I was catching up with a month of four-minute vlogbrothers videos when I got up to John Green’s piece on Mexican repatriation. He was researching a famous painting when he came across a bit of terrible US history that wasn’t in any of the textbooks that either of us had read.
It’s not a secret – there’s even a decent Wikipedia page about it. The narrative is that in the early stages of the Great Depression, there was, of course, a scarcity of jobs. The Secretary of Labor William N. Doak suggested that if there were fewer people, there would be fewer unemployed, and, as President Herbert Hoover put it, “real jobs for real Americans.” This did not prove to be the case.
From The Atlantic: “According to former California State Senator Joseph Dunn, who in 2004 began an investigation into the Hoover-era deportations, ‘the Republicans decided the way they were going to create jobs was by getting rid of anyone with a Mexican-sounding name.'”
A Decade of Betrayal
Professor Francisco Balderrama has literally written the book on the actions, A Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s. He notes that Mexicans were targeted because of the proximity of the Mexican border and the physical distinctiveness of the people.
“The federal government imposed restrictions for immigrant labor as well, requiring firms that supply the government with goods and services refrain from hiring immigrants and, as a result, most larger corporations followed suit, and as a result, many employers fired their Mexican employees and few hired new Mexican workers causing unemployment to increase among the Mexican population.”
The term “repatriation: was actually inaccurate, since up to 60% of those sent to Mexico were U.S. citizens: American-born children of Mexican-descent who had never been to Mexico and often did not speak Spanish.
It wasn’t a unified plan. “In Los Angeles,” explained Balderrama, “they had orderlies who gathered people [in the hospitals] and put them in stretchers on trucks and left them at the border.” Others would round up people up in parks and scanning public employee rolls for Mexican-sounding names and send them on special trains out of the country.
From Timeline: In downtown LA “during the 1930s, La Placita Catholic church was a social hub for Mexican Americans and immigrants…
“On February 26th, 1931, they sealed off the area around the church before anyone could realize what was happening and began arresting suspected undocumented immigrants en masse. Families watched in horror as their spouses, friends, and colleagues — 400 people in total — were loaded into vans, and eventually shipped back to Mexico. Many of those detained had been in the country so long they didn’t speak Spanish.”