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Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places

Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places
Community and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary America

Sixteen geographers and two sociologists map the regional and cultural diversity of the Hispanic/Latino population of the United States.

November 2004
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344 pages | 6 x 9 | 41 b&w photos, 40 figures |

Hispanics/Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the United States—but they are far from being a homogenous group. Mexican Americans in the Southwest have roots that extend back four centuries, while Dominicans and Salvadorans are very recent immigrants. Cuban Americans in South Florida have very different occupational achievements, employment levels, and income from immigrant Guatemalans who work in the poultry industry in Virginia. In fact, the only characteristic shared by all Hispanics/Latinos in the United States is birth or ancestry in a Spanish-speaking country.

In this book, sixteen geographers and two sociologists map the regional and cultural diversity of the Hispanic/Latino population of the United States. They report on Hispanic communities in all sections of the country, showing how factors such as people's country/culture of origin, length of time in the United States, and relations with non-Hispanic society have interacted to create a wide variety of Hispanic communities. Identifying larger trends, they also discuss the common characteristics of three types of Hispanic communities—those that have always been predominantly Hispanic, those that have become Anglo-dominated, and those in which Hispanics are just becoming a significant portion of the population.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (Daniel D. Arreola)
  • 1. Hispanic American Legacy, Latino American Diaspora (Daniel D. Arreola)
  • Part I. Continuous Communities
    • 2. The Plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico: A Community Gathering Place (Jeffrey S. Smith)
    • 3. Social Geography of Laredo, Texas, Neighborhoods: Distinctiveness and Diversity in a Majority-Hispanic Place (Michael S. Yoder and Renée LaPerrière de Gutiérrez)
  • Part II. Discontinuous Communities
    • 4. Barrio under Siege: Latino Sense of Place in San Francisco, California (Brian J. Godfrey)
    • 5. Globalization of the Barrio: Transformation of the Latino Cultural Landscapes of San Diego, California (Lawrence A. Herzog)
    • 6. Barrio Space and Place in Southeast Los Angeles, California (James R. Curtis)
  • Part III. New Communities
    • 7. Changing Latinization of New York City (Inés M. Miyares)
    • 8. Soccer and Latino Cultural Space: Metropolitan Washington Fútbol Leagues (Marie Price and Courtney Whitworth)
    • 9. The Cultural Landscape of a Puerto Rican Neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio (Albert Benedict and Robert B. Kent)
    • 10. Latinos in Polynucleated Kansas City (Steven L. Driever)
    • 11. Latino Commerce in Northern Nevada (Kate A. Berry)
    • 12. Se Venden Aquí: Latino Commercial Landscapes in Phoenix, Arizona (Alex Oberle)
    • 13. Hispanics in the American South and the Transformation of the Poultry Industry (William Kandel and Emilio A. Parrado)
    • 14. Hispanization of Hereford, Texas (Terrence W. Haverluk)
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Index

Daniel D. Arreola is Professor of Geography at Arizona State University.


Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places explores the regional cultural geography of Americans of Hispanic/Latino ancestry as defined by the U.S. Census. In its broadest scope, the book is a scholarly assessment of ethnic-group diversity examined across geographic scales from nation to region to place. The organization and themes of Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places are innovative in three ways.

First, Hispanic/Latino Americans represent the fourth-largest concentration of Spanish-heritage people in the world, after Mexicans, Colombians, and Spaniards. A popular yet erroneous conception holds that Hispanic/Latino Americans are a homogeneous group. The members of this large population—reported in 2003 to be some thirty-nine million, 13 percent of the U.S. population—tend to identify themselves by national ancestry, although the labels "Hispanic" and "Latino" remain current in government circles and in the media. In fact, Hispanic/Latino Americans are not one group, but many. They are not simply Hispanics or Latinos, as these panethnic names suggest but Mexicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Cubans, Ecuadorians, Bolivians, Hispanos (Spanish Americans), and others. In this book, diversity will be fundamental to the exploration of Hispanic/Latino Americans.

