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Tierra y Libertad

Tierra y Libertad: Land, Liberty, and Latino Housing

Steven W. Bender
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Tierra y Libertad
    Book Description:

    One of the quintessential goals of the American Dream is to own land and a home, a place to raise one's family and prove one's prosperity. Particularly for immigrant families, home ownership is a way to assimilate into American culture and community. However, Latinos, who make up the country's largest minority population, have largely been unable to gain this level of inclusion. Instead, they are forced to cling to the fringes of property rights and ownership through overcrowded rentals, transitory living arrangements, and, at best, home acquisitions through subprime lenders.In Tierra y Libertad, Steven W. Bender traces the history of Latinos' struggle for adequate housing opportunities, from the nineteenth century to today's anti-immigrant policies and national mortgage crisis. Spanning southwest to northeast, rural to urban, Bender analyzes the legal hurdles that prevent better housing opportunities and offers ways to approach sweeping legal reform. Tierra y Libertad combines historical, cultural, legal, and personal perspectives to document the Latino community's ongoing struggle to make America home.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3913-6
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    ¡Tierra y Libertad!—land and liberty—was the slogan of the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s. With charismatic revolutionaries such as Emiliano Zapata at the helm, that epic struggle sought to reclaim vast agricultural lands in Mexico held by the government and elites and disburse them for individual and collective agrarian uses. Although hundreds of thousands of landless peasants gained the liberty of land ownership, reform was incomplete. Hunger for land continues in Mexico and Latin America today, under the banner carried most prominently by the Zapatista movement in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas.

    In the United States,...

  5. PART I Loss

    • 1 Loss and Lettuce: The César Chávez Legacy
      (pp. 13-16)

      The history of loss of land and housing by U.S. Latino/as stretches from the broadscale usurpation of ranch and farmland in the 1800s to the heartbreak of the subprime lending implosion in the early 2000s, which cost thousands of Latino/as their fledgling piece of the American dream. This survey of recurrent loss, however, begins at the midpoint of the Latino/a experience in the United States—with the Depression-era loss by César Chávez of his family homestead in southern Arizona.

      César Chávez (1927–1993), an inspirational union leader, is best remembered for his efforts centered in Delano, California, to organize the...

    • 2 Southwest Ranchos: Land Grants and Land Loss
      (pp. 17-28)

      In the present-day U.S. Southwest, Mexicans once held vast lands granted to them by the Spanish and later the Mexican government. The annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War together brought more than half of Mexico’s territory into U.S. control during the mid-nineteenth century, and within fifty years Mexican landholders lost most of their extensivetierrato Anglos. Although all or part of the Western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming once fell under Spanish and then Mexican control, the discussion below centers on California, New Mexico, and Texas. These states were...

    • 3 Fields of Dreams: Farm Worker Housing
      (pp. 29-36)

      Farm workers today face near-insurmountable challenges in attaining the American dream of comfortable housing and living as a reward for their hard work. Many are young, with little or no savings toward a down payment for purchasing a home, or even the security deposit and initial payment required for renting one in their own name. Dismal wages, stagnant for years, offer little hope for savings, and tend to lure Latino/a undocumented workers with scant bargaining leverage or organizing potential. A 1997–98 study found that half of all farm worker families earned less than $10,000 a year.¹ Migrant workers earned...

    • 4 Loss in the Tortilla Flats
      (pp. 37-44)

      The Salinas Valley in northern California’s Monterey County is the top vegetable-producing region in the United States, earning the city of Salinas the nickname “Salad Bowl of the World.” Salinas holds another distinction: in 2005 theNew York Timeslabeled it the least affordable place in the country to live.² Using as a measuring rod the percentage of household income devoted to mortgage payments, California that year was home to the nation’s eleven least affordable metropolitan areas, with Santa Cruz–Watsonville coming in second to Salinas. The Pajaro Valley produces 90 percent of Santa Cruz County’s agricultural income, and together...

    • 5 Lenders and Loss: The Destructive Legacy of Subprime Mortgages in Latino/a Communities
      (pp. 45-56)

      Extending over 150 years, the history of loss for Latino/as in the United States is mostly a forgotten or ignored tragedy. Although land loss in the 1800s has long defined the inequality of Latino/as in the historical record, the current subprime crisis may rewrite that history given the far greater numbers affected. Just as the losses of the nineteenth century doomed Latino/as to inequality in housing markets and beyond, the current foreclosure crisis may consign them to another century of separation from the American dream.

