The Mexican Repatriation Act

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The Freedom to Choose

It is within human nature to move. We come and go and should not be chained down to one place in our lives. Even if we choose to settle down in one place for the rest of our lives, it should still be within our rights to move. In this case especially, choice is power. Choice is freedom. For the repatriated though, the victims became chained, whether it was that those chains held them in place or pulled them far far away from where their hearts took residency. Being pulled from the place may even to be “Of a treacherous sort of freedom” (De Genova and Peutz, 2010).

For one to be truly free, they must also be free to move where they please, these two conditions are inseparable from one another.

One may even be able to draw connections between the proletariat and those who had been repatriated. For the proletariat, they became robbed of their property, standing in society, and livelihoods, representing the opposite of what countries such as the United States had sought to create.

Unbeknownst to the US, however, they created these same conditions for the repatriated, ripping their freedoms from their hands, as they sent them across borders. Karl Marx identified the formation of the capitalist class to be the epitome of this atrocity, as men and women became forcibly torn from their means of subsistence. This is exactly what repatriation does to those victimized by it, leaving them unprotected and rightless (De Genova and Peutz, 2010).

What was the Mexican Repatriation Act?

Repatriation means, “The return of someone to their home country.” Though this definition makes the action sound like it is voluntary this is not always the case, especially in the case of The Mexican Repatriation act. Between 1929 and 1936, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were deported in mass amounts.

The amount of those repatriated is estimated to be from the ranges of 400,00 to 2,000,000 people. It wasn’t just illegal immigrants that were deported too. Roughly about 60% of those who were deported were birthright citizens of the United States. This meets all the legal conditions of ethnic cleansing, as the forced movement was based off the ground of race and ignored citizenship entirely.

The repatriation act came about as a result of the great depression, as Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were widely blamed for worsening economic downturn during the decade. They were also targeted as a result of being close to the border, which is evidence that the American Public was ready to pin the blame onto anyone they possibly could. Quietly, the federal government supported the repatriations, though they were usually not the ones to carry the act out. Instead, deportations were mostly organized as well as carried out by city and state governments, typically getting support from private organizations (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

Repatriation in the 1930s

The largest number of Mexican Americans were repatriated in the early 1930s. This was consequential of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. As a result of this, nativist sentiment was on the uproar, demonstrated by the 31st presidents, Herbert Hoover, call for deportation. Closely followed by a series on the racial inferiority of Mexicans, run by the Saturday Evening Post (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

As the series of repatriations are currently so covered up, reliable information on the number of people deported is scarce and hard to come by. On estimates, it is suggested that somewhere over 400,000 Mexicans were repatriated between the years of 1929 through 1937.

In 1931, the repatriations reached their peak, as an estimated amount of 138,000 were deported in that year alone. However, sources from the Mexican Government suggest different numbers. According to their estimates, only about 300,000 were deported between 1930 and 1933. However, the Mexican Media suggests that as many as 2,000,000 were deported during the same span of years. Following the peak of repatriations from about 1931 to 1933, deportations did decrease yet the amount of those deported was still a political issue – repatriations stayed around the 10,000 yearly mark up until the 1940s. In the US a California state senator, Joseph Dunn, concluded the around 1.8 million Mexicans had been repatriated (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

This counted for an extremely large part of the US-Mexican population. Different census’ reported different ratios of the Mexican population which had been deported. According to one estimate, 1/5th of all Mexicans in California were repatriated by 1934. By contrast, the 1930 Census reported that there were still 1.3 million Mexicans in the US, though this number is considered unreliable. This is because some repatriations had already begun by this point, illegals were not counted as part of the population deported, and the Census used racial concepts which were non-representative of Spanish-speakers in the Southwest (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

It is also noteworthy that repatriations were not even geographically distributed. Midwestern Mexicans only count for about 3% of the Mexican population in the US but counted for 10% of all repatriates. Deportations became so frequent at this point, it was often reflected in the lyrics of Mexican pop music (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

A Convenient Scapegoat

The 1930s were a harsh and frustrating time for all Americans. At this time, something began to happen which citizens of the United States were not used to. Suddenly, our capitalistic system began to become criticized as its true imperfections became evident. Shocked and disoriented from the depression, the public looked for anyone or anything they could blame the economic downturn on.

