Tortilla Flats is one of the oldest Latino neighborhoods in the Yakima Valley and represents one of the anchor points for the establishment of Latino identity in the region. When World War II broke out, an enclave of migratory Latinos, mostly from Wyoming and Colorado, had already arrived and begun to settle permanently in Wapato and Toppenish, gateways to the Lower Valley. At the time, the irrigated farmlands in these areas offered ample employment and opportunities for Latinos to begin to farm.
In the fall of 1942 the first braceros (Spanish word meaning manual laborer), a group of Mexican workers contracted for fixed amounts of time by the U.S. government to help Yakima farmers, arrived by train. (Gamboa “A History” 49) Braceros continued to arrive and depart in waves until circa 1945, working on many farms as well as the railroad. Their presence, though temporary, was significant for the existing Mexican American communities in the Yakima Valley because each wave of Mexican workers openly invigorated the culture through language, music, dancing, cooking, and other cultural traditions from which Latinos born in the U.S. were a generation or three removed.
In the short 20-year period between WWII and the 1960s, Latino migrant families left their homes in other states and carved out a place of their own in Yakima’s farming communities. In spite of local resistance, people who only tolerated Latinos as temporary farm workers and not as community members or neighbors, Latinos thrived and defined their own spaces. In west Wapato, Tortilla Flats, a name taken from Steinbeck’s novel, defined the area where the Mexican community lived. In east Toppenish, a space close to livestock yards and rodeo grounds, Latinos lived in close proximity. Latino families moved out of Crewport as soon as they could afford to purchase homes just north of Granger’s city center. Similar tight-knit Latino residential patterns emerged in other Valley communities, such as Sunnyside and Mabton.
The Tortilla Flats neighborhood is roughly bounded on the west by S. Ahtanum Ave, on the east by S. Naches Ave, on the south by W. 4th St, and on the north by W. 2nd St.