Wyoming Contemporary Era, 1970-2007
Though the 1960s nationalist movements’ demands for self-identity and selfdetermination were successful in slowing down the acculturation process within
specific Latino populations, they did little to push mainstream public officials toward a system that accurately enumerates Latinos with respect to preferred national-origin ethnic labels. Since the 1970 census experiments, the umbrella terms Hispanic (and now Latino) have become the preferred labels with which to enumerate persons of Mexican and other Latin American descent. With respect to Wyoming Latinos in 1970s census data, they comprised 5.6 percent (an estimated 18,551 people) of the total state population (est. 332,416).
Wyoming counties with a Latino population that was at least 9 percent of the total state Latino population were Albany (9.9 percent; est. 1,844; Laramie), Carbon (11.7 percent; est. 2,172; Rawlins, Hanna, Encampment), Laramie (30.6 percent; est. 5,685; Cheyenne), Natrona (9.6 percent; est. 1,773; Casper), and Sweetwater (10.6 percent; est. 1,970; Green River, Rock Springs). This list differs from the 1930s list of Wyoming counties whose total Mexican population was at least 9 percent of the state’s total Mexican population. Most notably, counties primarily known for sugar beet production Big Horn (2.2 percent; est. 406; Lovell, Powell, Worland), Goshen (4.3 percent; est. 795; Fort Laramie, Torrington), and Platte (no available data; Wheatland) were left off. On the other hand, counties known primarily for railroad and/or mining economic activities were added (i.e. Albany and Natrona).2
These demographic trends reflect the historical conditions of the late twentieth century. Commercial agriculture increased, along with technological advancements that reduced the need for agricultural workers. The oil and mining industries experienced booms in the 1970s and 1980s that infused traditional Wyoming economic opportunities and fueled the recruitment of labor from all over Wyoming and other parts of the United States. The success of the civil rights movement ensured that Mexican American workers would be included in expanding economic opportunities.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the formal and informal recruitment of Mexican American and Mexican labor continues to increase and decrease, depending on historical social, economic, and political pressures at the national, regional, state, and local levels. The 1965 elimination of immigration quota systems that were based on nationality gave way to an immigration policy that favored family reunification. This paved the way for increased legal and illegal migration to the United States. The Immigration and Reform and Control Act of 1986, designed to decrease migration flows, had the unintended effect of increasing migration. This heightened level of Latino migration helps explain how Latinos (12.6 percent) recently became the largest racial ethnic minority group in the United States, according to 2000 census data. Furthermore, their 10-year percentage increase (57.8 percent) from 1990 to 2000 was the largest among all racial and ethnic groupings.
In comparison to national figures, Latinos are the largest ethnic group in Wyoming (6.4 percent), and they had the largest 10-year percentage increase
(23 percent) of any racial ethnic grouping in the state from 1990 to 2000. At the county level, Latinos made up double-digit percentages of total county populations in Carbon (13.8 percent), Washakie (11.5 percent), and Laramie (10.9 percent). In terms of the 10-year Latino population change from 1990 to 2000, however, Carbon experienced a net decrease (6.6 percent), while Washakie (18.7 percent) and Laramie (21.7 percent) experienced net increases. Most notable is Teton County’s 650 percent increase among their Latino population from 158 persons in 1990 to 1,185 persons in 2000.3
Continued migration has worked to uphold and solidify negative stereotypes that continue to justify overt and covert individual and institutional discrimination. In Wyoming various public and private officials alike raise concerns about the acute and inherent criminality of Latino migrants and nonmigrants. Despite this, Latinos continue to grow in Wyoming at the turn of the twenty-first century. And although they are becoming a more and more vital part of the social, economic, and political landscape of Wyoming, they are also striving more and more to hold onto their latinidad (Latin-ness) as they selectively assimilate into mainstream society.