They found this in the Mexican community. Suddenly, the streets were rampant with anti-Mexican activity, and unjust punishments were enacted. Mexicans became deprived of jobs in both the public and private sectors. Immigration and deportation Laws were enacted, restricting emigration, and slowing departure for those looking to escape (Balderrama and Rodriguez, 2006).

On top of the already horrible conditions placed on Mexicans, the repatriation drives, and deportation roundups began. These actions were violent and merciless, as “scare-head” tactics were employed to get rid of hordes and disperse riots. The country was gripped with an anti-Mexican sentiment (Balderrama and Rodriguez, 2006).

The Mexican Community

On top of the racism, violence, and brutality, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were hit especially hard by the depression enduring traumatic suffering. Nonetheless, the community did not lose their hope, dignity, or gumption. Determined, the community endured the harsh realities which they were faced with.

Grassroots organization became established in an effort to combat the brutalities. Yet with their lack of resources, their efforts to combat the crisis they faced were severely impeded. Still, the groups made strong efforts to assist Mexican residents who wished to rightfully stay in their home, and well as those who decided to leave the US in chase of their heritage (Balderrama and Rodriguez, 2006).

The Mexican Government

On November 30th, 1934, General Lázaro Cárdenas del Río assumed the role of the presidency in Mexico. During his campaign for the presidency in 1933, he called attention to those who had been repatriated and had settled in Pinotep, Oaxaca, and extended a helping hand (Alanís Enciso and Davidson, n.d.).

It was never far from Cárdenas’ mind that the border between the US and Mexico would continue to see migrants flowing back and forth between the two countries in large numbers. On the other side of the coin, the return of Mexican nationals also imbued official circles with fear. As the influx continued, concern grew over what actions that government should take in the case of a mass repatriation, and the preparations which would have to be made.

During this time, however, the government did nothing on both ends of legislation and public administration to promote or even point attention in the direction of Mexico’s returning compatriots. Rather, the Mexican government turned to give support only in the instance of urgent cases. Also, they began studying and analyzing the conditions of Baja California with the intent of using the state as a refuge for Mexican nationals to settle temporarily as they returned from the United States (Alanís Enciso and Davidson, n.d.).

The Roots of Repatriations

In this era, Mexican officials were fixated on preventing and mitigating Mexican migration to the United States, notably after the establishment of the United States border patrol in 1924. They were later additionally pressed by the mass repatriations which would come in the 1930s. Early into the years of the United States Great Depression, Mexico Struggled enormously with finding where to settle all its citizens deported from the United States. Cárdenas, the Mexican president at this time, developed a settlement program in agricultural communities along the borderlands, distinguishing himself from previous Mexican Presidents (Andres, 2011).

Doing so, Cárdenas encouraged the repatriation to show Mexican strength, as well as populated and economically developed the Mexicali Valley. Going forward, Cárdenas took the landholding of the Colorado River Land Company, which was based in Los Angeles, and led by the owner of The Los Angeles Times (Andres, 2011).

An astounding number of Mexicans escaped the brutalities of the repatriation drives and riots by migrating to the Mexicali Valley. Nonetheless, this did not erase the harsh treatments Mexicans had endured by the United States legislation and community. This led to a long-term goal for the Mexican Government, is to build up the country’s northern borderlands, and regain the countries citizens who had migrated to the United States. The country sought to give their repatriates a new life and a fresh start as farmers in the region (Andres, 2011).

The 1940s: Repatriations Draw to a Close

Across the 1930s, the Mexican population had been gradually reduced through consequences of repatriation, migration, deportation, and mortality; few immigrants came from Mexico during this decade as well (Merchant and Gratton, 2013). All immigrant groups in the US now shared the same fate – a declination of the foreign-born part of the US population. Even with the rise of GDP, a rise in employment, and the end of the Great Depression, legal immigration in the country did not experience any increase. Throughout the new era, Census, as well as Official record, counted as little as 69,000 new entries (Merchant and Gratton, 2013).

