Nebraska Historical Overview
The agricultural heartland of today, the state of Nebraska once sustained sparsely populated indigenous groups. Introduced by the Spaniards, the horse changed the landscape of the prairie. By the eighteenth century the previously horticultural groups of Pawnees and Omahas had mastered horseback riding skills and had begun to follow the bison herds. The speed and agility of horse and rider resulted in swift and successful bison hunts. Additionally, indigenous groups succeeded in using the horse as a weapon in preventing the first Spanish settlement on the plains. One hundred years later, new migrant groups, hoping to settle and farm the land, entered the region.
Claiming homestead in the late nineteenth century, European migrants again changed the landscape. As it continues to do today, the agricultural and industrial growth of the plains attracted diverse groups of migrants to the region in search of labor opportunities. Meatpacking plants, corn, soybeans, and milo (sorghum) have replaced the sugar beets crops of the early twentieth century. If European migrants once worked the state’s land, now Latino migrant workforce sustains the growth and success of Nebraska’s labor-intensive industries.
Despite being regarded by many as the unwelcoming outback of the United States with its inhospitable climate, Nebraska attracts many migrants. Undeterred by the ominous presence of spring tornadoes, bone-chilling Arctic winds in winter, periodic ice storms, late spring snowstorms, grasshopper invasions, and unpredictable summer weather, migrants continue to thrive in Nebraska. It is not just the inhospitable and unpredictable climate that Latinos endure. Latinos often face xenophobia and discrimination based on myths and stereotypes.
Newer migrants often find it difficult to adapt to life in Nebraska. Limited by education and deficient in English speaking skills, Latinos across the state often create their own neighborhoods within larger communities. Latino communities such as those in Lexington, Scotts Bluff, and Grand Island provide stability and security through contact with others of similar cultural backgrounds. These newly formed communities also fill the void of the loss of family left behind in Latin America and a respite from the daily realities of prejudice.