Further, some continue to imagine that Hispanic/Latino Americans are found only in the Southwest or in New York or Miami. While regional concentrations exist, Hispanic/Latino Americans are now spread across the nation. Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places breaks ground in its treatment of regional populations by evaluating the plurality of Hispanics/Latinos across America, their different geographies and social adjustments to diverse places from small and medium-sized towns to metropolitan areas. No other single book treats Hispanic/Latino Americans in this way.

A second significant contribution of this volume is the diversity of social and cultural themes investigated from a geographic perspective. Much writing about Hispanic/Latino Americans tends to concentrate on issues of immigration, migration, and economic and political roles. Sociologists and anthropologists investigate the structural integration of this population with the larger population (Flores and Benmayor 1997; Moore and Pinderhughes 1993; Romero, Hondagneu-Sotelo, Ortiz 1997). Historians and others conduct research about Hispanic/Latino Americans across multidisciplinary boundaries, to examine a plethora of societal themes (Suárez-Orozco and Páez 2002). Nevertheless, the questions explored and investigations performed by these social scientists and humanists rarely concern geographical aspects, regional diversity, or adaptations to place among the populations. Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places addresses themes of spatial distribution and cultural identity specific to each subgroup and relevant to the places Hispanic/Latino Americans have created. Issues of contested space, social networks, and landscape imprint reveal identity and explore how spaces have become places charged with meaning for specific Hispanic/Latino subgroups. These themes are examined across social contexts in which some Hispanic/Latinos are only just beginning to create a place identity as new immigrants and others in which Hispanics/Latinos have deeply etched landscapes, which communicate long attachment to places.

Also innovative is this volume's application of time and population proportion to the discussion of Hispanic/Latino community types. Subgroup diversity is complicated by temporal variability, where some Hispanic/Latino Americans are new residents and others have been in this country for centuries. In some places, they dominate the total population, and in others they are a minority. Thus, understanding the geographical impact of Hispanic/Latino Americans requires sensitivity to time of settlement and the percentage of the ethnic population in a place. Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places introduces communities studied by type: continuous, discontinuous, and new (Haverluk 1998). A continuous community is one founded by Hispanics/Latinos and one where they always have been a majority. A discontinuous community is one where Hispanic/Latino Americans founded or dominated the community at one time, but ceded dominance to non-Hispanics/Latinos at another time. Finally, a new community is one where Hispanics/Latinos are chiefly new immigrants, and where they have gained importance in a place in which they have not previously been present.

Combined, these original perspectives on Hispanic/Latino Americans—regional diversity, cultural geographic identity, and community type—will ground and inform the discussion about this major ethnic population, one that is transforming America.

Geographical Perspectives on American Ethnic Space and Place

Geographical writings about ethnic Americans, especially Hispanic/Latino Americans, are recent compared with such writings in fields like history, sociology, and the arts (see Kanellos 1993; Thernstrom 1980). David Ward's (1971) Cities and Immigrants was perhaps the first geographical analysis of urban ethnic America and was almost exclusively an investigation of change among European ethnic groups in nineteenth-century eastern and midwestern cities. Wilbur Zelinsky ([1973] 1992) devoted some discussion to territorial patterns when he mapped ethnic groups in his slim but provocative book, The Cultural Geography of the United States. However, it was not until 1985 that geographers banded together to produce an ethnic geography reader, Ethnicity in Contemporary America, that investigated selected groups (McKee [1985] 2000), including discussions of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban subgroups. This was followed by a seminal work, We the People: An Atlas of America's Ethnic Diversity (Allen and Turner 1988), that showcased ethnic population distributions on detailed county-level maps based on the 1980 Census and accompanied by substantial supporting text.

Anthologies that have followed, especially studies of material culture among selected groups, are thematically linked to ethnic geography (Noble 1992) and through their examination of the concept of homelands in the United States (Nostrand and Estaville 2001). Geographical Identities of Ethnic America: Race, Space, and Place (Berry and Henderson 2002) is the most recent anthology of this type and contributes especially by its inclusion of diverse Native American, Asian, and lesser-known European populations.

