West Virginia historical overview
West Virginia’s population is among the most homogenous in the country, with over 95 percent reporting themselves as white in the 2000 census. The Latino population in the state is less than 1 percent among the lowest percentages in the nation. Still, Latino surnames (like Lopez, Martinez, and Alvarez) are commonplace throughout the state, bearing witness to vibrant communities that emerged in the early 1900s. Much of the history of these early migrants has remained safely guarded by their descendants. The history of early Latino communities throughout West Virginia is intimately linked to a twentieth-century industrial economy powered by coal. In contrast, more recent and emerging Latino communities along the eastern panhandle of the state, for example are more closely linked to a postindustrial economy. Thus earlier waves of Latinos were associated with booming coal and zinc industries in the state, whereas today’s migrants are more commonly associated with West Virginia’s agricultural, construction, and service industries. Despite any differences, the experiences of
Latino migrants share parallels. Both waves of migrants responded to economic opportunities and recruitment efforts on behalf of employers; both experienced success as well as hardships; and both have left an indelible print on the social fabric of community.