In Kentucky the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s were almost entirely a black-white issue. About the only Latino role in the struggle occurred in 1956, when a group of Cuban investors bought the Louisville Colonels, a minor league baseball team. The new owners fielded a team of black and white ballplayers and simultaneously tried to integrate the seating for fans in the Colonelsâ€™ stadium. This gambit outraged many local whites and proved financially disastrous for the investors.
Everything changed in the late 1980s, when Mexican migrants began heading to states far from the Mexican border, including Georgia, New York, and Kentucky. For Kentucky, this trend increased dramatically in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially in the Lexington and Louisville areas, the two major metropolitan areas in the state. In the 1990s single male Latino migrants the large majority from Mexico (especially from the states of Durango, Michoacan, and Veracruz, and more recently, Oaxaca), and many also from Central America increased their presence, working in tobacco farming, horse farms, and light industry. This influx of Latinos, many of whom came up the interstate highways in long haul trucks before transferring to smaller vehicles in Tennessee and Missouri, changed the labor demographics of Kentucky. Most notably, by 2002 80 percent of the workers on the famous horse farms in the Bluegrass area were Latinos.2
The Tobacco Transition Payment program (federal tobacco â€œbuyoutâ€) in 2005 could have reduced the stateâ€™s Latino population, as tobacco work was the initial draw for many Latinos. Many tobacco farmers accepted the buyout and traded tobacco for other less labor-intensive crops. However, even before the buyout, Latinos had begun to enter the urban service sector, particularly restaurants, in large numbers. The buyout did not begin this process, but it did hasten the transition of Kentucky Latinos from a largely rural to a largely urban population.