Some geographical writings (see selected references in Zelinsky 1992) are monographs written about specific ethnic populations, but only five have investigated Hispanic/Latino American subgroups geographically. Boswell and Curtis (1984) pioneered the geographical study of Cuban Americans in Florida; Carlson (1990), Nostrand (1992), and Usner (1995) have researched the Spanish Americans or Hispanos of New Mexico; and Arreola (2002) has studied the Tejanos, or Texas Mexicans. Significantly, others have written about Hispanic/Latino American subgroups in book-length investigations of ethnic populations in San Francisco (Godfrey 1988) and Los Angeles (Allen and Turner 1997). While some theses and dissertations in geography have explored Hispanics/Latinos, few such studies have been published (Broadbent 1972; Ropka 1975; Zecchi 2002).

Notwithstanding the limited number of book-length geographical writings about Hispanic/Latino Americans, geographers have contributed importantly to our base knowledge about this ethnic population through other investigations and writings. Some early papers about Hispanics/Latinos published in professional journals assessed Mexicans in Detroit (Humphrey 1943), Mexicans in the Southwest (Broadbent 1941), and the distribution of Puerto Ricans in Manhattan (Novak 1956). Chiefly, however, such research has been more recent and focused on Mexican and, to a lesser extent, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other subgroup populations. These contributions may be grouped under geographical perspectives of space and place.

Spatial-perspective research is concerned especially with the study of these population distributions, movements, and regional patterns. This research is typically executed at a regional-to-national analytical scale and often, although not exclusively, relies on large data sets and statistics to render spatial relationships. In other instances, spatial perspective is achieved by the reconstruction of historical geographic patterns and situations to understand the spatial expression of a particular subgroup population at some point in time or over time.

Place-perspective studies, on the other hand, tend to be field-based investigations, and the analytical scale is typically local. Data are observed and accumulated on the ground through an ethnographic perspective that sees landscape, as opposed to regional patterns, as the geographical means for differentiating a subgroup population. Landscape study in the field is then corroborated by historical and archival documents.

Table I.1 reveals the range by category and subgroup of spatial-perspective research about Hispanic/Latino Americans chiefly from the 1970s through 2002. During the 1970s, geographers began to publish writings about the regional character of Puerto Rican and Mexican populations in the United States and about Mexican American migration. Regional geography and migration continue to account for the bulk of geographical writings about Hispanic/Latino Americans. Most researchers have investigated the regional character of Hispanic/Latino subgroup populations, especially Mexicans and Hispanos, who have the longest tenure of occupation, and, to a lesser extent, Puerto Ricans and Cubans, who are more recent arrivals. Geographers have also studied migration, primarily of Mexicans in the United States, because they are the largest single Hispanic/Latino subgroup and, arguably, the most mobile, especially those who are immigrants. Others have researched immigrant settlement and social conditions among Mexican ancestry populations and other Hispanic/Latino populations. Finally, researchers have considered labor; assimilation, class, and housing; and transnationalism of Hispanic/Latino Americans, but exclusively among those subgroups who still emigrate from Latin America. Puerto Ricans, because they are U.S. citizens, do not immigrate, but migrate, and Cubans, who have chiefly been political refugees, are not particularly well studied by geographers in these categories.

Table I.2 illustrates the types of place-perspective research geographers have conducted about Hispanic/Latino Americans. The 1980s saw the emergence of cultural landscape studies as another research theme for geographers writing about Hispanic/Latino Americans. These studies examine the relationship between specific Hispanic/Latino subgroups and their ways of shaping distinctive places through cultural traditions and adaptive strategies. Field studies document Cuban yard shrines (Curtis 1980) and Puerto Rican yards (Kent and Gandia-Ojeda 1999). Others examine Mexican housescapes (Arreola 1981, 1988; Manger 2000), murals (Arreola 1984; Ford and Griffin 1981), and public spaces (Arreola 1992, 1993b; Tovares 2001). Still other landscape studies concern place identity (Arreola 1987, 1995; Godfrey 1985; Smith 2000, 2002; Zecchi 2002), built environments (Herzog 1986; Veregge 1993), and material culture (Gritzner 1974, 1990; Smith et al. 2001). Researchers more recently have observed Latino shopping streets (Méndez and Miyares 1997; Roseman and Vigil 1993), and Spanish American village anatomy and landscape change (Nostrand 1982; Smith 1998, 1999). Overwhelmingly, these place-based geographical writings explore Mexican and Hispano subgroups, with only a handful of investigations about other subgroup populations.

