Mexican Americans and Immigrants During the Great Depression
During the early years of the Great Depression, the government stopped the excessive amount of immigration and encouraged Mexican Americans and immigrants to leave by establishing acts like the Mexican Repatriation. In 1932 the government enforced the Mexican Repatriation in which hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, who grew up being accustomed to American culture, were forced to leave the U. S. and return to Mexico (Meier 153-155). 1932 was the lowest point of the Great Depression, when the economy was at its worst and before the president even introduced the New Deal plan.
It was also when the least amount of jobs was available. The government needed to find a way to provide more jobs and decided to deport the Mexicans and Mexican Americans in order to create more jobs for other Americans. The refugees affected by the Dust Bowl hurt the Mexicans and Mexican Americans because their farms in the Mid-West had dried up and they came to California to find work. The Mexicans and Mexican Americans had always been the scapegoat when the country was complaining that there were no jobs left.
Several hundreds of thousands of agricultural jobs were vacated due to the Mexicans’ and Mexican Americans’ absence, giving many other Americans an opportunity to find work. The U. S. government kicked rightful U. S. citizens out of their own country and tossed them into a completely different, unfamiliar place that had recently gone through its own revolution. The Mexican Repatriation displayed that Mexican Americans, rightful U. S. citizens, did not have protected their civil rights to stay in the country.
Similarly, as the number of Filipino immigrants in the U. S. increased, the U. S. highly discouraged the Filipinos’ staying in the U. S. and urged them to go home by offering the Philippines future independence and a free ride home (Daniels 109). Although the Philippines at that time was U. S. territory and the government once allowed the Filipinos to go to the U. S. to be laborers, the government no longer wanted the Filipinos to stay for the same reason that they did not want the Mexicans and Mexican Americans to remain in the U. S.
The government’s offer to give the Philippines its independence showed clearly that the government did not want these nonwhite, yet hardworking laborers to take up spaces that supposedly should have been for the white Americans; the government offered the Filipinos a free ride back home if they were willing to leave. Additionally, the eager immigrants trying to get into the U. S. had to worry not only about fitting within the quota, but also pleasing the American consuls regarding the LPC clause; in 1930 President Hoover insisted that the LPC clause was tightened up and enforced better (Daniels 295).
The LPC, Liable to become a Public Charge, clause was supposed to check that an immigrant was well off enough to enter the U. S. The American consulates ensured that the immigrant had a near-decent or decent amount of money to start off in the U. S. and was capable of keeping themselves economically stable. Considering the current economic crisis, the government did not want even more homeless people roaming around the streets without any direction, and therefore gave more power to the American consulates in letting them decide whether someone could enter the country or not.
This clause made it so difficult for immigrants to enter the U. S. because there were not many jobs available and the government did not want to be responsible for any more unemployed people. Consequently, immigration rates declined during the 1930s. The number of immigrants surpassed the number of emigrants only by about 70,000. The number of immigrants was 528,331 and that of the emigrants was 459,738. There were more emigrants than immigrants during the years 1932-1935 (U. S. Census Bureau).
These statistics show that the government really cracked down on the quotas and LPC clause because the numbers of immigrants were once so much higher than they had been during the 1930s. There were many immigrants that realized that their poverty and misery would not be alleviated in the U. S. , so some willingly went home. Some of the emigration during the 1932-1935 was a direct result of the Mexican Repatriation because so many Mexicans and Mexican Americans were moved out. Usually the U. S. had overwhelming numbers of people wanting to come in and very few emigrants, but the dreadful conditions of the U.
S. in the Great Depression did not make the U. S. very appealing. Secondly, as the Great Depression began to recede in the mid-1930s, many Americans had jobs because of the New Deal programs while immigrants still had a hard time finding work, but not as hard as it had been before, due to restrictions. After 1935, when the New Deal program was in full swing, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) helped the Mexican Americans and immigrants greatly by employing them to be a part of the construction of public works, like bridges, libraries, et cetera (Meier 152).
The New Deal was put into effect in 1932 and relieved Americans by giving them jobs and stimulating the economy. When Americans had jobs and were not in the terrible conditions that they had been in during the early Great Depression, they were more satisfied and did not have much to complain about. This was great for the Mexican Americans and immigrants because they were generally more welcomed when the economy was doing better. The remaining Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the U. S. after the repatriation had a brighter future in the U. S. hanks to the WPA. Despite the help of the government’s aid, the government still called for high qualifications that many Mexicans did not possess and therefore could not apply for the help of the WPA (Castaneda 33). The WPA was a miraculous improvement during the Great Depression for those that qualified for it. In order to receive relief from the WPA, the government required that its participants met certain qualifications, including several years of residency in the U. S. , that made it nearly impossible for several immigrants to obtain any state relief.
