The Hispanic Struggle for Legal Protection, Past and Present

There is confusion among some in society of just how to define the the term "Hispanic." However, when it comes to the law, the courts are clear. Though consisting of various racial groups, Hispanics are an ethnicity protected by American civil rights laws that apply to minorities. Such was not always the case. Following is an explanation of how this legal understanding came about.

Hispanics in North America

For much of the nation's history, Hispanics were not a separate ethnic identity. Instead, sociologists classified those of Latin American descent under their perceived racial appearance. In other cases, people referred to Hispanics according to their family line's former national" heritage, such Puerto Rican, Mexican, or Dominican.

Things Begin to Change in 1954

Until the 1950s, courts, in general, adhered to this view of Hispanics either as members of one of the various racial groups or by a national heritage. A change began in 1954. Two weeks before issuing its monumental Brown vs. Board of Education decree, which ended the racial segregation of African-American school kids, the Supreme Court offered help for Mexican Americans. In Hernandez vs. Texas, the justices proclaimed that equal protection of the laws extended to Mexican Americans as a group. Nevertheless, most Hispanics, in general, remained outside the purview of this protection.

Chicano Movement Solidifies the Shift

A sociopolitical movement that began in East Los Angeles would further shift the conception of Hispanics. In the late 1960s, Mexican Americans, and others, began embracing a "Chicano" group identity that saw themselves outside the prevailing racial categories. They were, in this thinking, united as Hispanics and an ethnicity.

Federal Courts Extend Legal Protection to Hispanics

With Hispanic lawyers and activists applying pressure, the federal judges changed course and finally acknowledged the right to group relief from discrimination. In Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD (1970), "Hispanic" became a separate, discernible ethnicity when it came to the protection of rights. There was, and remains, a group interest based on common experiences.

The Struggle Continues for Many

Hispanic lawyers who understand this history continue to work to address the specific needs of this group. Society has witnessed much progress for all minorities. Yet there are still problems that these trial lawyers work to address. Here are some examples:

  • Language difficulties in school, court, or work

  • Economic class discrimination

  • Questions about immigration status

Anyone who believes they or a loved one suffers deprivation of rights because of a Latin American heritage, whether done purposefully or incidentally, should consider contacting a Hispanic attorney to discuss the situation.

Even in perhaps seemingly ethnic-neutral cases, such as slip and falls or car accidents, a personal injury lawyer who understands the unique needs and history of the Hispanic community can prove valuable as a legal adviser.

 

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