Records of the Great Depression

 Some Basic Notes on Repatriation

 

The Bisbee deportation (1917)

Every immigrant group suffered from the stigma attached to their particular nationality or place of origin. Most Mexican immigrants from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries intended to come “only for a little while,” intending to take advantage of steady work and higher wages and then return home to their beloved Mexico to enjoy their  bounty. Time, an unsettled homeland and newly acquired Yankee ways often subverted their plans.

During the depression, it is estimated that between 500,000 and two million individuals voluntarily or involuntarily “emigrated” to Mexico, many were US Citizens. Only about 35,000 individuals were officially deported.

Some realities about immigration to the US

  •  Official records state ½ million Mexicans settled in the United States between     1899 and 1928. Statistics increase that to 1 million.
  •  The 1930 census sites 1.4 million individuals with Mexican heritage, which was about 10% of the population of Mexico.
  •  Mexican immigrants outnumbered original Spanish/Mexican settlers in every state but New Mexico.
  •  A head tax of $8 and literacy test for naturalization were not enacted until 1917.
  •  Until the establishment of the Border Patrol in 1924, there was very limited guarding of border and even then only 450 agents patrolled the Canadian and Mexican Borders combined.
  •  American companies transported workers across borders to jobs in US.
  •  Restrictions of Orientals (1880s) and Europeans (WWI) created a need for cheap labor.

Some Realities about Emigration from Mexico

  •  The Mexican Revolution of 1910 created chaos.
  • The secularization of  the 1917 constitution caused Catholics to fight for lost wealth of  the Church, formerly 50% of all lands. The fight and ultimate loss in 1926-1927 caused many to flee. Many non-Catholics did not return during the fight for fear of retaliation.
  • Only 3.2% of rural Mexican population actually owned any land.
  • Educational opportunities in Mexico were few and far between.
  • Population grew in Mexico from 9 million in 1878 to 15 million in 1910.
  • Foreign interests converted farms to ranches. The ensuing lack of crops led to hunger and malnutrition.
  • Article 123 of 1917 constitution made it illegal in Mexico for citizens to cross the border without a valid signed labor contract. This was ignored by US as they wanted cheap labor and by Mexico as they wanted the cash that flowed back into the country.

Realities about life in the United States

  •  Mexican immigrants were usually restricted to “pick and shovel” jobs (Crops, railroads, factories)
  •  Pay day raids were often collaborations between employers and law enforcement using a 1885 Contract Law making it illegal to hire Mexicans.  Employers did not have to pay laborers and could then afford to bribe law enforcement.
  •  Some workers were shanghaied and kept as virtual slaves.
  •  Mexicans had a low rate of application for citizenship 5%-13% (2% during Depression) vs. 45%-48% for Europeans.
  •  They were treated by many as substandard human beings

Realities of Support from Growers and Ranchers

  • Charles C Teague of California Fruit Grower’s Exchange stated “Mexican casual labor fills requirements of California Farms as no other labor has done in the past.” Saturday Evening Post 200 10 Mar 1928 p169-70 also p126
  •  Exploitable Labor – treat them well until term of labor is over and return them home. They will return when needed.
  •  In 1924 about 2000 Okies had come to California looking for work only 2% finished the season.
  •  Farm wage of $90 per month in California ($50 in US) was the same to whites or Mexicans.
  •  Farm Labor Bureaus supported labor movement.

 

Repatriation Bibliography

Cath Madden Trindle

Let the world know we are here.

About Catht

Cath Madden Trindle - CSGA Special Projects Chair
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