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In 1847, Holland, Michigan was founded by A.C. Van Raalte, the leader and pastor of a group of Dutch immigrants fleeing religious persecution in the Netherlands. Holland has always been proud of its Dutch roots, highlighted through the city’s architecture, language, festivities, and of course its name. However, Holland is home to a diverse population that it fails to reflect in these traditions. The Latinx community makes up a significant portion of this diverse population.

Starting in the mid to late 1800s, sugar beet farmers in Holland and in the Midwest began to hire migrant farm workers from European nations. After working in the United States for a while, these workers typically experienced quick and easy upward social and economic mobility. When the Immigration Act of 1917 prohibited a large number of  European immigrants from entering the United States, growers turned to the help of Latinx migrant workers to fill the positions left vacant. [1] In 1923, the Holland City News reported that “three carloads of Mexicans” came to Holland as migrant laborers. [2] Since this time, Holland has experienced several waves of immigration and deportation, along with the rest of the nation, and has developed its unique Latinx history.

Many of these Latinx immigrants found Holland to be a safe and peaceful town. Nonetheless, covert racial tensions were, and still are, prevalent in the community. Immigrants have continued to face discrimination in applying for jobs and housing, among other issues. In other instances, racial incidents in Holland have been more apparent, as Anglo members of the community have threatened their Latinx neighbors simply because of the color of their skin or their last name. [3]

In 1929, the stock market crashed, beginning the Great Depression. With a decrease in job availability, the anglo citizens in the United States grew fearful of job competition from Latinx immigrants. Because of this, discrimination and deportation reached a new all-time high. Officials began deporting not only undocumented immigrants, but also documented immigrants and citizens of Latinx descent. [4]

In August 1942, a little more than a decade later, the United States and Mexican governments signed the bilateral agreement known as the Bracero Program into act. The program was meant to provide the U.S. agricultural and railroad industries with Mexican workers due to labor shortages from the war. Although this was intended to be a short-term emergency program, the Bracero Program lasted until 1964, 22 years later, bringing millions of migrant workers to the United States under short-term labor contracts.

Although the program included provisions requiring humane treatment, recruitment, transportation, housing, food, as well as provisions prohibiting discrimination and strictly regulating wages, growers often exploited their workers. Many laborers were uneducated, leaving them unaware of their rights or without the ability to safely and effectively communicate problems without risking their jobs. Growers would take advantage of this, failing to meet the provision requirements laid out in the agreement.

By 1947, it was reported that there were 96 migrant workers employed at the Heinz pickle-manufacturing factory, making it clear that Latinx workers had begun to settle permanently into the Holland area. [5] As Holland’s Latinx population continued to grow during and after the Bracero Program, churches in the area began establishing missionary outreach programs and evangelistic services to target the migrant population. With the Latinx population in Holland continuing to grow, there was a need for a civil rights organization to lead the community. Many small advocacy groups formed in the mid-1900s. In 1971, several of these Latinx advocacy groups in Holland united to create Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP). [6] This organization continues to have a large impact on the Latinx community of Holland today.

A year after the formation of LAUP, in 1972, the Holland City Chamber of Commerce published the annual Holland city guide brochure. However, this year’s brochure stirred up some controversy. Although the Latinx community had been a permanent part of the Holland community for decades and made up a significant percentage of the population, the brochure failed to mention any part of the Latinx community, while praising Dutch immigrants for their immigration to and founding of Holland.Important leaders in the Latinx community addressed this issue with the Holland City Chamber of Commerce, but the Chamber refused to do anything because the brochures were already printed. After Latinx community members threatened to picket Tulip Time, Holland’s coveted Dutch festival, the Chamber agreed to add an insert to the brochure about the Latinx community of Holland. [7]

Throughout the late 1900s, discrimination continued to be a prevalent issue in Holland. In 1974, protesters around the country, led by Cesar Chavez, began picketing big-name grocery stores, encouraging customers to boycott non-United Farm Workers Union (UFW) certified foods, specifically grapes. Locally, members of the Latinx community, as well as many students and faculty from Hope College, began picketing Meijer grocery stores. However, protestors endured vicious comments by anglo members of the Holland community, as recounted by Alfredo Gonzales, Dean Emeritus & Former Associate Provost at Hope College. “And so we were expressing ourselves through a peaceful demonstration in front of the store,” recalled Gonzales in a 1990 interview, “[a]nd people would call you ‘communists,’[and yell] ‘go back where you came from’ or ‘get a job.’” [8]

Discrimination has continued into the 21st century, and is still something that many Latinx community members continue to face in Holland today. It is estimated that the Latinx community makes up around 24% [9] of the Holland population, and number that is both continuously growing and fails to accurately account for the whole Latinx population due to under-reporting and flawed census strategies. Holland now has a variety of organizations, programs, and events that have helped Latinx people succeed in the community. However, Holland still has a significant amount of progress to be made in terms of inclusion and representation of their Latinx neighbors.

Sources:

1 “Latinos in the Rural Midwest: The Twentieth-Century Historical Context Leading to Contemporary Challenges.” Apple Pie & Enchiladas, by Ann V. Millard et al., University of Texas Press, 2004.
2 “Holland Factory Helped By Mexican Revolution: Mr. Mc Lean of Holland gives interview to Detroit News,” Holland City News, January 10, 1924.
3 Interviews with Joseph O’Grady Joint Archives Oral History Project: Members of the Hispanic Community (1990) Joint Archives of Holland, Michigan at Hope College.
4 “Latinos in the Rural Midwest: The Twentieth-Century Historical Context Leading to Contemporary Challenges.” Apple Pie & Enchiladas, by Ann V. Millard et al., University of Texas Press, 2004.
5 “Exchangites Hear Talk on Migrants,” Holland City News,March 27, 1947.
6 Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP), Joint Archives of Holland, Michigan at Hope College, (Collection HO2-1456).
7 Interviews with Joseph O’Grady Joint Archives Oral History Project: Members of the Hispanic Community (1990) Joint Archives of Holland, Michigan at Hope College.
8 Gonzales, Alfredo. Interview with Joseph O’Grady Joint Archives Oral History Project: Members of the Hispanic Community (1990) Joint Archives of Holland, Michigan at Hope College.
9 “2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.” United States Census Bureau, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF, the 24% is based off of the 2017 estimate.

Post Author: Maggie Houseman

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