Both space and place perspectives are beginning to influence nongeographers. There is an emerging consciousness among social historians, architects, and others who see space (Davis 2000) and especially place (Hayden 1995; Leclerc, Dear, Dishman 2000; Leclerc, Villa, Dear 1999; Villa 2000) as appropriate filters through which to discern the diversity of Hispanic/Latino cultures in the United States. Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places elaborates these themes—space and place—to expose the variety of Hispanic/Latino geography across America.

Organization and Thematic Structure

Chapter 1 describes the national regional context of Hispanic/Latino Americans, especially who, how many, and where. The book is then organized into three parts to include contributions about continuous, discontinuous, and new Hispanic/Latino communities.

Part I deals with continuous communities, that is, places where Hispanics/Latinos have always been the dominant population group. Jeffrey S. Smith, in Chapter 2, relates the story of the plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Hispanos in Las Vegas, as is typical of traditional Spanish American communities, have created an extraordinary attachment to public space. Unlike in other New Mexican towns that have transformed their plazas into places that appeal to tourists, in Las Vegas, the plaza continues to function as a social gathering place and has evolved to accommodate chiefly community-based activities.

In Chapter 3, Michael D. Yoder and Renée LaPerrière de Gutiérrez assess the social geography of neighborhoods in a majority Hispanic city, Laredo, Texas. Holding ethnicity as a near constant because Laredo's population is 94 percent Mexican ancestry, these authors compare barrios and suburbs to discern both distinctiveness and diversity in residential landscapes that result from social and economic class differences as much as from ethnic tradition.

In Part I, then, we see how the long occupation of the Southwest borderland by Hispanic Americans persists into the contemporary era. Traditions of place attachment, like the Las Vegas resolana, or sheltered spot on the plaza, and social celebrations like the carnes asadas, or backyard cookouts, of rancho days that survive in Laredo's new subdivisions testify to the continuous cultural practices of early Hispanic settlers in these places.

Part II examines discontinuous communities, that is, communities where Hispanic/Latino Americans were once the dominant population but where chiefly non-Hispanic Anglo Americans later came to control social space. In Chapters 4 and 5, Brian J. Godfrey and Lawrence A. Herzog, respectively, explain how Hispanic/Latino barrio spaces have been contested, transformed, and reinvigorated by community action. Godfrey shows how San Francisco's Mission District, a Spanish colonial quarter, was invaded by Anglo Americans in the nineteenth century, only to be recaptured and converted into a traditional Latino American barrio in the twentieth century by Mexican and Central American immigrants. Today, the Mission District is again threatened, this time by a gentrification process that brings young urban professionals to a neighborhood perceived as affordable and bohemian in one of the nation's most expensive real estate markets.

Herzog explores San Diego and San Ysidro, California's, yin and yang process of "barrioization," or old order, segregated, defensible city space shaped by Mexican Americans and "barriology," or new order, assertive urban space where Mexican Americans display ethnic pride and heritage as positive values that transform urban space. Through the examples of urban "ecologies," we see how communities in this border environment where Mexico and America meet borrow from and adopt place-making strategies that mirror a transnational and globalizing experience.

