MADERA, Calif. (AP) — Hilario Santiago Vasquez came to California during a surge of 1980s immigration to follow the crops from the Central Valley to Oregon to Florida. Along the way, he picked grapes, blueberries and oranges.
"I slept under the bridge, covering myself with a newspaper, because there was no housing to rent for farmworkers," he said.
Santiago Vasquez, one of millions who helped Hispanics become California's largest racial or ethnic group, no longer chases harvests.
Like many other Mexican farmworkers, he found permanent work. He now lives in Madera, a town north of Fresno where 80 percent of the 61,000 residents are Latino and the downtown is packed with Mexican restaurants and stores that sell cowboy boots and tortillas.
His story illustrates a reality for California Hispanics: With the immigrant boom ending long ago, they are older and more settled than elsewhere. As a result, they have relatively high rates of home ownership, rising incomes and are better educated.
"We're running 15 to 20 years ahead of the nation," said Dowell Myers, a demography and urban planning professor at the University of Southern California. "California has a large population of second-generation children who are now coming of age. The rest of the country doesn't have that."
As California joins New Mexico next year as the only other state where Latinos make up the largest racial or ethnic group, other regions of the country are seeing stronger growth. New Latino arrivals are reshaping the Midwest and South, just as they did California a generation ago.
Santiago Vasquez, 47, fled after Mexico's economy collapsed in 1982, at the same time Central Americans abandoned their homes as civil wars spread. He came to California in 1985 to work in the fields, following other migrants who were pushed north by poverty from villages in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
They poured into Los Angeles' Koreatown, San Francisco's Mission District and other urban enclaves, joining Hispanics who came to California in previous generations - some tracing their roots back to when the state was part of Mexico. The new arrivals told friends and family back home that jobs were waiting.
Rosa Lopez, 45, was one of them. She knew she wasn't cut out for hard labor on her family's Oaxacan ranch when she followed her cousin to San Diego 25 years ago. "Once I arrived here, I never thought about going back," said Lopez, who eventually got a green card through her husband and became an American citizen.
As defense jobs dwindled in the aftermath of the Cold War, however, and the 1990s recession hit harder than other states, new arrivals from Mexico and Central American increasingly shunned California for states where job prospects were better and housing was cheaper.
The number of people living in the country illegally tripled in Iowa from 2000 to 2010, nearly doubled in Ohio and surged 55 percent in North Carolina, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
"Once there's an immigrant beachhead, other people move in ... In the South, first people broke the ice and others followed," said Manuel Pastor, director of USC's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.
In California, the previous generation of Hispanic immigrants transformed communities, such as Madera. Latino farmworkers settled near downtown, as whites moved to suburban subdivisions.
Santiago Vasquez brought his wife and three daughters from Mexico in 2002, and rented an apartment in the downtown. He ended his annual tradition of picking blueberries in Oregon a few summers later and found a year-round job with a company that grows almonds and pistachios.
A lack of temporary housing in other states discouraged farmworkers like Santiago from chasing the harvests, said Philip Martin, professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis. Some farmworkers settled in states such as Oregon and Washington, meaning fewer migrants were needed.
Santiago Vasquez earns about $11,000 a year, a reminder that Latinos lag other groups on the income ladder. Latinos had a median household income of $44,401 in 2011 — well below the statewide median of $58,328. Many work in low-skilled jobs.
Lopez makes about $32,000 a year cleaning offices seven days a week in San Diego. Despite her financial struggles, she recently bought a three-bedroom condominium. Sixty percent of California Latinos who have been in the U.S. at least 30 years are homeowners, six points above the state average, according to USC's Myers.
"I wasn't thinking of buying, but then I can't be throwing my money into the trash," she said.
Lopez didn't finish high school in Mexico. Her children attend San Diego State University and community college. California's high school dropout rate among Hispanics is 16.2 percent in 2012 — compared to 13.2 percent overall — but the education gap is closing.
Marjorie Garcia, 36, worked three jobs to put herself through California State University, Northridge and now practices entertainment law in Los Angeles. It is a far cry from her childhood in a rough neighborhood of Los Angeles' Panorama City area, where her family rented a two-bedroom apartment.
