Arizona has always been an important destination for Mexican immigrants to the United States. With its large population of American-born Hispanics, the state offers a cultural atmosphere familiar to Latin American immigrants. However, because of the large number of undocumented immigrants in the state, Latin American immigrants often encounter problems of acceptance by the general population. Although Arizona has always attracted more Hispanic immigrants than those from any other group, immigrants from both Europe and Asia have also come to the state seeking work and opportunities to improve their lives since the late nineteenth century. The state’s ethnic mix includes immigrants came from China, Japan, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Russia. Many of these immigrants reached Arizona after having already settled in other states. Many set out for Arizona after Arizona’s copper mines opened and the Southern Pacific Railroad started construction. With the completion of the railroad in 1876, copper mining became a commercial enterprise and increased the number of immigrants coming from east of the Mississippi River.
Profile of ArizonaSource:
U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract for 2006. Notes:
The U.S. population in 2006 was 299,399,000, of whom 37,548,000 (12.5%) were foreign born. Rankings in last column reflect total numbers, not percentages.
During the 1860’s, Arizona’s Chinese immigrants tended to remain in isolated communities, as they had in California. Many of them located in the Prescott area. Most had no intention of staying in Arizona, as they hoped to return to China after amassing their fortunes. Other Chinese arrived in Arizona as contract laborers to help build the Central Pacific Railroad. However, the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 between China and the United States changed things by giving Chinese immigrants a legal right to remain permanently in the United States and its territories. Consequently, even more Chinese immigrated to Arizona and other western states during the 1870’s. The large increase in the number of Chinese prompted an anti- Chinese sentiment throughout the country that resulted in the passage in 1882 of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The new legislation severely restricted the lives of Chinese immigrants in Arizona as it did throughout the rest of the country, and the restrictions remained in force until 1943. Nevertheless, the Chinese made major contributions to Arizona with their work as miners and railroad laborers, as both the mines and the railroad were of primary importance to the economic development of the state.
Most Japanese who immigrated to Arizona settled in the southern part of the state, where they established farms. In later years, many of them moved to Phoenix. By the early twenty-first century, approximately twenty thousand Japanese Americans were living in Arizona.
The major immigrant population in Arizona, however, is Mexican. Sharing a border with Mexico and offering better opportunities for work than Mexico can provide, Arizona experiences a continuous flow of Mexican immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Many of these immigrants settle in the southern and central areas of Arizona. The counties of Santa Cruz and Yuma have especially large populations of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. In 2006, Arizona was home to the fourth-highest number of Mexican immigrants in the United States.
Shawncey WebbFurther Reading
Gutiérrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Good account of the ongoing immigration from Mexico.
Rodríguez, Havidán, Rogelio Sáenz, and Cecilia Menjivar. Latinas/os in the United States: Changing the Face of America. New York: Springer, 2008.Emphasizes diversity in Latino communities and assesses its effects.
Sheridan, Thomas E. Arizona: A History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995. Well-researched and comprehensive treatment of Arizona’s full history.
Telles, Edward, and Vilma Ortiz. Generations of Exclusion: Mexican Americans, Assimilation and Race. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008. Good investigation of four decades of the Mexican American experience.
See also: California; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese immigrants; Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996; Japanese immigrants; Mexican immigrants; New Mexico; Railroads; Texas.