Finally, James R. Curtis dissects Southeast Los Angeles, a traditional non-Hispanic, Anglo American industrial district that has been radically transformed by Hispanic/Latino Americans. In 1960, chiefly white working-class communities like Huntington Park and South Gate were only fractionally Hispanic, but today they are greater than 90 percent Latino. Curtis explains how a process of deindustrialization prompted white flight from these neighborhoods, and how the southward expansion of the greater East Los Angeles barrio combined with recent waves of chiefly Mexican and Central American immigrants to turn solid blue-collar communities into substantial Latino working-class barrios. Curtis then offers a geographic typology of barrio formation that generalizes the process and its forms for Southern California Hispanic/Latino communities.

The changing geography of Hispanic/Latino Americans is reflected in their presence now in every state of the union and in almost every county of the United States. America's Hispanic legacy, once associated almost exclusively with the borderland Southwest, has become a Latino diaspora, spreading to every corner of the country. Accordingly, Part III of this book investigates the plurality of spaces and places that are new communities for Hispanic/Latino Americans. Eight chapters examine this diversity.

Inés M. Miyares (Chapter 7) and Marie Price and Courtney Whitworth (Chapter 8) explore the changing Hispanic character of New York and metropolitan Washington, respectively. Miyares challenges the assumption held by some that New York's Hispanic/Latino identity is chiefly Puerto Rican. In 2000, New York City had the largest number of Hispanics/Latinos of all major U.S. cities, but the greatest percentage of that population was not Puerto Rican; it was "Other Hispanic." This suggests the incredible plurality of the ethnic population that has evolved in the city. Miyares reviews the Hispanic/Latino geography of New York City, then explores so-called ethnic main streets as indicators of Hispanic/Latino diversity in the city's boroughs. These banner streets are both landscape expressions of economic vitality among Hispanic/Latino subgroups and symbolic streetscapes of ethnic national identity.

Price and Whitworth use soccer leagues in metropolitan Washington as a means to investigate Hispanic/Latino communities in the nation's capital. Unlike in many Hispanic/Latino communities, however, most Hispanics/Latinos here are not organized into barrios or even specific neighborhoods. Rather, Latinos in the capital are diffuse geographically, occupying varied residential neighborhoods and typically in low concentrations. Price and Whitworth argue that Hispanic soccer leagues create real, if ephemeral, places, so-called third spaces, that are different from home and work. Close examination of the Bolivian community in the capital illustrates how a transnational community survives, creates space, yet remains tied to its home village through the highly important recreational and symbolic role of soccer.

Albert Benedict and Robert B. Kent (Chapter 9), and Stephen L. Driever (Chapter 10) explore the influence of Hispanics/Latinos in two important heartland cities—Cleveland and Kansas City. Benedict and Kent perform a detailed analysis of the cultural landscape of Cleveland's Near Westside, a predominantly Puerto Rican community. Using semifixed landscape features as diagnostics, these authors survey markers like Spanish-language signage, symbolic displays like national flags and other political proclamations, and religious statuary to determine the landscape imprint of Puerto Rican as opposed to other Hispanic influences in the Near Westside community. While Puerto Rican place making is found to be evident, the low frequency of indicators may suggest that Puerto Rican dominance here is accepted by members of the Hispanic subgroup and, therefore, it becomes unnecessary to claim space through a dense pattern of ethnic markers.

Driever explains how several generations of Hispanic Americans, chiefly Mexicans, have created a polynucleated settlement arrangement in Kansas City, with old and new barrios in different parts of a metropolitan area that stretches across the Kansas and Missouri state boundary. The first barrios were situated near meatpacking plants and railroad yards that employed Mexican immigrants. Today, however, newer barrios are emerging in the urban periphery, where immigrants find employment in service sector economies, and where vibrant, mostly segregated neighborhoods and commercial districts locate proximate to and sometimes within upper-middle-class suburbs. Anticipating fragmentation and division among the many barrios, Hispanic community activists have championed critical metropolitan area-wide organizations, including media outlets, to cement Hispanic solidarity in this urban area.