Her father came to California from Mexico when he was 18 and her mother came from Guatemala when she was 15, and both stayed illegally. He worked as a Thai restaurant busboy and wait staff supervisor at the Los Angeles Country Club. She cleaned houses.
"I feel like I did what I was supposed to do," said Garcia, whose parents had only an elementary school education. "You're supposed to go to school and get educated."
Omar Martinez, the son of Mexican immigrants who grew up bilingual and bicultural in suburban Los Angeles, is an American success story. As a teenager, he listened more to Milli Vanilli than the Mexican music of his parents but came to appreciate his family's culture as he grew older.
Martinez still has family in Zacatecas state, and heads the Federation for Zacatecans in Southern California — a group that raises money for public works projects in the Mexican state. The organization was started by migrants to California years ago, and Martinez is the first American-born president of the group.
Now 42, he employs 50 people at Miravalle Foods in El Monte, which posted more than $7 million in revenues last year selling tamarind, curry, chiles and other Mexican cooking staples to supermarkets in California, Colorado and Utah. He is also raising four children to speak English and Spanish — and two of them are also learning Chinese.
"The other day they congratulated (my daughter) because she knows the numbers 1 to 100 in Chinese," he said in his office overlooking a pungent warehouse as workers slapped stickers on boxes. "We think that's going to be the future, right?"
Spagat reported from San Diego and Taxin reported from Duarte.
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña
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500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, compiled by Elizabeth Martinez
This compilation tells the story of Chicano history from before the European conquest of North America, through colonization and into the present day. The book describes the Southwest as "Occupied America" -- a term that Arizona conservatives often view as unjust and disparaging. Actor Edward James Olmos felt differently: "If young people read this book, they will be strong and proud in new ways," he said on the dust jacket to the 1990 edition. "It's a real education, in the true sense of that word."
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
This seminal work by Brazilian education professor Paulo Freire argued that students learn best when treated as equals and engaged on their own terms. Freire argues against the "banking model" of education, in which teachers treat students as passive recipients of knowledge. His work is studied by education specialists throughout the hemisphere. In a 2012 interview, <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/04/19/neither-banned-nor-allowed-mexican-american-studies-in-limbo-in-arizona/" target="_hplink">Arizona Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal </a> explained why he viewed the book as problematic: <blockquote>The title of Paulo Freire's book is 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed,' and so the question is, who is the oppressed? And as we looked at what was going on in the classroom and looked at what was in the materials, we saw they were putting together a Marxian model in the classroom in which the oppressed are the Hispanic students and the oppressors are the white Caucasian power structure. We came to the conclusion that it wasn't O.K. to be preaching that model in the classroom.</blockquote>
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow
A collection of essays, interviews, lesson plans and other materials, <em>Rethinking Columbus</em> aims to change the way students understand the first interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Europeans. One contributing author, <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/01/13/whos_afraid_of_the_tempest/" target="_hplink">Tucson's own Leslie Silko</a>, boasts a Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado
The academic field of <a href="http://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory/" target="_hplink">critical race theory challenges</a> traditional ways of looking at race and racism. The field's theoreticians argue that supposedly neutral concepts and institutions, like meritocracy or the legal system, mask systemic inequality and institutionalized racism. Richard Delgado's books is one of the discipline's classics. Some conservatives <a href="http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/03/11/What Is Critical Race Theory" target="_hplink">view critical race theory as "dangerous"</a> because some of its proponents view the Constitution and the fabric of American democracy as imbued with racism. During the course of several interviews in 2012, Julio Cammarota, a professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, "You can see the problem, can't you? One side doesn't want to talk about race, the other side wants to talk about race all the time."
Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings of Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez
The term "Aztlán" refers to the mythic homeland of the Nahua of Central Mexico. Intellectuals of the Chicano movement adopted the term to describe the southwestern United States. Mexican-American Studies teachers at Tucson Unified School District taught those concepts with books like this one, by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez, a writer and political activist who helped found the Chicano Movement in the 1960s.
Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales
This well-regarded study of the Chicano movement serves as a companion to the 1996 PBS documentary of the same name.