Primary Source Documents

Latinos and Labor Rights in Oregon

By The OE Staff

Subjects: Labor, Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality


Latinos in Oregon

The arrival of Latinos in Oregon began with Spanish explorations in the sixteenth century. In 1542-1543, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sailing from the port of Navidad in Mexico, reached what is today the California-Oregon state line. Explorations by Spaniards continued with Sebastián Vizcaíno’s arrival on the Oregon Coast in 1602-1603. One of Vizcaíno's commanders, Martín de Aguilar, kept a log that contains one of the first written descriptions of the Oregon Coast. Vizcaíno set out from Mexico in 1602 in search of usable harbors and the mythical city of Quivira. While exploring along the northern California coast, a storm separated Vizcaíno and Aguilar's ships. Aguilar continued up the coast and is thought to have sighted and named Cape Blanco. He may have sailed as far north as Coos Bay. In 1774, Juan Perez reached the Oregon Coast to become the first European to describe Yaquina Head and make landfall in the present-day Oregon.

The late eighteenth-century Spanish explorations of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest were generally more concerned with territorial rights and Spain’s dominion in the region than treasure or commerce. They came to Oregon as part of a conquering and imperialistic empire. Mexican independence in the early nineteenth century brought a new phase for the Latino presence in Oregon. Read the entire essay by Jerry Garcia here.

Content Standards

  • 8.10 Explain specific roles and responsibilities of citizens (such as voters, jurors, taxpayers, members of the armed forces, petitioners, protesters, and office-holders).
  • 8.27 Determine and explain the importance and contributions (products, events, actions, and ideas) of key people, cultures, ethnic groups(including individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian or Americans of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, or Middle Eastern descent), religious groups, and other traditionally marginalized groups (women, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) in Oregon, the United States, and the world.
  • 8.28 Identify issues related to historical events to recognize power, authority, and governance as it relates to systemic oppression and its impact on ethnic and religious groups, as well as other historically persecuted individuals in the United States in the modern era (bias, injustice, discrimination, and stereotypes).
  • 8.29 Use and interpret relevant primary and secondary sources pertaining to U.S. History from multiple perspectives.
  • HS.55 Analyze the complexity of the interaction of multiple perspectives to investigate causes and effects of significant events in the development of world, U.S., and Oregon history.
  • HS.58 Examine and evaluate the origins of fundamental political debates and how conflict, compromise, and cooperation have shaped unity and diversity in world, U.S., and Oregon history.
  • HS.59 Analyze ideas critical to the development of social, labor, and political movements in history
  • HS.61 Analyze and explain persistent historical, social and political issues, conflicts and compromises in regards to power, inequality and justice and their connections to current events and movements.
  • HS.63 Identify and analyze ethnic groups (including individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian or Americans of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, or Middle Eastern descent), religious groups, and other traditionally marginalized groups (women, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender), their relevant historic and current contributions to Oregon the United States, and the world.
  • HS.65 Identify and analyze the nature of systemic oppression on ethnic and religious groups, as well as other traditionally marginalized groups, in the pursuit of justice and equality in Oregon, the United States and the world.
  • HS.66 Examine and analyze the multiple perspectives and contributions of ethnic and religious groups, as well as traditionally marginalized groups within a dominant society and how different values and views shape Oregon, the United States, and the world.
  • HS.68 Select and analyze historical information, including contradictory evidence, from a variety of primary and secondary sources to support or reject a claim.
  • HS.69 Create and defend a historical argument utilizing primary and secondary sources as evidence.

Additional Sources

Oregon Encyclopedia Entries

"Bracero Program," by Jerry Garcia

"Eva Castellanoz," by Joanee Mulcahy

"Centro Cultural de Washington County," by Luke Sprunger

"Charreria," by Antonio Huerta

"Colegio Cesar Chavez," by Ana Knutson and Tania Hyatt-Evenson

"Milagro Theatre," by Natalia Fernandez

"Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN)," by David Woken

"Valley Migrant League," by Kathy Tucker

"Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center," by Luke Sprunger

Books and Articles

Gamboa, Erasmo and Carolyn M. Baun, ed. Nosotros: The Hispanic People of Oregon. Portland, Ore.: The Oregon Council for the Humanities, 1995.

Gonzales-Berry, Erlinda V. and Marcela Mendoza. Mexicanos in Oregon: Their Stories, Their Lives. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2010.

Sprunger, Luke. ‘”This is where we want to stay”: Tejanos and Latino Community Building in Washington County.’ Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 116, no.3 (Fall, 2015): 278-309. Download a free PDF of this article here

Stephen, Lynn. “Guatemalan Immigration to Oregon: Indigenous Transborder Communities.” Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 188, no. 4 (Winter, 2017): 554-583. Download a free PDF of this article here

Online Exhibits and Collections

Braceros in Oregon Photograph Collection. Oregon Digital.

Mexican Americans in the Columbia River Basin. Washington State University Libraries Digital Collections.

Valley Migrant League photographs collection. Oregon Historical Society Research Library Digital Collections

Related Lesson Plans

Hispanic and Latino Heritage and History in the United States. Edsitement! The Best of the Humanities on the Web.

Latino Americans. PBS.

Latinos in Oregon. Open Educational Resources

Lesson of the Day: ‘Remembering the Lives of Influential Latinos’. The New York Times Lesson Plan.

OPB Oregon Experience Documentaries

The Braceros


The OE Staff. Latinos and Labor Rights in Oregon. 2023. Retrieved from The Oregon Encyclopedia, (Accessed June 20, 2024.)

Teacher Guide

Lesson Preparation

Print out this Teacher Guide here.

Have students read The OE essay, Latinos in Oregon and The OE entry Bracero Program.

After reading about Latinos in Oregon and the Bracero Program and examining the photos and documents included in this primary source packet, have your students answer the following questions.

  1. What jobs were available to Mexican workers during World War II and why were they available? What happened to those jobs after the war?

  2. View the Braceros in Oregon Photograph Collection on the Oregon Digital website to see some more examples of camp conditions. What were working and living conditions like in the migrant farm labor camps? How do these photos depict daily life in labor camps? From whose perspective are these photos taken?

  3. Read The OE entry on the Valley Migrant League and view document #3 Women & Children outside Farm Labor Camp, c. 1967 and Valley Migrant League photographs. How did federal and local private programs and groups assist Latinos with health, education, and working conditions in Oregon?

  4. Examine document #4 Noticias de oportunidad del VML/Opportunity News and read The OE entry Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste. How did Latinos organize to fight for fair labor contracts and working conditions in Oregon?

  5. Examine documents #5 (Note for document #5. A pdf transcript of the oral history is available when you click on the "View Source" button). #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 and read the OE entry on the Milagro Theatre. What are some ways Latinos built community and shared their culture in Oregon?

  6. How did the Bracero Program during WWII become a turning point for Mexican-American labor in Oregon? How did the program change the economy and affect U.S. participation in the war? How did the program influence Latino culture in Oregon?

  7. How are topics of immigration and labor in the United States discussed today? Do you see similarities across time in the way politicians talk about immigration and labor? Search through your local newspapers to see what issues and policies are most prominent. How do these discussions and policies affect your local community?