New book chronicles 100 years of Indiana Latino history

December 14 – A new book published by the Indiana Historical Society looks at the contributions of Indiana’s Latino population over the past century.

Hoosier Latinos: A Century of Struggle, Service, and Success was written by Daniel Gonzales and Nicole Martinez-LeGrand. It was created as part of a research project called the Latino History Project.

The project was sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society and funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment after the Historical Society recognized a knowledge gap regarding the Latino and Asian experience in Indiana.

Martinez-LeGrand traveled the state interviewing people in Latino communities.

In 2018 there was an exhibition at the Historical Society. In 2019 further funds were added to create a traveling and online exhibition and also to write the book.

Martinez-LeGrand said Latinos began appearing in U.S. census records in the late 19th century, and real growth began in 1918 when the U.S. government approved 30,000 Latinos to come to the country to help fill the labor shortage caused by World War I to fill.

“We focus on a lot of the laws and events and policies that shaped these communities and brought them to the Midwest,” Martinez-LeGrand says at the beginning of the books. “Indiana had the Mexican Consulate from 1907 to 1927 with General Russell B. Harrison, who was the First Vice Councilor of Mexico here in Indianapolis.”

Martinez-LeGrand said there are three words to think about when it comes to immigration: push, pull and stick.

“They think about what drives people out of their countries, what draws them to Indiana, and what elements keep them there—that could be business, organization, family, education, etc.,” she said.

During her travels across the state, families shared their photo albums with Martinez-LeGrand and she was able to select images to create the exhibit and use later in the book. She said all of the paintings came from personal collections and had never been exhibited before. The images helped her understand how close-knit Indiana’s Spanish communities were, and still are.

“I think the most interesting part was seeing some of my own family members in other people’s photos,” she said.

Unfortunately, Martinez-LeGrand never made it to Cass County during her initial research, but she said this is an ongoing project and she hopes to eventually speak to the local Latino community.

“This (project) is just meant to help lay a foundation and let people know that we’ve been here for a century,” she said.

A book about Hoosier Asians entitled “Asian Voices” will be available shortly from the Indiana Historical Society. Martinez-LeGrand said she had stories about Cass County Asians in the book, referring to an 18th-century court case between two washermen that would catch the attention of Moy Kee, who would become known as the Chinese mayor of Indianapolis would.

Martinez-LeGrand hoped that “Hoosier Latinos” would allow the Indiana Latino community to ground themselves in Indiana and see themselves in history.

“Latinos in Indiana were homogenized and politicized because people thought we were newcomers,” she said. “So this book is a testament to the fact that we’ve been here for a century, contributing to Indiana’s democratic society.”

The online exhibition can be found at

The book can be ordered at

An educational guide is currently being developed and will be available to teachers free of charge.

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