Father Junípero Serra, a Catholic priest, and Captain Gaspar de Portolá, a soldier, establish 21 missions along the coast of present-day California. Each mission is approximately 30 miles (or a day's walk) apart. The priests attempt to convert the approximately 150,000 natives to Christianity, while the soldiers protect the territory from the Russian fur traders to the north. Deadly diseases brought by the Europeans kill thousands of the Native American inhabitants of the region.


The newly independent nation of Mexico makes Alta California, as the California region was called, an official territory of Mexico.

1830's and 1840's

Attracted by an abundance of resources, waves of American settlers begin to come to California, although the land is officially Mexican territory.


The Mexican-American War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gives the U.S. official ownership of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. The great majority of Mexicans living in California at the time are granted U.S. citizenship.


Following the discovery of gold along the American River in northern California, a "gold rush" brings hundreds of thousands of Americans, Mexicans, and people from other parts of the world to California. While California benefits from the influx of people, the Native American population, which was estimated at 150,000 in 1845, decreases to 16,000 by 1900. Most natives die from diseases introduced by the multitude of new settlers.


On September 9, California officially becomes a state.


Mexican immigration to California increases in response to the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Due to the war, an economic crisis has struck, and Mexicans come to California in search of better opportunities.


The Mexican community of East Los Angeles is terrorized during the "Zoot Suit Riots." From June 3 through June 7, thousands of U.S. servicemen attack Mexican youths dressed in "zoot suits," flashy, colorful suits that were fashionable at the time. The attacks stem from a fight between sailors and a group of Mexican Americans occurring on June 3, during which a sailor is seriously injured. The attacks on the Mexican-American population are widely reported by the Mexican and Latin American press and strain war-time relations between the U.S., Mexico, and Latin America. Press coverage raises the awareness among Americans and Latin Americans of the prejudice and injustices that Mexican Americans face in the United States.


Cesar Chavez founds the National Farm Workers Association to obtain better wages and working conditions for grape pickers and other farm workers. In 1965, the NFWA organizes a boycott of California grape growers. By 1970, most grape growers sign contracts with the unions. Chavez continues to organize California farm workers through the 1970s.


Governor Ronald Reagan creates the Career Opportunities Development Program, the first of its kind in the nation. This is California's first program to advance the employment and participation of minorities in institutions funded by state money. By the 1970s California is leading the nation in the development of affirmative action programs. Thousands of California Latinos benefit from the program through employment and college admissions.


According to 1990 Census, Latinos make up more than 25 percent of the population of California, although undocumented immigrants may make this population much larger. Projections show that from 1990-2010, the Latino population of California will double.