      Mortgage lenders are a vital part of the homeownership equation, and almost three-quarters (71.6 percent)...

  6. PART II Exclusion

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 57-58)

      The 1800s were marked by tactics that separated Latino/as from their land in the United States. By contrast, as the country shifted from scattered rural to dense urban and suburban living, the 1900s were characterized by strategies to exclude Latino/as from residing near Anglo homeowners. In the 2000s, undocumented immigrants have become the prime target of exclusionary tactics that encompass housing, both owned and rented.

      The various tools used to exclude Latino/as from housing encompass private as well as government strategies. Private tools range from efforts by ranchers and vigilante groups along the U.S./Mexico border to exclude immigrants from transitory...

    • 6 Exclusion of Undocumented Immigrants
      (pp. 59-72)

      Undocumented immigrants, primarily those from Mexico, are the new targets of exclusionary tactics that stretch north from desolate borderlands to cities across the United States. Most of these tactics aim broadly beyond housing to discourage undocumented immigrants from entering the United States or, once here, to hasten their departure from the territory of the American dream.

      Courts have long protected the possessory rights of landowners against unauthorized entry onto their property under the English doctrine known as trespass. Not limited to enclosed structures such as houses, trespass protects barren Southwest ranchland just as it does lush gated subdivisions. As one...

    • 7 Exclusion by Public Law: Zoning Laws
      (pp. 73-84)

      As examined in chapter 6, cities such as Hazelton, Pennsylvania, have attacked undocumented immigrants explicitly by outlawing their rental of living space. The Hazelton ordinance denies housing to undocumented immigrants by demanding that renters present proof of legal citizenship or residency in order to obtain occupancy permits. Zoning and building codes are another weapon local governments have turned against Latino/a immigrants and Latino/as generally. Though they appear neutral on the surface, such laws can reach beyond undocumented immigrants to target the living arrangements of impoverished Latino/as regardless of their immigrant or citizenship status. Historically, zoning laws have played a role...

    • 8 Exclusion by Private Law: Restrictive Covenants
      (pp. 85-94)

      In the first half of the twentieth century, private landowner covenants played a direct role in ensuring neighborhood segregation between Anglos and “undesirables” such as African Americans and Latino/as. Following the Supreme Court’s 1917 invalidation of explicitly racial zoning laws, discussed in chapter 7, property developers and neighbors turned to private landowner covenants presumably immune from the same constitutional attack. When the Supreme Court nonetheless deemed judicial enforcement of the blatant variety of these covenants as unconstitutional in 1948, landowners resorted to other techniques to foster segregation, such as tacit unwritten agreements to discriminate among sellers, lenders, and brokers. Today,...

  7. PART III Geographic Examples of Loss and Exclusion

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 95-96)

      Latino/as in the United States are a diverse group that encompasses immigrants or native-born residents with roots in many Central or South American countries. The focus below is on the geographies of the three subgroups that have dominated the discourse on Latino/as—residents of Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican background. Fittingly, this section examines the housing landscape in the urban epicenters of these three subgroups—respectively, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City. With the addition of Chicago, some 28.6 percent of U.S. Latino/as live in these four metropolitan areas. For example, about half of the U.S. Cuban population lives...

    • 9 Born in East L.A.: The Legacy of Loss and Exclusion in Southern California
      (pp. 97-106)

      My mother’s childhood home in East Los Angeles was tiny and humble. Purchased for about $500 in cash in the early 1930s, it was home to my mother and her four siblings for some twenty years. My grandparents, both immigrants from Mexico, shared a small bedroom, and my mother shared the second petite bedroom with her sister. Her two brothers slept on a davenport couch in the living room. A third newborn brother slept in my grandparents’ room. When relatives with children came to stay, my mother remembers sleeping sideways on her bed to accommodate more sleepers. Los Angeles winters...

    • 10 Little Havana
      (pp. 107-112)

      As reported by the 2000 Census, Cuban Americans constitute about 4 percent of the U.S. Latino/a population. Prompted by geography and other factors, the Miami metropolitan area is the hub of this population and is known more broadly as the de facto capital of Latin America. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Miami’s population in 2005 as 361,701, with about two-thirds (243,874) of its residents Latino/a. Miami’s metropolitan area population is similarly composed—with Latino/as constituting about 1.3 million (57 percent) of the 2.2 million residents. About half of Miami’s Latino/a residents are Cuban American. The rest of its Latino/a population...

