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Missouri Historical overview

The history of Latinos in Missouri is a narrative of community creation and cultural reinvention, as well as a search for identity, equality, and economic security in the face of adversity. From international students and CEOs to exiles and undocumented workers, Latinos have shaped the cultural, social, economic, and political landscape of Missouri in particular, and the United States in general.

Newcomers: Latino Presence in Missouri, 1500s-1800s The history of Latinos in Missouri dates back to the sixteenth century, when Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto led his army across the present-day Midwest. In the spring of 1541, de Soto left the southeast, marched through Kentucky and Indiana, and headed up toward Chicago. After failing to locate a route to China for trade, de Soto retreated southwestward through Illinois and Missouri. According to Hernando de Soto’s secretary, On Tuesday, the sixth of September [1541, de Soto’s army] departed from Coligua, Illinois [Kaskaskia] and crossed the [Mississippi] river another time into present-day Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, precisely on the Full Moon.1 De Soto and his army encountered five tribal villages of Native Americans in Missouri: Calpista, Palisema, Quizila, Tutilcoya, and Tancio. De Soto died upon his departure from Tancio, Missouri, and his army continued south into Harrison, Arkansas.

In 1800, France reclaimed the Louisiana Territory (including Missouri), and sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. By the 1830s the Santa Fe Trail connected Missouri to Mexico. New Mexico, which was then a northern province of Mexico, hungered for goods not regulated by the Spanish Crown’s repressive trade policies. Kansas City, Missouri, was the endpoint of this lucrative commercial traffic and benefited greatly from this trade.2 Throughout the nineteenth century, Missourians engaged in many war efforts within the Spanish territory.

Missouri’s relationship with Latin America intensified during the United States’ nineteenth-century imperial expansion in countries such as Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. The Mexican-American War began in April 1846. On May 11, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution to summon 50,000 troops and appropriate $10 million for the war. Missouri sent over 2,000 male volunteers from eight Missouri counties: Jackson, Lafayette, Clay, Saline, Franklin, Cole, Howard, and Callaway. Beyond Missouri’s connection to Mexico, Cuba has had an important place in the state’s history. On April 25, 1898, the Spanish-American War began, and Missouri provided infantry and light artillery. Battery A of light artillery was sent to Puerto Rico as part of the First Army Corps.3 By the end of this war, demand for cheap labor had brought migrants from Latin America to Missouri.

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