As the Sacramento Bee's Peter Hecht describes it:
In fact, some counties across the country continued the program even after the Roosevelt administration cut off funding for it.
Amid the economic desperation of the Depression, Latino families were viewed as taking jobs and government benefits from "real Americans." In Los Angeles County, a Citizens Committee for Coordination for Unemployment Relief urgently warned of 400,000 "deportable aliens," declaring: "We need their jobs for needy citizens."
Up to 2 million people of Mexican ancestry were relocated to Mexico during the 1930s, even though as many as 1.2 million were born in the United States. In California, some 400,000 Latino United States citizens or legal residents were forced to leave.
The occasion for the NPR piece was the issuance of a formal apology from the state of California. Two Golden State academics, California State University Los Angeles Chicano Studies professor Francisco Balderrama and retired Long Beach City College historian Raymond Rodríguez inspired behind the measure. Their book, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, described the psychological trauma that the expatriated children endured once in Mexico.
Democratic State Senator Joe Dunn, from Santa Ana, read Balderrama's and Rodríguez's book on a flight to DC and could not get the story out of his head. So he began introducing legislation that he drafted in response with Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles), and Assembly members Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego) several years ago. He finally was able to secure passage of the apology bill, with Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature, last year. California Senate Bill 670, or the "Apology Act for the 1930s Mexican Repatriation Program," officially acknowledges the suffering and losses of the estimated 400,000 Latinos forced out of California. However Herr Governator vetoed a companion bill, Senate Bill 645, that would have created a commission to study reparations to survivors of the 1930s "repatriations."
One of the people who was forcibly expelled, 77-year-old war veteran Carlos Guerra, had complex feelings about the measures:
"What is an apology?" asks Guerra, an artisan who makes embroidered furnishings. "I don't understand it at all."
Forced from the United States, Guerra and his American-born siblings had to learn Spanish, adapt to a new culture and endure the poverty of the Mexican countryside for 13 years before his family legally returned to California.
"The saddest thing of all," says Guerra, who lives in Carpinteria, "is that I lost my country. This is where I was born. I'm a California native. But it took me years to be able to call myself a so-called 'Americano.' "
He didn't fit in either south of the border. "In Mexico, they called us Norteños. They thought we were completely Anglicized, and they disliked people from the north," he says.
The Sacramento Bee adds that "a monument will be erected at a site to be determined in Los Angeles," because it was in California's largest city that "50,000 Mexican Americans were placed on trains and repatriated in five months in 1931." In fact, "hundreds were rounded up in San Fernando and Pacoima on Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holy day, and many Latino barrios simply disappeared." State Senator Dunn also is working with U.S. Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) to push for a federal companion measure to the California apology. Given how badly wants Latino support, he might agree to it, though the mood among Republicans in Congress right now appears not to be especially favorable to Latinos.
Reading this story also made me think again yet again about
- the current discourse around immigration, U.S.-Mexican relations,
- citizenship and belonging, state-sanctioned racism and racist violence,
- U.S. political and historical rhetoric in general,
- reparations for slavery,
- and the submerged histories within the larger body that we think of as American history.
An interview with California State University Fullerton assistant professor of elementary and bilingual education Christine Valenciana, whose mother was forcibly deported in 1935, is available here.