This partly explains why even though Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917 to prevent the immigration of undesirables during the height of World War I, itinerant agricultural workers from Mexico were exempted from the directive until 1923 in order to assist with the labor shortage occasioned by World War I. This concession to U.S. farmers brought over 200,000 migrants to states along the border with Mexico and throughout the South.10 In Louisiana, Latino migrants worked in sugarcane fields and as strawberry and cotton pickers under oppressive conditions. Attempts to improve their lot were nearly nonexistent as unionizing became largely a clandestine operation that, if successful, ultimately required U.S. citizenship for membership. This was further hampered by the Louisiana Constitution of 1921 as it effectively sought to limit the enfranchisement of blacks and native-born Louisiana Latinos through voting roadblocks that required voters to complete voter registration cards without assistance, and to be able to both read and interpret any portion of the Constitution selected by the registrar of voters. Because Louisiana did not provide state schooling for students of color until 1917, the state’s voter registration board effectively created a tiered democracy in the state.
The economic crisis brought on by the Great Depression ended these labor concessions and caused a backlash that resulted in the Mexican Repatriation, which deported over half a million Mexican Americans to Mexico, even though many were U.S. citizens. Yet, the experience provided a testing ground for the various guest worker accords that came to be known as the Bracero program, beginning during the height of World War II in 1942 and up until 1964.
Mexicans, however, did not provide the only source of migration-related labor in Louisiana. Hondurans also began to settle in New Orleans when the United Fruit Company, whose headquarters was in that port city, began shipping produce from their Honduran plantations for national distribution. The trade relationship that existed between Honduras and Louisiana ultimately made New Orleans the city with the largest Honduran American population in the United States.11 Honduran immigration to Louisiana was also the result of political and economic disruptions exacerbated by U.S. capital and military interventions in Central America.
When it was no longer possible to return to their country of origin, Honduran Americans settled in Louisiana, which led to one of the first permanent settlements of Honduran Americans in the state. During the early 1950s Hondurans settled in Barrio Lempira, near the lower Garden District of uptown New Orleans, and worked in agribusiness and related industries alongside other Latinos from various nationalities. By the end of that decade the Asociacion Hondurena de Nueva Orleans marked the official introduction of a Honduran identity to New Orleans.12 The racialization of Hondurans prior to the civil rights movement in Louisiana was similar to that of many Latino groups.
The white majority conferred a higher status to Creoles and Latinos who were lighter complected than darker-skinned blacks, as the reality of racial ambiguity, a result of years of miscegenation, led the elite whites to make clear distinctions in order to guard their own white identity from the imminent black infiltration.’13 The term Creole itself (from the Spanish term criollo) became a euphemism for a person of Spanish or, in some instances, of Latin American lineage, and it signified affiliation with Spain, thus avoiding slippage into the more charged term of the era, Negro. Yet, unlike native-born Creoles and Latinos, more recent Latino arrivals had to contend with the added disadvantage of limited English-speaking skills, which made it difficult not only to get work but to demand humane working conditions.