Sonoma County can trace its Latino history back to 1823, when the Mission San Francisco Solano was established in Sonoma. Twenty-three years of Mexican rule followed, with Gen. Mariano Vallejo doling out 24 Mexican land grants in the valley that is now Sonoma County.

Early landowners were a rugged sort, including soldiers in Gen. Vallejo’s Sonoma garrison and family members, too. Dona Maria Carrillo, Gen. Vallejo’s mother-in-law, became Santa Rosa’s first non-Indian resident. Her Rancho Cabeza de Santa Rosa later became our present day county seat.

Mexican rule ended in 1846, but the names of these Hispanic early residents adorn county streets and schools. Some Sonoma County residents can trace their lineage back to these early founding families.

World War II saw the next great influx of Latino settlement. With men away at war and Japanese farmers interned, Sonoma County needed workers to pick apples, plums, grapes and other agricultural products. The U.S. and Mexico Bracero Program, a farm labor agreement, brought strong-armed Mexican men to Sonoma County to work the 1943 harvest. Many were allowed to stay past harvest if a rancher agreed to employ them year-round. By the 1950s, women and children joined them and Mexican families settled into Sonoma County life.

The Latino population grew every year. In 1960s, Hispanic residents accounted for less than 2 percent of the community. Today, Sonoma County has approximately 136,100 Latino residents, more than 26 percent of the population, according U.S. Census Bureau reports.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, click through our gallery above exploring Latino history in Sonoma County.