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For individuals and groups who speak English as a second language, Spanish-speaking lawyers are essential for representation in legal matters. In court proceedings, those who cannot understand English are entitled to receive the services of a translator or interpreter.

If you are a Latino or Latina, and you are not well-versed in the English language, a Spanish-speaking lawyer can help you understand all aspects of your case. Among the reasons for hiring someone that speaks and understands your language is to overcome the possibility of discrimination. Though discrimination is illegal in the United States, it still occurs. Read on for a summary of facts related to the history of discrimination for Latino and Hispanic Americans.

History of Discrimination for Latino and Hispanic Americans

The prejudice against Latinos started sometime in the 1840s, which led to school segregation, illegal deportations, and the violent act of lynching. Even though these events echoed the African-American civil rights violations in the South, the historical footprint is seemingly less prevalent than the much-discussed civil wrongs against African-Americans.

When the U.S. triumphed over Mexico in the Mexican-American War, 55% of Mexico’s territory was granted to the United States via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Included with the land were new citizens, and Mexicans who decided to stay in the new territory became U.S. citizens. As a result, there were a considerable amount of Mexican-Americans who were added to the population.

Political Unrest in Mexico

In the succeeding years, Mexico experienced political unrest, and an increasing number of people emigrated from Mexico into the United States. For American employers who were desperately in need of cheap labor, this was a welcome opportunity to fill available positions. Employers even sent recruiters to convince Mexican workers to move to the U.S. However, these employers broke existing laws on immigration that outlawed importing contract laborers.

In spite of being a critical component to the U.S. economy, the sentiments against Latinos grew worse. They were prohibited to enter Anglo establishments, and eventually isolated into poor urban communities. They were discriminated against on the basis of their skin color, language, and countries of origin. Additionally, they were depicted stereotypically as lazy, undeserving, stupid, and a foreign underclass. This prejudicial issue resulted in tragic and fatal events.

Mob Lynching

Mob violence became a prevalent issue concerning Spanish-speaking people in the U.S., in the later part of the 19th and up to the early 20th centuries. Thousands of Latinos were killed in mob lynching incidents, but only 547 cases were documented. The incidents began when California became a territory of the United States. The reason behind mob lynching was the envy felt by white miners towards former Mexicans who worked at California mines during the gold rush. Vigilante justice was rampant and fake accusations against Latinos grew increasingly out of order.

Even children were not spared in these outrageous incidents, as was the case of 14-year old Antonio Gomez, who was arrested for murder. Instead of letting him serve time, he was lynched by the townspeople and dragged onto the Texan streets of Thorndale.

The gruesome incidents stopped in the later part of the 1920s with the Mexican government pressuring the U.S. to put an end to the horrifying episodes of cruelty. Nevertheless, the hatred against Spanish-speaking Americans was far from over.

Deportations

During the Great Depression, the stock market crashed and there were a growing number of unemployed citizens in the U.S. Once again, Mexicans and other minorities were accused of stealing jobs from American citizens. Most Mexican-Americans were prevented from accepting or obtaining charitable aid.

Two million people of American descent were repatriated, which accounted to 60% of American citizens. This included a third of Los Angeles’ Mexicans and around the same percentage of Mexican-born Texans. The impact was so devastating that some Mexican-Americans gifted with light-skin pretended to be Spanish to evade the strict enforcement of the law. These deportations ended in 1936.

School Segregation

The South had its own explicit laws prohibiting children of African-Americans from entering white schools. Similarly, Latino students in the southwestern part of the U.S. were forced to attend Mexican schools set-up children of Spanish-speaking workers and laborers. Latinos were also excluded from entering movie theaters and restaurants.

During the period of the 1940s, 80% of Latino school children in California’s Orange County attended schools separate from their white counterparts. In 1946, the parents of student Sylvia Mendez, together with four families with the same goal, fought against this rule. The group filed a class action suit against four Orange County school districts to ensure that all Latino children could enroll at schools in California, despite of race.

Seven months after, the judge ruled in favor of Mendez et al, stating that there was evidence of discrimination in the school districts, which violated the Constitutional Rights of Mexican-American students. This officially ended all segregation in California schools.