    • 11 Spanish Harlem
      (pp. 113-118)

      Officially a territory of the United States, the Puerto Rican islands are regarded by many scholars as a colony given their lack of legal and political sovereignty.¹ Following the seizure of Puerto Rico by the United States in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917 under the Jones Act. As citizens, Puerto Ricans are free to travel and reside anywhere in the United States without regard to immigration procedures and limits. Initially, few Puerto Ricans came to the mainland United States, but with the advent of affordable air travel (with flights in the late 1940s...

  8. PART IV Reclamation and Reform

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 119-120)

      Blending efforts to reclaim or recover compensation for lost land, to ensure adequate and affordable rental housing, and to boost homeownership, the final chapters chart strategies new and old in the pursuit of Tierra y Libertad. These strategies avoid relying on judicial relief and instead point primarily to legislative measures, such as passage of comprehensive immigration reform, as well as laws to create jobs, finance education and affordable housing initiatives, and ensure consumer education. At bottom, most of these measures will hinge on what Latino/as have failed to galvanize over the years—political prowess. Even dramatic expressions of Latino/a political...

    • 12 Tierra y Libertad: Reclaiming Individual and Collective Space
      (pp. 121-140)

      In the less than two hundred years since they owned huge rancho properties in the Southwest, Latino/as find themselves relatively landless. Although the dispossession of Latino/as might be seen as egalitarian because lands were disbursed to smaller landholders, U.S. corporate interests and wealthy Anglos eventually commandeered huge stakes in land, to the exclusion of such groups as Latino/a newcomers and family farmers. The federal government stands out as the nation’s largest landowner, controlling nearly one-third of U.S. land.¹ Industries such as oil companies and agri-giants own massive land interests. The paper industry owns a significant chunk of the state of...

    • 13 Policy Considerations in Formulating Housing Reform
      (pp. 141-154)

      Before articulating strategies for housing and land reform, we must confront several policy questions that may temper or shape reform. Foremost is the question some critics may pose of whether Latino/as are deserving of special attention in the housing markets. Raising this concern, one set of commentators otherwise urging expanded housing opportunities for new Californians argued against “special programs just for Latinos,” characterizing any such efforts as “divisive and discriminatory.”¹ The answer to this initial policy question resonates with history, human rights, and interest convergence.

      As detailed above, Latino/as have a far lower rate of homeownership than Anglos. Moreover, whether...

    • 14 Lowering the Cost of Housing and Credit
      (pp. 155-174)

      Reducing the cost of housing is a delicate balancing act. Because existing homeowners depend on appreciation for wealth creation, reform initiatives to reduce cost might harm that expectation. The suggestions in this chapter generally concentrate on reducing the cost of financing in purchase transactions, as well as protecting Latino/a renters and purchasers from discrimination and misinformation that might cause them to overpay for housing in the marketplace. Rather than marketplace price controls, most involve government-sponsored or -goaded programs to increase the stock of affordable housing and to augment tax incentives for first-time homebuyers.

      Whether as homeowners or as renters, Latino/as...

    • 15 Equity for Latino/as and the Poor
      (pp. 175-188)

      Speakers from savants to comedians have quipped that the real problem with poor people is they don’t have enough money. Although discrimination at both the individual and the institutional level constrains housing opportunity, as does lack of consumer education and impediments such as language barriers, the overarching problem among Latino/as in the housing market is their lack of income. Dismal homeownership statistics, higher costs of home finance in the mortgage markets, overcrowded housing, and dilapidated dwellings all stem from inadequate income to sustain decent housing. Moreover, as discussed in chapter 14, many Latino/a households are severely cost burdened in the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 189-192)

    Co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Arizona Senator John McCain, the Cesar Estrada Chavez Study Act passed in 2008 as part of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act. That act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to undertake a resource study of sites in Arizona, California, and elsewhere to determine appropriate methods to preserve them and whether any should be designated as historic landmarks. Among the sites to be studied is the Chávez family homestead in Arizona, lost in the 1930s to the financial pressures addressed in chapter 1. Some of the potentially historic sites have already been leveled by progress...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 193-238)
  11. Index
    (pp. 239-242)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 243-243)