Transient Pasts: Theorizing the History of Latinos/as in the Midwest

While Latinos/as are regularly visible in contemporary public discourse as recent arrivals, unauthorized immigrants, and interlopers in the United States, the roots of Spanish-indigenous-African descended people on the continent date back five centuries. Even in the Midwest, where many Americans perceive Latinos/as as “newcomers,” there are faint traces of their presence on the landscape. This presentation explores one framework for articulating and documenting the history of Latinos/as in the Midwest. I urge Latino/a Studies scholars to interrogate the material past more deeply in order to assert Latino/a claims of historical belonging. Beyond just the discursive, the imagined, or the rhetorical, Latinos/as have contributed productive and reproductive labor in shaping the Midwest, whether through working the land, extracting or nurturing its resources, engaging in other economic activity, or sustaining the social fabric of the region. Highlighting that part of the Latino/a Midwestern past which has been “transient,” temporary, or ephemeral reminds us that those populations have a longstanding presence that is worth excavating in the archives and chronicling for the present and the future.

Lilia Fernández
Henry Rutgers Term Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and Department of History at Rutgers University