The Spirit of Latina/o Giving from the Shadows of War
El espíritu de Latina/o filantropía desde las sombras de Guerra
By Laura L. Oviedo
The War and Latina/o Philanthropy Initiative is a community-centered collecting project at the National Museum of American History, with support from the Smithsonian Latino Center. This initiative explores how Latina/o communities have given time, money, and goods during or in the aftermath of wars affecting the United States and Latin America. Focusing on the experiences of individuals and community-based organizations, the project explores how Latina/os understand and use their power to create effective change through giving.
Latina/o philanthropy has captured the attention of research institutes, scholars, and philanthropic organizations. Numerous published studies, including those conducted by the Urban Institute and Hispanics in Philanthropy, have shown that Latina/os have a long cultural tradition of giving in ways that do not always mirror mainstream American philanthropy. In order to understand how Latina/os have expressed their love of humanity, the War & Latina/o Philanthropy Initiative recognizes diverse forms of giving as essential characteristics of the history of philanthropy in America.1
Latina/os define giving in distinct ways that draw on political beliefs and cultural values of humildad (humility), confianza (trust), and personalismo (personalism). Preferring and trusting in giving within their own communities, Latina/os have a strong tradition of informal aid through family and community networks. While some provide housing and food to Latina/o newcomers, others send clothing and money to home countries via friends or relatives. They have also supported one another through community-based organizations, including churches and mutualistas, or mutual-aid societies.2
If Latina/os have a long tradition of giving, why is the project focusing on war? War has catalyzed philanthropy within Latino communities from the 19th to the 21st century. In the late 1800s, Mexicans established mutualistas throughout the U.S. Southwest to provide moral, legal, medical, and material support for their communities. Mexican migration, spurred by the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), reinforced mutualistas as key organizations to ease migrant transition and settlement. Many white Americans responded with hostility to the increasing presence of migrants, regardless of citizenship status, resulting in discriminatory actions toward Mexican Americans. For some Mexican veterans of World War I, these injustices insulted the patriotism and sacrifice they displayed on the battlefield. As a response, middle-class community members and veterans formed the first leading Latino civil rights organizations in American history, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1929. Since the 1930s, LULAC has worked to challenge human rights violations and inequalities facing Latino communities in the United States, including providing educational scholarships and services for the elderly and people with limited or no vision.3
World War II spurred the nation’s philanthropic spirit which expanded with ongoing effects after the war. With the need of resources and millions of troops in battle, Americans contributed time, money, and labor toward the war effort. Women of Mexican descent collected tin and scrap metal, formed letter-writing groups to boost soldier morale, and sewed sea shells on soldiers’ uniforms when buttons were not available. According to Theresa Casarez of Austin, Texas, her mother held wakes in her home for military families who could not afford formal services or were not allowed in local funeral homes due to segregation practices. Such was the case in 1949 in Three Rivers, Texas, where fallen Mexican American soldier Felix Longoria was refused burial service in his hometown funeral home because according to the owner, “whites wouldn’t like it.”4 Women in his family turned to veteran and community physician Dr. Hector P. Garcia of Corpus Christi, Texas, who successfully garnered the support of Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. After securing Longoria a highly honored burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Garcia and other Mexican American veterans used their emerging national presence to continue supporting civil rights, veteran rights and benefits, and veteran healthcare through their organization, the American GI Forum (established in 1948). To this day, the AGIF continues to support the needs of Latina/o veterans across the United States and Puerto Rico, including awarding educational scholarships for Latina/o youth.5
In the Cold War era, Americans embraced a powerful international mission that centered on the concerns of humanitarian crises caused by global war. For Cuba, political and economic conflicts erupted into a full-blown Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) led by anti-capitalist leader and former lawyer Fidel Castro against U.S.-backed military leader and president Fulgencio Batista. After defeating Batista through guerilla warfare, Castro established a communist government in Cuba. The new regime targeted Batista supporters for executions, causing large numbers of former military and government personnel to flee Cuba, including upper and middle-class folks. Known as the Golden Exile (1959–1962), this period also witnessed the monumental humanitarian mission Operation Pedro Pan (1960-1962), the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in the history of the Western hemisphere. With Castro’s consolidation of power and strategic focus on youth to ensure the maintenance of communism in Cuba, some parents feared their children’s indoctrination to unwanted ideologies through nationalized programs and institutions. James Baker, headmaster of an American school in Havana, reached out to Father Bryan O. Walsh, director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami, Florida, to organize the transport and refuge of Cuban youth to Miami via student visas. Under their partnership, and with cooperation between underground networks, families in Cuba and abroad and the U.S. government contributed to the transportation of 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban youth to Miami in less than two years. Walsh’s Cuban Children’s Program, welfare agencies, and resident families in the United States provided care and shelter for them, and some were eventually reunited with parents who migrated later. Instability in Cuba increased through Castro’s rise to power, ultimately resulting in multiple migration flows to the United States.6
The ’50s and ’60s were also troubled with civil conflicts in the Dominican Republic and economic downturns and labor shortages in Puerto Rico. Like some Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans joined family and kin who had migrated earlier and formed communities primarily in Florida, New York, and Chicago. Besides receiving help from family and friends, these new migrants and refugees sought services, advice, emotional, and spiritual support from mutualistas and churches. These sites also served as centers of gathering and giving toward their own communities and those back home. In fact, studies have shown that in 2013, 78% of all migrant remittances from the United States went to Latin America and the Caribbean, totaling $54 billion.7
Since the 1970s, tumultuous regional conflicts and economic instability in Central and South America, have tripled the number of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in the United States. Consequently, U.S. military intervention in Latin America during the 1980s triggered dissent from the American public. While most immigrants from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have turned to their South American neighbors for refuge, concerns of safety from violence, displacement, and economic necessity drove some to make the United States their home. Relying on their connections to family, friends, or the mere presence of large Latina/o communities, most have found homes in California, Texas, Florida, and along the Eastern coast, including the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. While some newcomers have depended on family and kin for food, shelter, and employment opportunities, a host of nonprofits and foundations aimed to better their conditions and the services provided for Central and South Americans have increased since the 1980s. Given the health risks associated with trauma and their importance as a fundamental human right, medical services have been a priority for many. In the Washington, D.C., region, for example, Salvadoran immigrants and U.S. health advocates founded La Clinica del Pueblo as a free and affordable community health clinic for immigrants and refugees in 1983, and it remains a vital resource in Latina/o communities with support from numerous donors, including LULAC.8
With the continued growth in Latina/o populations in the United States, the efforts of Latina/o philanthropy have continued to progress and succeed on multiple levels. Notable figures such as Lin Manuel Miranda and José Andrés have captured public attention with their giving through the arts and food. Meanwhile, community foundations and national organizations such as Hispanics in Philanthropy remain integral to shaping the present and future of Latina/o philanthropy.
