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Southwest Border - Ethnic Diversity

Southwest Border The Southwest's American Indian population is culturally diverse. The largest tribes are the Navajo in the "Four Corners" area, where the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet; several Apache tribes in Arizona and New Mexico; the various Pueblo groups in New Mexico; the Papago in southern Arizona; the Hopi in northwestern Arizona; and the Utes in southwestern Colorado.

Most American Indians are found in the major reservation areas, especially those centered on the Four Corners--where the 62,000-square-kilometer Navajo reservation has 10 times the population of any other reservation--and in California. Arizona and New Mexico together are the home for some 300,000 American Indians.

All of what is today the southwestern United States was incorporated into the Spanish Empire during the early years of the 16th century. By 1550, the Spanish had explored widely across the region. The lack of any identified, easily extractable riches, coupled with the great distance to the core of Spanish development in Mexico, minimized Spanish concern for their northern territory.

Before 1700, the only permanent Spanish settlements north of the present U.S.-Mexico border were along the valley of the upper Rio Grande in New Mexico. Santa Fe was founded in 1610, and other pueblos (civilian communities that could loosely be viewed as small towns), notably Taos and Albuquerque, soon followed.

A tentative Spanish occupation of Arizona began in 1700. The Apache Indians were a constant threat, repeatedly raiding Spanish settlements in the area. Colonization of Texas began at about the same time, with long-range results that were considerably more successful. Nacogdoches was founded in 1716, followed two years later by San Antonio. During the middle 1700s, the lower Rio Grande Valley was settled by the Spanish. Still, by the early 19th century, these and other centers of Hispanic settlement were viewed by Spanish authorities as a small, inadequate occupation compared with the large number of Americans then pushing westward toward Texas. Thus, foreigners, mostly Americans, were allowed to develop settlements there during the 1820s and 1830s.

California, the most distant of Spain's northern territories, was the last to be settled. A mission and presidio (military post) were established at San Diego in 1769. During the next two decades, a string of missions, with a few presidios and pueblos as well, was established along the coast as far as Sonoma, north of San Francisco. This thin band of coastal occupation was encouraged partly in response to a growing British and Russian interest in the West Coast.

After U.S. acquisition of Texas in 1845 and the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the estimated Mexican population of this broad territory was 82,500. Of this number, 60,000 were in New Mexico, 14,000 in Texas, 7,500 in California, and 1,000 in Arizona.

By 1850, Mexicans in Texas and California represented less than 10 percent of the two states' total populations. There were good reasons for the rapid increase in the non-Spanish population. East Texas was the new western frontier for southern settlements, and the discovery of gold in California in 1848 was largely responsible for the influx of non-Spanish peoples into central and northern portions of the state. Only in New Mexico, southern California, and Texas south of San Antonio did the Hispanic population continue to dominate for a few more decades.

The original Hispanic population of the Southwest has been greatly increased by substantial immigration, especially during the 20th century. In 1990, persons of Spanish surname represented 18.8 percent of the population of Arizona; in California, the proportion was 26 percent; in Colorado, 13 percent; in New Mexico, 38 percent; and in Texas, 26 percent. In 1990, census figures placed the Hispanic population of the United States at 20.8 million, an increase of 34 percent over 1980. Over 60 percent of the Hispanic population is Mexican-American.

The economic gap between Anglos and Hispanics and American Indians is considerable. Differences in urbanization account for some of the variation; in the Southwest, Anglos are the most urbanized; American Indians, the least. Urban Americans tend to have higher incomes, more education, and fewer children.

Developments on the Navajo reservation, however, although not entirely typical, are indicative of altered reservation conditions. Final authority remains with the U.S. government's Bureau of Indian Affairs, but an elected tribal council makes most economic decisions for the reservation. Appropriations to the reservation have increased dramatically since 1950. All-weather roads now cross the reservation, greatly reducing isolation, and health and educational facilities have been improved. Huge reserves of fossil fuel, particularly coal, have been found on the Navajo land, and several large power plants located on the reservation serve southern California. The power companies annually move millions of dollars into the reservation economy. The reservation also has expanded greatly its tourist industry and has attracted a number of new industries with its large, available, and now better-educated labor force.

During World War I and the economic boom times of the early 1920s, large numbers of Mexicans moved across the border to fill labor needs in the United States. Again in the 1940s, the United States had a warfare-generated labor shortage, and in the next two decades, Mexican laborers could enter the United States and work as seasonal laborers in the agricultural sector.

In 1965, Mexico started the Border Industrialization Program. Its goal was to attract U.S. labor-intensive manufacturing industries to border communities in northern Mexico. Foreign companies, called maquiladoras, could import equipment and material duty free into Mexico if the manufactured products were then exported from Mexico. In 1989, that regulation was eased, and now maquiladoras can sell 50 percent of their total product in Mexico.

For Mexico, the program offered the possibility of jobs for its people. The attraction for U.S. firms was the opportunity to use low-cost labor at locations near the U.S. marketplace and sources of supply where transportation costs could be minimized. Many firms have been attracted by this cost-saving opportunity; by late 1990, an estimated 1,800 maquiladoras employed over 500,000 Mexican laborers.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:02 ZULU