Early Migration to Iowa


Latino immigration to Iowa is not new. It started as early as the 1840s, even before Iowa had become a state. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, over one million Mexicans (ten percent of Mexico's total population) migrated to the United States. Of these, 100,000 settled in the Midwest.  Like earlier generations of European immigrants and subsequent generations of Latino immigrants, they came for employment opportunities and the hope of better lives for themselves and their families. Often their migration involved temporary journeys, accompanied by frequent return migration. Such fluid migration patterns represented the norm for significant numbers of twentieth century migrants, especially before restrictive immigration legislation closed borders.

By the 1920s, over 2,500 Mexicans had settled in Iowa.  In the ensuing decades, Iowa's Latino population continued to grow. Between 2000 and 2010, Iowa's Latino population doubled to 152,317, five percent of the total population of Iowa (3,046,355). By 2010, West Liberty had become the first majority-minority town in Iowa with Latinos making up over half of its population. Yet few people realize that this recent development builds on a long tradition of Latino migration to Iowa. The following pages use documents preserved in the Iowa Women's Archives, supplemented by census data, to provide insight into this early period of Latino migration to Iowa.