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Massachusetts Migration of Central Americans

In the 1980s a new wave of migrants began to stream into Massachusetts from Central America as a result of the growing confliMassachusetts Migration of Central Americanscts in the region. The roots of these conflicts traced back to well before World War II, when exploitation and domination of Central America by the Spanish gave way to control by the United States. Guatemalans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and El Salvadorans found that their countries’ situation deteriorated particularly during the Reagan era. The Republican presidential victory of 1980 signified a break with the policies of the previous administration, as the United States officially shifted from a focus on human rights to a fight against insurgency and communism. The Reagan administration chose to ally itself with the very dictatorships it previously opposed, believing that they posed a lesser threat to U.S. global interests than did communist regimes. For this reason, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Ronald Reagan’s presidency opted to support rulers such as Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza in his struggle against the Sandinistas.

The conflict between the dictatorial governments and the various insurgent movements destroyed the local economies and forced many into exile. Between 1978 and the 1990s, some 300,000 people died in these conflicts, and in El Salvador alone 600,000 people were forced to leave their homes. These political developments led to a marked shift in the characteristics of Latino migrants to Massachusetts from Central America. Prior to 1980 the vast majority of the individuals that migrated from Central America to the United States came from the upper- and middle-classes. Predominantly arriving from more urban areas and with a higher level of education, Central Americans tended to possess the resources for a more comfortable transition, unlike the earlier migrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Demographic patterns of the new Central American migration proved difficult to discern because family units separated and migrated in unusual patterns that were difficult to categorize. Central American parents sometimes sent

their children to the United States, while staying behind either in Mexico or in a Central American country; other times only one or both parents migrated to the United States, leaving their children behind.

The first Central Americans to arrive in the city of Cambridge, during the 1980s, emigrated as a direct result of the political turmoil prevalent throughout the region. These people received a great deal of help from the solidarity movements that existed within Cambridge. Due to the formation of a nascent kin and friendship network that facilitated the continued migration of others from the region, Cambridge soon attracted a large population of Central Americans. By this time the manufacturing jobs that attracted Puerto Ricans and Dominicans had diminished significantly, being supplanted by technological jobs. Fortunately for these new migrants, a wealth of low-skilled service-sector jobs accompanied the growth of the new technological industry. Unlike the Latino population in other cities in the commonwealth, however, Cambridge’s Latino population underwent some particular shifts, because of the labor market and the termination of rent control in 1994. By 1990, Puerto Ricans accounted for only 28 percent of the Latino population in the city, as opposed to the 53 percent they constituted throughout the commonwealth.

Migration of Colombians and Mexicans

The latest groups of migrants to arrive in Massachusetts in significant numbers originate from Colombia and Mexico. Colombians began their migration to escape the violence in their home country. Much as the Central Americans during the 1980s, Colombians have migrated in response to political and social instability. The first migration to the United States resulted from the period know as la Violencia, which occurred between the 1950s and 1970s. Following this first migration, came a short period when middle- and upper-class Colombians emigrated, searching for better educational and professional opportunities. By the 1980s, however, the migration of elites had given way to a more generalized migration as drug-related violence spread throughout Colombia. This last group, still arriving at present from Colombia, began to appear in significant numbers beginning in the mid-1990s.

In contrast to the Central Americans who arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Colombians who began arriving in the 1990s, Mexican migrants to Massachusetts did not migrate to the commonwealth to escape political violence. As of 1990, Mexicans represented the third-largest group of Latinos in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, behind Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. They accounted for 4.7 percent of the Latino population and had the third-largest growth percentage, behind Salvadorans and Guatemalans, in the decade between 1990 and 2000.

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