Colorado’s Immigration History

Immigration in many ways was the lifeblood of Colorado. The late 19th century brought a diverse group of immigrants to Colorado who often took on the toughest and most dangerous jobs – building railroads, mining for gold, silver, and coal, working in the smelters, farming and ranching. Native Americans experienced the massive immigration of the Colorado Gold Rush with devastating effects. Colorado Chinese workers faced discrimination fueled by a growing anti-Asian national sentiment that resulted in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. A post-World War I nativist movement in Colorado triggered a backlash against immigrants and fueled the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas on immigrants from southern and eastern European countries. In addition it restricted African immigration and banned Arab and Asian immigration. The Bracero program in World War II and afterward brought temporary Mexican workers to Colorado for jobs in the sugar beet fields. Historian Tom Thomas says that the fear and resentment against particular immigrant groups created tensions that defined much of the state’s history. Immigration continues to be a critical piece of Colorado’s development.

On Tuesday January 17th, historian Tom Thomas will speak on Colorado’s Immigration History at Chautauqua in Boulder as part of their monthly history series. Each month, beginning in January, the Colorado Chautauqua Association will host discussions to allow people to learn about the people and events that have shaped and influenced our regional culture. The series will explore historical topics that are relevant to important contemporary issues related to the understanding of Colorado heritage.