Latino Studies Colombian-Americans
Stella Rouse
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0121


Colombian-Americans are people of Colombian descent (both immigrants and native born) who reside in the United States. Colombian immigrants were some of the first South Americans to settle in the United States (likely around the mid-19th century), and in the early 21st century, they make up the largest immigrant population from South America (about one million). The first identifiable Colombian immigrant communities were established in New York City after World War I. New York City and Miami have had the largest Colombian populations—following the general trend of South American migrants to reside mostly on the East Coast. Studies have examined the experience of Colombian-Americans dealing with the effects of demographic characteristics, immigration, the stigma of drug trafficking, levels of assimilation and acculturation, settlement locales, politics and political participation, language, US-Colombian relations, and culture. Although Colombian-Americans are the largest South American ethnic group in the United States, and are unique in many respects, studies often lump them under the “Latino” or “Hispanic” label, include them among a number of other groups, or exclude them altogether. This cursory treatment, in terms of broad categorization, is not unique to Colombian-Americans (most Latino-origin groups are labeled this way), but it does make it more difficult to disentangle the literature that may apply to or that examines this particular group.

Introductory Works

Significant work on Colombian-Americans did not begin in earnest until the 1970s when scholars were interested in chronicling the effects of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 on immigrant populations. Early work focused on important factors that defined the Colombian-American experience in the United States, both before and after 1965. For example, Marrow 2005 notes that early work divided this population into three groups: traditional migrants (1918–1948), political migrants (1948–1962), and economic migrants (post-1962). Tradicionales (traditional migrants) were a small group who initially migrated to the United States. During La Violencia, political migration brought many more Colombians to the United States. And the post-1962 period saw the rise of less-skilled Colombian migrants as a result of changes to the US economy (Cruz and Castaño 1976). Settlement trends resulted in studies of Colombian-Americans’ experiences in New York City (Sassen-Koob 1979). This literature also chronicled the struggles of Colombian immigrants to fit in, not only among other Latino cultures, but also within American society (Madrigal 2013).

  • Cruz, Carmen Inés, and Juanita Castaño. “Colombian Migration to the United States” Part 1. In The Dynamics of Migration: International Migration. Occasional Monograph Series No. 5, Vol. 2. 41–86. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Interdisciplinary Communications Program, December 1976.

    The authors give a nice account of the evolution of Colombian migration to the United States from 1960 to 1976. They present background, composition, and evolution. The authors note that Colombians entering the United States during this time were largely skilled workers and a larger proportion were female rather than male.

  • Madrigal, Cándida R. “Colombians in the United States: A Study of Their Well-Being.” Advances in Social Work 14.1 (Spring 2013): 26–48.

    The article takes a holistic approach to studying the experience and well-being of Colombians in the United States. The author seeks to fill the literature void with detailed background on Colombian immigrant patterns and traits that help define and explain Colombian-Americans’ adaptation.

  • Marrow, Helen B. “Colombian Americans” In The Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture, Society. Vol. 4. Edited by Ilan Stavans. New York: Grolier, 2005.

    With a brief but detailed account of Colombian-Americans, Marrow notes that early work divided this population into three groups: traditional migrants (1918–1948), political migrants (1948–1962), and economic migrants (post-1962). She also points out that Colombian-Americans represent significant diversity on a number of characteristic measures.

  • Sassen-Koob, Saskia. “Formal and Informal Associations: Dominicans and Colombians in New York.” International Migration Review 13.2 (Summer 1979): 314–332.

    DOI: 10.2307/2545035

    This author examines types of voluntary associations in Colombian (and Dominican) communities in New York City as indicators of assimilation (i.e., articulation with receiving society). Sassen-Koob finds that associations stressing structural factors of place of origin and disparities between origin and destination matter more for understanding assimilation than explanations regarding a common “Hispanic” identity.

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