Latino Studies Illinois
Maria Luna-Duarte, Pamela Anne Quiroz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0133


The state of Illinois represents a geographic, social, and political intersection of multiple Latino ethnic groups whose pathways converged in both urban (i.e., Chicago) and rural (i.e., Champaign) communities. In contemporary times, these groups have allied politically in pursuit of economic and social justice. Latinos are considered to be the driving demographic in the United States, and nearly half of the growth of Latinos in the Midwest between the late 1980s and late 2010s occurred in Illinois. The relative youth of this population is striking, as children less than eighteen years old account for nearly 40 percent of the Latino population in the American Midwest. According to projections, the economy of the Midwest, and specifically Illinois, will increasingly depend on Latino youth. Indeed, Illinois Latinos played a central role in electing President Barack Obama, representing 72 percent of Latinos who voted in the 2008 election, and 81 percent in the 2012 election. The impact of Latinos and their political influence will continue to grow over time, along with their impact on the workforce, which is why the growth of Latinos in Illinois is regarded as contributing to the regeneration of communities in the Midwest.

Latino/a Migration

The first documented Latino presence in Illinois dates to the early 1900s, with Mexicans and Puerto Ricans among the earliest Latino settlers. The arrival of documented and undocumented Mexicans to the Midwest was characterized by the political and social turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (Fernandez 2012) and the heavy recruitment of American companies to fill industrial shortages caused by World War I, such as the railroads, meatpacking, steel production, and agriculture (Maldonado 1979). By the 1940s the Mexican population had grown in the outer suburbs of Chicago, such as Aurora, Joliet, and Blue Island, and in Gary, Indiana, on the shore of Lake Michigan (Arredondo 2008). Puerto Ricans immigrated to Illinois legally due to their status as US citizens mandated by the Jones Act of 1917. Many of them immigrated to Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs. The Bracero Program, designed to bring temporary workers to various industries throughout the United States encouraged a large influx of Mexicans to Illinois during World War II (Betancour, et al. 1993). This program was renewed various times until the late 1960s, allowing the recipients of the program to work only in industries for which they were contracted and strictly limiting their opportunities of employment with other companies. Once the war was over, hundreds of Mexicans were deported to Mexico during “Operation Wetback,” some of them US citizens (Betancour, et al. 1993). The Cuban Revolution also led to thousands of refugees from Cuba, who arrived in Illinois beginning in the 1960s, and by the 1980s various civil wars in Latin American countries pushed significant numbers of these populations to immigrate. Over the years the Latino population transitioned to other Chicago suburbs, including Cicero and Berwyn, and the majority of Latinos in metropolitan Chicago now live in the suburbs (Koval 2010). Latinos have also established communities in six counties across Illinois (Latino Policy Forum 2015). According to the US Census (2014), Illinois is one of five states with the highest percentage of Latino residents. Indeed, Latinos in Illinois are changing the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the state.

  • Aponte, Robert, and Marcelo Siles. Latinos in the Heartland: The Browning of the Midwest. Research Report 5. East Lansing, MI: Julian Samora Research Institute, November 1994.

    Assessment of the changing demographics and economic landscape of Latinos in the Midwest from 1980 to 1990.

  • Arredondo, Gabriela F. Mexican Chicago: Race, Identity, and Nation, 1916–39. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

    This book provides a critical understanding of the evolution of Mexican identity and Mexican’s racialized position in the city as Mexicans interacted with European immigrant groups and blacks.

  • Betancour, John J., Teresa Córdova, and María de los Angeles Torres. “Economic Restructuring and the Process of Incorporation of Latinos into the Chicago Economy.” In Latinos in a Changing U.S. Economy: Comparative Perspectives on Growing Inequality. SAGE Series on Race and Ethnic Relations 7. Edited by Rebecca Morales and Frank Bonilla, 109–132. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE, 1993.

    The chapter outlines the way in which Latinos were incorporated into the labor force in one of the largest manufacturing capitals of the nation. The chapter provides the historical context of labor conditions in which various Latino communities arrived in Chicago.

  • Chapa, Jorge. “Latinos in Illinois: A Growing Population amid a Stagnating Economy and Challenged Public Institutions.” In The Illinois Report 2012. By J. Fred Giertz, Richard F. Dye, David F. Merriman, et al., 23–33. Urbana-Champaign, IL: Institute of Government & Public Affairs, 2012.

    Focus is on demographic analysis of educational, occupational, and economic mobility that deepens the understanding of Latino communities in the state.

  • Cruz, Wilfredo. City of Dreams: Latino Immigration to Chicago. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007.

    Cruz documents the rich history of settlement of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Cuban communities in Chicago. His work describes how each Latino group thrived despite obstacles related to distinct challenges.

  • Fernandez, Lilia. Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226244280.001.0001

    Brown in the Windy City provides a concise and substantive examination of the migration of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans after World War II. Fernandez’s work adds a new historical perspective, since it studies these two populations beyond previous historical narratives focused primarily on whites and blacks.

  • Innis-Jiménez, Michael. Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915–1940. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814785850.001.0001

    Chronicle of individual histories to illustrate the struggles that Mexican Americans experienced during the early 20th century, including issues of race, politics, labor relations, and urban immigration.

  • Koval, John P. “Suburban Chicago: The Latino Capital of the Midwest.” Statistical Brief 17. East Lansing, MI: Julian Samora Research Institute, November 2010.

    Summarizes the demographic shifts in Latino populations from Chicago proper to its suburbs.

  • Latino Policy Forum. Research & Data. Chicago: Latino Policy Forum, 4 July 2015.

    The Latino Policy Forum website outlines research and data that acknowledges the Latino population in the state, but also ensures that the needs of this community are represented.

  • Maldonado, Edwin. “Contract Labor and the Origins of Puerto Rican Communities in the United States.” In Special Issue: Caribbean Migration to New York. International Migration Review 13.1 (1979): 103–121.

    Outline of the history of Puerto Rican migration to the United States, as hundreds of Puerto Ricans were contracted for labor prior to, during, and following World War II. Highlights how this migration provided the roots of various Puerto Rican enclaves in the United States.

  • Martinez, Rubén O., ed. Latinos in the Midwest. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011.

    Addresses the history and contemporary status of Latinos in the Midwest.

  • Millard, Ann V., and Jorge Chapa. Apple Pie and Enchiladas: Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

    This book is the culmination of a large study that examined the process of Latino migration and integration to the rural Midwest.

  • Rúa, Mérida M. A Grounded Identitad: Making New Lives in Chicago’s Puerto Rican Neighborhoods. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199760268.001.0001

    The struggle for Puerto Rican acceptance as US citizens is traced by Merida Rúa, who conducted an analysis that covered six decades and focused on how Puerto Ricans have negotiated their status from “colonial subjects to second-class citizens.”

  • Saenz, Rogelio. “The Changing Demography of Latinos in the Midwest.” In Latinos in the Midwest. Edited by Rubén O. Martinez. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011.

    This book chapter provides a historical overview of the roots of Latinos in the Midwest.

  • Institute for Latino Studies. Bordering the Mainstream: A Needs Assessment of Latinos in Berwyn and Cicero, Illinois. Notre Dame, IN: Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame, 2002.

    This report analyzes the needs and assets of the Latino communities in Berwyn and Cicero, Illinois, areas of high Latino concentration in recent years.

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