The Spanish were the first European country to colonize the Americas. In the region constituting the present day United States of America, the first European colony was that of St. Augustine in present day state of Florida formed in 1565 (Gutiérrez).
One historic incident that contributed greatly to an increase in the number of Hispanics in the United States is the end of the Mexican American War that occurred with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Following the concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’ the United States forced a defeated Mexico to cede to them the territories of the present days states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas along with parts of present day Colorado, Nevada and Utah. The signing of the treaty brought instantly made than 50,000 citizens of Mexico, citizens of the United States (Gutiérrez).
In the Californian society prior to conquest by the United States there was a great racial and class-based stratification. At the top of the class structure were the Californians of pure Iberian (European Spanish) ancestry. They were called the Californios. Below the Californios were people of mixed Spanish and Native American or African descent, they formed merchant and the artisan class or worked as overseers on ranches owned by the Californios. They were called the Pobladores or Mexicanos. At the bottom of the class hierarchy were the Native Americans that lived in Spanish missions (Haney-López).
Even prior to the conquest by the United States, many Anglos began settling in California. The Anglos being primarily rich traders, formed alliances with and intermarried with the upper class Californios (Haney-López).
With the signing of the treaty all these Hispanic people were instantly converted from being members of the majority community of Mexico to being members of a despised minority of the United States (Gutiérrez, 1995).
This transformation was especially dramatic in the case of the Californios who formerly considered themselves and upper class Anglos as people of the same status both being of European ancestry and were now relegated to the lower class as ‘Mexicans’ by the Anglo majority. Rapid changes in demography caused them to lose their political power and their control over the land and its resources as well (Gutiérrez).
There were changes in the lives of the lower classes as well; they were exposed to competition in cheap labor from the varied minority peoples of the United States (Haney-López).
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