Kate A. Berry (Chapter 11)and Alex Oberle (Chapter 12) study the emerging Hispanic commercial landscapes of northern Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona, respectively. In cities and suburbs in the West, where Hispanic/Latino Americans are an increasing percentage of the metropolitan population, Hispanic business ownership is increasing, and certain businesses have become landscape indicators of a Latino community. Berry documents how neighborhood commercial shopping streets in Reno emerge to service Hispanic/Latino residents. While the Hispanic/Latino population of Reno has more than doubled, to 17 percent of the total population since 1990, Berry finds that a true ethnic-enclave economy does not develop where Hispanic businesses concentrate. Rather, these spaces become multifunctional, appealing to and servicing both Hispanic and non-Hispanic residents.

Oberle maps the distributions of key business types in Phoenix to differentiate between those that cater to immigrant Hispanics and those that are chiefly patronized by earlier generations of Mexican Americans. Oberle's analysis illustrates that Hispanic business types exist along a continuum that allows the size and age of the Hispanic community to be predicted by the character of business types—smaller and emerging versus larger and established. Berry's and Oberle's studies are important models for the continued exploration of Hispanic/Latino America because they create templates that can be tested in other fields to confirm familiar patterns or discover important variations.

Finally, Chapters 13 and 14 assess one of the newest Hispanic/Latino regions—the South—and a new Hispanic community in the High Plains of Texas that may be our first example of a new community that has emerged as a dominant Hispanic place, although it was founded by non-Hispanics. William Kandel and Emilio A. Parrado provide a cogent analysis of the explosion of Hispanic/Latino populations in the nonmetropolitan South, an area that includes a handful of states where Hispanic populations have tripled in the last decade. Their correlation of Hispanic population with particular areas demonstrates how the region's poultry industry has acted like a magnet pulling Hispanic labor to rural communities. Kandel and Parrado investigate Accomack County in Virginia and Duplin County in North Carolina to ground their chapter. They illustrate especially the social and economic conditions of these communities and how Hispanics fare among other populations when they enter as laborers at different phases of incorporation into communities. Their study thereby expands our understanding of the relationship between industrial development and international migration and of the differential impact on native residents in rural communities.

Hereford, Texas, is more than a thousand miles from the rural communities of the American South, yet its story may shed the greatest light on the process Terrence Haverluk calls "Hispanization." Hereford was founded by Anglo Americans in the late nineteenth century, but starting in the 1950s and the 1960s, it became increasingly Mexican, with most residents tracing their roots to communities in South Texas. Haverluk shows how Hereford's Mexican Americans have evolved from migrant laborers over several generations to working professionals who are increasingly better educated, who own land, who are politically integrated, in short, who are middle-class citizens. Hereford's Hispanics were 61 percent of the city's population in 2000, and they are projected to be 90 percent in 2030. In Hereford and other Texas High Plains towns, suggests Haverluk, we may be witnessing a fundamentally new process of Hispanic place making, in which former Anglo-dominant towns transform entirely into Latino places, hybridizing with non-Hispanic populations. Haverluk calls these types of places "nuevo" [new] communities, a metaphor that accentuates their Hispanic merging with non-Hispanic society.


Throughout Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places, authors use the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" interchangeably when referring to the larger group of the ethnic population. Specific nationality group names are used to refer to individual subgroups, for example, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, or Bolivian. Mexican ancestry terminology is differentiated by the use of self-referents like "Mexican American" or "Chicano/Chicanas," which suggest generational differences within the subgroup. The census term "Other Hispanic" is an undifferentiated category that includes many subgroup respondents (see Chapter 1).

Similarly, other ethnic and racial terms, like "black" and "African American" or "white" and "Anglo American," are used interchangeably. While there is not always consensus on the appropriateness of these terms, they nevertheless reflect the general range of descriptive names typically applied to these populations.

Finally, in March 2003, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), an important institution and agency in the story of Hispanic/Latino Americans, was reorganized to become part of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). Because contributors completed research for their respective chapters before this change, INS is referenced in several places, rather than BCIS.



“This is a very important and timely book. It will make a major contribution to the literature on Hispanic/Latino migration, settlement, adaptation, politics, culture, and landscapes in the United States.”
Susan W. Hardwick, Professor of Geography, University of Oregon


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