This showed that the government was still trying to put a limit to the number of immigrants in the U. S. The New Deal also founded FSA, Farm Security Administration, camps in which Dust Bowl refugees and migrant workers, such as Mexicans, easily found employment and both peoples got along (Flores). This clearly revealed that the anti-Mexican sentiment calmed down as more jobs were available for American workers. The Americans did not have a valid reason to hate immigrant workers if they had a job and food in their bellies.
Lastly, during the Great Depression, the new acts and plans created by the government were not the only things that helped the Mexican Americans and immigrants of that time; they also put in their own work to ensure the protection of their civil rights by forming organizations with others that were like them. One very popular and effective organization was the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. This group was formed by Texan Mexicans in opposition of discrimination, segregation, and other factors that could keep them from exercising their civil rights.
In 1931 the LULAC was responsible for success of the first school desegregation case, Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District, to reach the Supreme Court in American history (Alvarez). This case was primarily about parents fighting for their children’s rights to a better education and equal rights like the other children in America had. Before the parents had filed this case, the school board absolutely neglected the Mexican and Mexican American children, denying them the right to go to school with the other children solely because they were Mexican (Flores).
The government never stepped in and played a major role in this case; the parents of LULAC did it themselves. If it had not been for them, the school board would have continued operating with segregation of Mexican kids as it had been previously. After lots of fighting, the Supreme Court stated that the school board had no right to segregate the children of Mexican descent from the others and that they should be able to attend a normal school. The union of Hispanic people and the organization LULAC made positive changes for themselves in the U. S. , and Alvarez’s case is just one example.
The Mexican community in the U. S. , especially in California, began to rely on the circulation of Spanish language newspapers, like La Opinion, to keep them informed and in the loop (Alvarez). In an English-speaking society, Mexicans would have had a very hard time without these Spanish newspapers being as many Mexicans could not speak nor read English. These newspapers and media were very important to them because it kept them aware of what was going on in their society and therefore gave them the opportunity to participate in movements that could possibly benefit them in improving their position in the U. S.
Their progress in improving their position would have been delayed greatly without that media. Not only did the Mexicans and Mexican Americans form organizations to benefit themselves, but the Filipinos did as well. The Filipinos saw that they were not being treated fairly and being given the dirtier jobs that no one else wanted to do; their solution was the Cannery Workers’ and Farm Laborers’ Union, which consisted mainly Filipinos and other Asians (Fresco). This group was finally organized after years of exploiting by their bosses and contractors in the cannery industry, which was mainly dominated by Filipinos and other Asians.
One of their first goals was to get rid of the contract labor system, in which contractors replaced union workers with even newer, cheaper immigrants that they could easily take advantage of. Those that were part of the union were determined to fight against lowered wages and the corruption of their bosses; the union members desired to keep the newer Asian immigrants aware of unjust behavior and they all looked out for one another. The difficult conditions brought on by the Great Depression played as a unifying factor in having people come together to protect their rights.
In conclusion, as the time of the Great Depression has shown, the U. S. government tended to be open to Mexican Americans and immigrants when the economy was stable, but wanted them out when the economy failed and the government needed to provide its people with jobs. When President Roosevelt stimulated the economy with the New Deal plans, the government and Americans did discriminate against Mexican Americans and immigrants as much since there were more jobs available.
These foreign peoples also enhanced their position in society by forming organizations and unions to defend themselves. The pattern of wanting and not wanting immigrants was followed by World War II with the Bracero Program (Meier 172-184). The absence of men in agricultural labor took place when many had to go to war, and the government needed to fill their spots, therefore inviting Mexicans back into the U. S. when it was extremely necessary. Several years later in 1954, the U. S. government established Operation Wetback to deport illegal Mexican immigrants back to Mexico.
During this operation, many Border Patrol agents went through Mexican-American neighborhoods and tried to weed out the illegal immigrants while mistaking Mexican Americans as illegal Mexican immigrants, violating their civil rights with beatings and harassment (Garcia 52). The government also violated Mexican Americans’ civil rights during the Great Depression with the Mexican Repatriation. The U. S. government and Americans continued to fail to distinguish between the two different peoples as they did during the Mexican Repatriation, and as they still do today.