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I was doing some online research on the subject of minority-owned banks in the USA, and I stumbled across this passage on the History page of the website of the National Bankers Association.

Diversity of minority banking began in 1962, when Los Angeles based Cathay Bank became the first bank recognized as Asian-American. Centinel Bank of Taos, New Mexico followed in 1969 becoming the first US-mainland-based Hispanic bank. (Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, headquartered in San Juan, is more than 100 years old.)

If I'm reading this right, that passage asserts that, until the year 1969, there literally was no such thing as a legally chartered bank, anywhere in the continental United States, which was wholly or mostly owned by one or more shareholders of Hispanic ancestry.

That idea greatly startled me when I ran across it earlier today. I would have thought there must have been several Hispanic-owned banks, long before that, particularly in the Southwest. (I.e., the areas which used to be part of Mexico.)

So now I'm asking the question posed in the title of this post. Or, to put it a little differently: Does anyone reading this know of a specific case, pre-1969, of a legitimate bank in the continental USA that was either a) founded by Hispanic owners, or b) was founded by someone else, but later had a majority of its shares bought up by one or more Hispanic businessmen (or businesswomen)?

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    Some Googling suggests Zapata National Bank, founded 1961 in Zapata, Texas, as a candidate, although I can't prove it was Hispanic-owned at the time. I found it from this list which has more candidates. There's also this NY Times article which puts Banco de Ponce in NYC in 1961; I think the article may be a little overeager to apply the Hispanic label though BdP's chairman states, "we are a Hispanic bank." – drewbenn Aug 18 '17 at 5:19
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    A little googling turned up nothing, but I'd look in San Francisco in the Gold Rush era. There were a ton of fly-by-night banks there and then. – Steven Burnap Aug 18 '17 at 5:36
  • Aren't most banks public companies, in which anyone (with sufficient funds) can buy shares? So does the idea of a Hispanic-owned (or other ethnic group) even make sense? – jamesqf Aug 19 '17 at 5:39
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    I wonder if hispanic / Latino as ethic term was widely used before? The ethic terms and their use for self identification are changed a lot during the late 20 th century. – Greg Aug 19 '17 at 10:25
  • @jamesqf -- I have no idea whether that is true, or has been since a certain time. For all I know, most commercial banks may have started out along the lines of "each member of a small group of investors puts up a pile of cash and owns shares in the bank. Public offerings of stock will only come much later, if ever." I simply know precious little about the history of banking in the USA (or elsewhere). – Lorendiac Aug 30 '17 at 23:34
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I think your first result is correct. The structural impediments to Mexican-Americans founding a bank were significant. There were no banks in the region during the Mexican period. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and through the turn of the century, many Mexicans lost their land to Anglo settlers. In the 19th century Mexican-Americans did not have access to well-paying work. With the community largely in subsistence or wage labor, it would have been hard for them to capitalize a bank.

There were lots of Southwestern banks with Spanish language names before 1969, but they were not owned by Latinos. According to Centinel's own story, which jives with the Association text you posted, Mr. Romero had to appeal all the way to Washington, DC to get his new bank chartered:

Eliu E. Romero grew up here in Taos County as his family had for 4 generations, herding sheep, subsistence farming, and speaking Spanish. He went away to school, served his country in the Navy and Merchant Marines, put himself through law school and returned to Taos. He wanted to practice law in his hometown and went to a bank seeking a loan of $50 for furniture for his new office. Despite his education, service to his country and roots in the community, he was turned down. It was a time in our country when discrimination was a common part of life, but experiencing the inequity, Romero vowed then and there to someday have a bank to service the needs of all the people in his community.

After years of a flourishing law practice, Romero applied to the state for a charter to open a bank in Taos. That charter was denied, as was several other applications until Romero’s perseverance led him to Washington D.C. and a federal review of his application was approved by the FDIC and the state charter granted. Together, Eliu and his wife Elizabeth convinced 300 Taos County residents to help them capitalize the bank, and on March 1, 1969, Centinel Bank of Taos opened for business dedicated to serving all the people, cultures, and languages of the Taos County community.

  • I think I was working on the theory that there might very well have already been banks, owned and operated by Hispanic families or groups of businessmen, before the Mexican War caused huge chunks of territory to become U.S. soil -- more or less what U.S. citizens now call "the Southwest." I was thinking of such preexisting cities as San Francisco, Santa Fe, San Antonio . . . I'm very surprised by your assertion that "there were no banks in the region during the Mexican period." You may well be right; I am just surprised! Do you remember exactly where you acquired that bit of information? – Lorendiac May 11 '18 at 0:56
  • I suggest the paper, Land, Labor, and Production: The Colonial Economy of Spanish and Mexican California. There were almost no Californian people in the pueblo of San Francisco, so I would not look there. History of New Mexico: Its Resources and People, pp. I:412, says "The history of banking in New Mexico dates from the year 1870...." – Aaron Brick May 11 '18 at 16:12
  • I followed your link to Centinel's website and read the full history. Something I noticed was that it says the Romero family eventually bought up everyone else's shares. But it doesn't say that the bank was mostly Hispanic-owned before that happened. In other words, it doesn't say that all (or even most) of the original 300 investors were Hispanic; it only says they were "Taos County residents." That seems to leave it up in the air regarding what demographic (if any) owned a majority of the shares when the bank began operating in 1969. – Lorendiac May 12 '18 at 1:21
  • That's a different question, but there are a lot of relevant articles in the Taos News from 1969. – Aaron Brick May 12 '18 at 1:29

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