In the new era, immigration was now no longer the focal point of the public, nor the government’s, eye. Rather, Mexican immigrants had now grown to be a strong and widely controversial force. In August of 1942, The US and Mexican governments decided to sign an ‘Agreement Respecting the Temporary Migration of Mexican Agricultural Workers.” This was a guest worker program; it was greatly influenced by the Mexican history of repatriations, deportation, and immigration back-and-forth from the United States during the 20s and 30s (Merchant and Gratton, 2013).

Asian-American Issues and Public Policy

Exclusion is an issue which should be viewed as a political debate. Seeing exclusion as a debate enable us to see the intersections between Asian-American issues and four overlapping policies; immigration and labor, race relations, foreign relations, and national security (Kurashige, n.d.). Each of these policies plays an important role in the debate of exclusion, and the significance that they have had throughout each of the five major historical eras. Throughout US history, anti-Asian policies have been created, taken apart, and then recreated.

The process seems to be moving 2 steps back, and one feeble step forward. This can be seen from the Chinese exclusion act in the late 19th century, all the way to congress shutting the door to Japanese immigrant’s post-World-War I. Fortifying the egalitarian side, it took decades to exclude the Chinese and Japanese. Yet with the sudden rise of the national security following WWI, the fate of Asian immigrants was sealed (Kurashige, n.d.).

The Filipino Repatriation Act

The Filipino Repatriation act was one which provided free, one-way transportation for single adults. In some instances, there were even grants provided from private funds so children born in the united states could return with their parents to the Philippines. However, both the Filipino Repatriation act, as well as the Tydings-McDuffie Act, completely halted families from reunification under the US immigration law. This forced many Filipino families to either stay separated from many years or even permanently. Filipinos were allowed to reenter the US, though the Tydings-McDuffie act limited this to only 50 people per year (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

The Repatriation act served to send Filipino’s back to their home country, yet without officially deporting them. This allowed policymakers to carry out blatantly racist legislations towards Filipinos without causing an international incident. Still, the program was extremely unsuccessful. According to the 1930 census, there were over 45,000 Filipinos reported living in the mainland United States, yet fewer than 2,200 were successfully deported. Later, the act was deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1940 and was succeeded by the nationality act of 1940 (En.wikipedia.org, 2019).

Manila Men

The first Filipino immigrant to the United States was referred to as “Manila Men.” These were those who had escaped slave labor, taking up fishing and shrimping for work in New Orleans. After the Philippines became a US colony, immigration surged with Filipino’s entering the country with US passports and not considered to be aliens (Immigration to the United States, 2019). By 1930, the Filipino immigrant workforce was 94% men, all hoping to save up enough money to return to their homes and buy land. The Filipino Repatriation Act followed the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which established the Philippines as a commonwealth of the US, as well as providing self-government. This was to be followed by Filipino independence 10 years later.

Despite this, dependence was delayed several years by World War II. To make matters worse, the nativist lobby reclassified Filipinos living in the US as aliens under immigration law. Filipinos were no longer allowed free immigration to the united states; they were also barred from owning any land or business on US soil. The act also imposed an unrealistically low quota of 50 people per year, and immigration continued at levels much higher than the quota (Immigration to the United States, 2019).

More Than Savages

On April 13 of 1936, Time magazine featured an article about the Filipino Repatriation Act. The Article quoted from Sylvain Lazarus, a San Francisco municipal court judge, who ruled in a case involving a Filipino man coveted by two white women (Rodis, 2019). As Lazarus denunciated Filipinos publicly, the Filipino community in San Francisco passed a resolution denouncing the Judge’s bigoted views, leading him to later rescind the statements he had made (Rodis, 2019).

Cite this paper

The Mexican Repatriation Act. (2022, Jul 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-mexican-repatriation-act/

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