Present Day

Although Olvera Street is now considered an American icon in Los Angeles, this flourishing Mexican market was the site of a startling raid in 1931. During the raid, police officers picked up 400 Mexican Americans and pushed them into vans. Immigration officers arrested them, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. This incident was just one of the many that occurred in the second half of the 20th century that involved discrimination against Latino people in the U.S.

Latinos living in the United States today number around 54 million, and an estimated 43 million speak their native tongue. Although they are considered as the largest minority, prejudice remains. Still, there were reported incidents of discrimination in 2016 which leads us to believe that anti-Latino sentiment is still alive in some parts of the United States.

The Case of Hernandez versus Texas

Hernandez v. Texas was the first and only case involving Mexican-American civil rights that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court for the period succeeding World War II. The trial involved Mexican-American, Pedro Hernandez, an agricultural worker convicted of murdering Joe Espinosa in 1951.

The legal team headed by Gustavo C. Garcia challenged the systematic barring of people of Mexican descent from serving jury duty in 70 counties in the State of Texas. This was, by all means, a deprivation of equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Furthermore, the team claimed that Mexican Americans are also citizens of the U.S. and qualified to perform jury duty. However, they were restricted for reasons of ethnicity even though they are a recognized minority in the state.

Top legal counsel Garcia also reiterated that in the past 25 years, there were no Mexican Americans or those with Spanish surnames chosen among the 6,000 individuals to perform jury duty in Jackson County, where the case was tried. The case was appealed before the Texas Supreme Court and later on to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously ruled in favor of Hernandez. Hernandez’s case was retried by a jury consisting of different ethnicities to act without discrimination against Latinos. The 14th Amendment protects people beyond racial classes and also extends protection to other nationality groups.

This case was the first appearance of Spanish-American attorneys at the United States Supreme Court.

Famous Latino and Hispanic Americans in the Legal Field

Gustavo C. Garcia

Gustavo C. Garcia worked with his fellow Mexican-American attorneys as a civil rights attorney in the famous Hernandez v. Texas case in the 1950s. He fought for the rights of Mexican-Americans to serve jury duty within the U.S., because Hernandez was denied the right of a jury of his peers. His appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was heard and a retrial was ordered. Garcia and his team won the case.

Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Maria Sotomayor was born in New York’s The Bronx district. Born to parents of Puerto Rican immigrants, she graduated in 1976 from Princeton University with summa cum laude honors and earned her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979. She was the first Latina to become the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Octaviano Ambrosio Lazzarolo

Octaviano Ambrosio Lazzarolo was New Mexico’s first Mexican-born Governor and the first Mexican American to serve in the U.S. Senate. He vigorously fought to acknowledge the problems of Hispanics in the State of New Mexico and was the most vocal among the leaders of his generation.

Finding Legal Help in Spanish

Legal aid provides assistance to those who cannot afford to pay for legal representation and access to the country’s court system. Legal representation is essential to obtaining equality, right to fair trial, and right to counsel. However, the right to counsel can sometimes become a challenge if you can only speak and understand the Spanish language. With this in mind, you should seek the counsel of a Spanish-speaking attorney.

The benefits of receiving legal help or advice in your language are enormous. You can search for Spanish-speaking attorneys in your area and shortlist the ones that are in close proximity to where you live. Aside from the location, accessibility is key. Choose one that can relate to your case the most. If you are Hispanic, the best lawyer to hire is the one that speaks your language. This ensures that you are both on the same page.

If you want to choose a lawyer based on expertise and years of experience, that is your decision. However, if your lawyer doesn’t understand a word that you are saying, miscommunication may occur. In such a case, a family member or a friend can help translate between you and your attorney.

You have the right to request a translator during court proceedings. A translator can help you understand terms that are not familiar, as well as what is expected of you by the court. This also provides an assurance that your civil rights are not being violated.

LegalMatch Can Help

If you ask yourself “How I can get the services of a Spanish speaking attorney near me?”, LegalMatch is the answer. LegalMatch helps clients find the best lawyers near you and legal representatives for all types of legal concerns. All you need to do is visit the website and make it known to the lawyer that you need help in Spanish.

Some lawyer members on the site are fluent in the Spanish language. They can even help you locate a Spanish translator to make things easier for you. This is just one of the many advantages LegalMatch offers its Spanish-speaking clients.

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