Settlement and the Houston Mexicano Community, 1907–1950.” In Mexican Americans in Texas History: Selected Essays. Edited by Emilio Zamora, Cynthia Orozco, and Rodolfo Rocha, 121–137. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2000.

    A social service agency provides services to Mexicans in the East End, and seeks to assimilate them into American society.

  • Garza, Natalie, ed. Special Issue: Houston: Nuestra Historia. Houston History 9.1 (Fall 2011).

    This special volume of the journal Houston History provides a history of organizations, famous people, politics, the Chicano movement, and the controversy over bilingual education in Houston.

  • Kreneck, Thomas H. “Letters from Chapultepec.” Houston Review 3.2 (1981): 267–271.

    A Mexican American female organization questions the treatment of their community.

  • Kreneck, Thomas H. Del Pueblo: A Pictorial History of Houston’s Hispanic Community. Houston: Houston International University, 1989.

    The book contains approximately 275 photos, many of them of the early years, with some text. The book is now out of print. A second edition is available (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012), which has considerably more text and contains new photos, but leaves out approximately 175 photos that appeared in the first edition.

  • Prewitt, Steven W. “Everything from Ditch Diggers to Doctors: LULAC Council 60, a Mexican American Civic Organization in Houston, Texas, 1945–1960.” MA diss., University of Houston, 1995.

    The academic image of LULAC as a middle class, assimilation oriented organization distorts its connection to the community’s cultural heritage and its work on behalf of the disadvantaged.

  • Rinehart, Marilyn, and Thomas H. Kreneck. “In the Shadow of Uncertainty: Texas Mexicans and Repatriation in Houston During the Great Depression.” Houston Review 10.1 (1988): 21–33.

    The voluntary and involuntary repatriations of native and foreign-born Mexicans in Houston.

  • Rosales, F. Arturo. “Shifting Self Perceptions and Ethnic Consciousness among Mexicans in Houston, 1908–1946.” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 16.1–2 (1985): 71–94.

    Mexican immigrants proudly proclaimed their Indian heritage, but the succeeding generation defined themselves as white and engaged in a concerted effort to be accepted as such by the broader society, though with very limited success.

  • Treviño, Roberto R. The Church in the Barrio: Mexican American Ethno-Catholicism in Houston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

    Mexican Americans build their Catholic churches and parishes and practiced their own unique brand of Catholicism in the face of opposition from the official Catholic Church.

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