To this end, this project is collaborating with Latina/o communities in Washington, D.C., Florida, and Texas through community outreach and public programs to enrich museum collections and future exhibitions that center diverse forms of Latina/o giving. Reach us at email@example.com if you have stories of Latina/o philanthropy you would like to share.
This project received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
1 Allan Figueroa Deck and Lily Wagner, eds., “Hispanic Philanthropy: Exploring the Factors That Influence Giving and Asking,” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising (Oct. 1999); Jerry D. Marx and Vernon Brooks Carter, “Hispanic Charitable Giving: An Opportunity for Nonprofit Development,” Nonprofit Management and Leadership, vol. 19, no.2, (Winter 2008); “Four Strategies to Maximize Latinx-Focused Philanthropy and Charitable Efforts,” Urban Institute, October 14, 2019, accessed Oct. 16, 2019, https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/four-strategies-maximize-latinx-focused-philanthropy-and-charitable-efforts; A. Pole, E. Miller, F. Mottino and J. Gutíerrez, eds., Latino Philanthropy Literature Review, Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at CUNY (2003); see also website for Hispanics in Philanthropy, who have published various studies on this topic.
2 Amy P. Royce and Ricardo Rodriguez, “From Personal Charity to Organized Giving: Hispanic Institutions and Values of Stewardship and Philanthropy,” New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, no. 24, (Summer 2019), 9-29; Diana Campoamor, William A. Diaz, and Henry A.J, ed. Ramos, Nuevos Senderos: Reflections on Hispanics and Philanthropy (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1999); Latino Philanthropy Literature Review, 2003,
3 Cynthia Orozco, No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009); Jesse Esparza and Laura Oviedo, “Latina/os and World War II,” 50 Events That Shaped Latino History (ABC-CLIO, 2018); Vicki Ruiz, From out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in the Twentieth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Vicki L. Ruiz and John R. Chavez, Memories and Migrations: Mapping Boricua and Chicana Histories (Chicago: The University of Illinois, 2008);
4 Benjamin Marquez, LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993); Carlos Blanton, George I. Sanchez and the Long Fight for Mexican American Integration, 2014; David G. Gutiérrez, Walls And Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Mario T. Garcia, Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, & Identity, 1930 – 1960 ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
5 Voces Oral History Project Archive, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.; Carl Allsup, The American GI Forum: Origins and Evolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982); Henry Ramos, The American GI Forum: In Pursuit of the Dream, 1948-1983 (Houston: Arté Publico Press, 1998).
6 Exiles in America: Cuban Pedro Pans and Balseros, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution; Jorge Duany, “Cuban Communities in the United States: Migration Waves, Settlement Patterns, and Socioeconomic Diversity,” in Pouvoirs dans la Caraibe, Vol. 11, January 1999; “History: The Cuban Children's Exodus," www.pedropan.org. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
7 Sarah Mc Namara, From Picket Lines to Picket Fences: Latinas and the Remaking of the Jim Crow South, 1930-1964 (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 2016), dissertation, https://doi.org/10.17615/awhg-cb93; Virginia Sánchez Korrol, From Colonia to Community: The History of Puerto Ricans in New York City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994); World Bank and Pew Research Center, Patricia Sinay, September 9, 2015; Milagros Ricourt, “Patterns of Dominican Demography and Community Development in New York City,” Latino Studies Journal 9, no. 3, Fall 1998, 11-38; Saskia Sassen-Koob, “Formal and Informal Associations: Dominicans and Colombians in New York.” International Migration Review 13, Summer 1979, 314-332.
8 “Central American Migration: Root Causes and U.S. Policy,” June 13, 2019, Congressional Research Service; “Central American Immigrants in the United States, August 15, 2019, Migration Policy Institute.