February 03, 2024
Latino Hoosiers during the mid and late 1900s
On the east end of downtown Indianapolis, there was a community (or "barrio") of Mexican families during the 1940s and '50s. During the 1960s and '70s, camps in the farm fields of Grant County and Howard County were set up for migrant workers, most of them of Mexican or other Latino heritage. So there were urban as well as rural residents of Latino heritage in the Hoosier state during the mid and late 1900s.
In our rotating series about ethnic heritage in Indiana that has focused on heritage groups ranging from Germans and Irish to Ukrainians and Koreans, Hoosier History Live will follow up a show in 2018 about the Mexican communities in northwest Indiana during the 1920s. The guests on that show included Nicole Martinez-LeGrand of the Indiana Historical Society, who will return to share insights about the subsequent evolution of Latinos during the mid and late 1900s.
Nicole is the co-author of "Hoosier Latinos: A Century of Struggle, Service and Success" (Indiana Historical Society Press); her ancestors came from Mexico to the Indiana Harbor area of Lake County as early as 1918. Steel companies in northwest Indiana recruited Mexican immigrants as workers, with a barrio established in the Indiana Harbor area of East Chicago.
For this new show, Nicole will share insights about the evolution of that barrio as well as one in Indianapolis that included Catholic families who worshiped at St. Mary Catholic Church, 317 N. New Jersey St., one of the first churches in the Hoosier capital to offer Mass in Spanish. Nicole also will share insights about the diversification of Latinos in Indiana during the mid and late 1900s and the migrant camps set up for workers in rural areas of the state.
"In 1974, there were 42 migrant camps across Indiana," according to "Hoosier Latinos". "At the height of harvest season, an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 migrant farmworkers were working in the state." The book also describes a rise in Latino activism that included a march in 1971 from Marion, Ind., to the governor's mansion in Indianapolis to call attention to migrant farmworkers' rights.
Nicole also has written about the cultural impact of Latinos in the state, including early Mexican restaurants and markets. She notes that in 1963 the Indianapolis Star inaccurately defined a taco for its readers as a "Mexican sandwich". Awareness of Mexican cuisine would increase substantially during the next decade.
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