How the U.S. Expelled Over a Half Million U.S. Citizens to Mexico in 1930s

President Donald Trump is slated to give his first presidential address to Congress today. Democratic lawmakers have begun giving their tickets away to immigrants as a protest against Trump’s push to increase deportations and to block residents from some Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

this is not the first time people of Mexican descent have been demonized, accused of stealing jobs, and forced to leave the country. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, more than a million people residing in the United States were deported to Mexico. Some estimate as much as 60 percent of them were U.S. citizens of Mexican descent.

In 2003, then-California state Senator Joe Dunn held hearings in Sacramento, where survivors gave testimony about what happened to them during the forced expulsions, which the government called repatriations.

The state of California went on to issue a formal apology for its role in the expulsions and built a memorial in downtown Los Angeles to commemorate the victims. But many fear that history is now on the verge or repeating itself already.

Francisco Balderrama talking:

it’s largely not known—and that’s in the larger American society, the Mexican nation, as well as in the Mexican community itself—that this occurred during the Great Depression, a period of vast unemployment and underemployment, that at least over a million—Joe Dunn thinks in terms of maybe almost 2 million—individuals, Mexican nationals and American citizens of Mexican descent, were swept up and expelled out of this country. And it covered the entire United States. From Alabama and Mississippi to Alaska, from Los Angeles to New York, this mass expulsion occurred, and of a population that included Mexican nationals, many of them that had lived in this country 20, 30 years, but increasingly important is the 60 percent or more of American citizens of Mexican descent. In other words, what occurred here was unconstitutional deportation.

the role of the press is significant, but it is also reflecting the larger American society at this time, as well. The key notion that the press puts forward is that a Mexican is a Mexican. There is no distinction in terms of residents in this country—as I mentioned earlier, many of them had lived in this country 20, 25 years, most of them were documented, most of them had papers—and that their children that were born in this country were U.S. citizens. No distinctions made. And that is accepted in this society and serves as a way of looking at the population, that even though they had contributed during better times to the economic prosperity of the United States, that now that’s not recognized. They are the other, so to speak.

Ignacio Piña called me after we had the hearings in Sacramento. We conducted extensive interviews. And getting to meet his family, his son shared with me that he no longer has the nightmares, that this man was experiencing well into his eighties, because he was able to share his story with us. Mr. Piña, who’s recently deceased, became an activist in regards of the Apology Act and the erection of the memorial here in Los Angeles. And I think it shows that an individual that suffered with this throughout his life, that even had nightmares as a senior citizen about that, became an activist and shared that story multiple times, to the press, to the television, on and on, with a conviction that, as many of the other survivors, that this not happen to anybody else. When he said that, and the other survivors, not to happen to anybody else, he just doesn’t mean people of Mexican descent or Latino descent. Rather, what he’s saying is anybody else, and especially those that are American citizens. It shouldn’t happen. We should not have unconstitutional deportation.

– In the 1950s, there was Operation Wetback under the Eisenhower administration. Then, of course, during the Bush years and into the Obama years, there were the mass deportations that occurred. It seems every time there is an economic crisis in the United States, the first reflex is to start mass deportations of “the other,” as this society begins to declare them.

we do have these cycles. What behooves American society to understand is that this early period that I have studied, the early 20th century and the Great Depression, which is the most severe economic crisis of the 20th and the 21st century, is the fact that at that time developed this ideology, this set of beliefs, this way of thinking of the Mexican, Latino population, that somehow they are not part of our society, that they are—that many of them are criminals, many of them are here to be on welfare, that somehow, someway, they cannot become part of our society. And I think what is especially important to keep in mind for your listeners is that as we experience the nightmare of today, the crisis of today, which is different, that same ideology, that same way of thinking, is still in action today.

Raymond Rodríguez was a very, very dear friend. We spoke with one voice when we wrote Decade of Betrayal. And in countless venues, we spoke with one voice in terms of this particular issue. I had known Ray for some 20 years at the time that we completed the first edition of Decade of Betrayal. And at that moment, I learned that his father had been a repatriot, at that moment when the book was finished and we were submitting it to the publisher. I knew that he had grown up with a single parent, with a mother only, but I didn’t know what had happened to his father. So, in a lot of ways, my co-author, my treasured friend, his work, together, his scholarship, as well as his activism, was trying to uncover that history, his own family history.

And we see that thread among others, as well, many other individuals who, in understanding this issue from reading Decade of Betrayal, from hearing your radio program, from looking at this and understanding this, have developed a larger understanding. What we have seen happen is that this private history has now become a public history. And many people, as they deal with this, trying to become a public history, that even though Ray, in—the excerpt that you just played was the very first time that publicly he announced that his father had been a repatriot, that what had happened had divided his family. His mother and his siblings stayed here in the United States, and his father returned to Mexico, and he never saw his father again.

looking at it in the context of the 1930s is that “repatriation” was a cover-up word, because at that time, which marks the ’30s different than today, is that the big source of this expulsion is on the local level. It’s in the cities and counties that took upon themselves to say to their communities, “There is enough jobs for real Americans, if we can get rid of these other people.” So, L.A. County and other counties throughout the nation then pressured Mexican families to leave, even though Mexicans, from my research, never were a large percentage of those that were on welfare. But it played to the notion or the idea that Mexicans were on welfare. Here in L.A. County, they began to call their actions “deportation.” And the legal counsel says, “No, you can’t do that. Only the federal government can do that.” And that’s where the word “repatriation” is born, so to speak, to be used in that context to cover it up, to make it look clean, make it look like it’s voluntary. But at the same time, you have public raids. At the same time, you have the press talking about unwanted Mexican Americans. All of these actions are very coercive.

the legacy of this is in the Mexican community. Even before this happened, I know many senior citizens who would carry around their papers, their documentation, whatever they had, in fear that they might get caught up in a sweep. Now, obviously, those same feelings are being reported daily in the press about people staying home, people even fearful to go out and buy groceries. So that has returned.

But what I think marks the difference between the past and today is, the simple fact is that we have in the Mexican community different groups—the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and Education Fund, MALDEF, other groups—and, more importantly, the different across ethnic, progressive groups together, whether they be Japanese-American, whether they be Jewish American, the various other groups who have come together and are very conscious of what is happening and are dedicated to those actions of activism to stop this, what’s occurring.

Francisco Balderrama
professor of American history and Chicano studies at California State University, Los Angeles. He is co-author of Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s.

— source


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s