Missouri Latinos in the Show-Me State
The Mexican Revolution forced Mexicans who wanted to improve their lives to flee their homeland. Mexican migrants, in particular, were initially attracted to jobs in the agriculture, railroad, and meatpacking industries. During the Great
Depression (1929-1939), Spanish-speaking populations in Missouri grew slowly, forming enclaves in major cities such as Kansas City and St. Louis.
World War II prompted the U.S. government to work with its Mexican counterpart to develop the Bracero program, a contract labor program that officially hired Mexican laborers to work in the United States. Braceros worked in the railroad and agriculture industries in Missouri and throughout the Midwest. Wartime employment brought better jobs and allowed some mobility for Mexican laborers. Missouri received the highest number of Latinos after 1950; the majority of migrants settled into agriculture, manufacturing, and domestic service jobs. In addition, following the Cuban Revolution, the federal government and Catholic churches resettled Cuban refugees in various cities in Missouri. Over the last 40 years Latinos have changed Missouri’s cultural, social, political, and economic landscape. From business owners to professional baseball players, Latinos have established themselves as prominent leaders of the state.
From the 1960s to the present, Latinos have increased their presence in Missouri, mainly through labor migration. The University of Missouri’s Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis (OSEDA) reported that the Latino population in the 1960s totaled 60,000 people. The postwar era and the expansion of the meatpacking industry have precipitated nearly a half century of demographic transformation characterized by racial stratification and significant Mexican migration. If in the 1980s and 1990s African Americans and non-Latino whites were the predominant ethnic groups in Missouri, by 2000 the number of Missouri Latinos had doubled to an estimated 120,000 people. In 2000 the Census Bureau announced that Latinos had surpassed African Americans as the largest minority population; and in 2003 the OSEDA announced that Missouri’s Latino population had increased slightly, by 10.4 percent, totaling 131,000 Latino residents.