Becoming Mexican American George J. Sanchez Becoming Mexican American is George J. Sanchez’s document how Chicanos survived as a community in Los Angeles during the first part of the twentieth century. He goes into detail of how many thousands of Mexicans were pushed back in to Mexico during a formal repatriation. Those that survived in Los Angeles joined labor unions and became involved in New Deal politics. The experience of Mexican-Americans in the United States is both similar, yet different from other minority groups.
They were treated much like the Irish-American and other newcomers of the ninetieth century. Mexican-Americans also like the Irish, soon made themselves indispensable in the first half of the twentieth century as cheap labor. Later in the last decade, they have felt pride began to make themselves a necessity in far more numerous ways to business, government, popular culture and art. Just like African-Americans segregated into virtual invisibility, Chicanos have become part of all levels of American life.
Unlike blacks that were torn from there land and brought here in chains, Mexicans, according to Sanchez, had their own country and culture nearby to cherish and remember in hard times. Unlike the Irish, Africans and others who had come across the ocean and were here to stay, Mexicans could and did go back and forth frequently and in considerable numbers, sometimes to stay, but often to their detriment (Sanchez 220). They were subjected to humiliating and sometimes brutal “repatriation” campaigns.
They were literally paid by private or government agencies to leave the country, often to get on Mexico bound trains that were chartered at taxpayers dollars specifically for the purpose of taking them “home” (Sanchez 215). The systems demeaned everyone involved. It was none other than the Mexican government in the personage of the Mexican consul-general to Los Angeles that from 1930 to 1932 helped to direct this effort to literally send Mexican-Americans “back where they came from” (Sanchez 213).
It is from series of events that came from the “Mexican American,” what Sanchez and others contend is a full blown ethnic derivation of its own, drawing from both of these elements. Even by the 1930s, this was particularly among young people who, “born and educated in the United States, demanded to be included in the city’s future … ” (Sanchez 226). At a crucial meeting of Mexican-Americans in 1927, facing an Anglo led municipal incorporation move that would have raised taxes and driven them out, many Mexican-American leaders opposed applying for U. S. citizenship.
Even though it would have given them more of a target, specifically, the right to vote on a subsequent ballot measure. The affront to Mexico and their heritage was, for them, a crime that outweighed the benefits (Sanchez 4). Discrimination against those of Mexican family reached its peak in the depression years of the 1930s when the lack of jobs started a kind of backlash among the Anglo majority. The tone was set from the top down, as President Herbert Hoover “denounced Mexicans as one of the causes of the … depression … and … initiated plans to deport them. Hoover declared, “‘they took jobs away from American citizens. ’” (Sanchez 213). In 1931, the California legislature barred any company doing business with the state from hiring “alien” workers on public jobs, forcing the removal of Mexicans from construction work, highway repair, school maintenance, and jobs in government buildings (Sanchez 211). At the same time, officials in Los Angeles County allocated virtually all new relief payments to Anglo workers, many of them had lost their jobs.
As overall welfare payments soared, the percentage of Mexicans receiving help fell by nearly half between 1929 and 1931 (Sanchez 212). In addition, efforts by Mexican-American leaders to unionize farm workers were crushed. There were rare U. S. farmers sympathetic to their workers, who noted that even though Mexicans were asking for a well-deserved wage increase, the growers’ response was to employ a vicious strike-breaking machinery of vigilantes, night riders, tear gas and conservative newspapers that were anti-union and even racist in efforts to break the union and keep the workers at bay.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, residential segregation increased, and Mexicans who had been scattered through much of the city found themselves flooding into county east of the Los Angeles River. This area is known today as East L. A. Many Mexicans found the notion of repatriation attractive. As the winter of 1930-31 loomed, long caravans of motor vehicles were spotted crossing the border heading south and packed to the gills with personal belongings. By the end of 1930, an estimated ten thousand Mexicans had left, ostensibly for good (Sanchez 213).
Later, those too poor to afford cars or trucks were offered cash payments to board the free trains to the border that were being arranged by a coalition of L. A. County officials and private leaders (Sanchez 215). Thanks to the efforts, it’s believed that the Mexican community in Los Angeles alone lost as much as 30 percent of its people in the early 1930s, a depopulation and concomitant separation that had a profound impact, both on those who left and those who stayed behind (Sanchez 214). “The majority who stayed in Los Angeles became ambivalent Americans, full of contradictory feelings about their place in American society” (Sanchez 210).
Once back “home,” many found themselves worse off than before. Little Mexico, then a low populated country of barely sixteen million , had few resources to cope with the returning people. What’s more, the broad-based nature of the repatriation efforts even swept up children by the thousands who had been born and raised in the U. S. and who were U. S. citizens. As many as one million people may have been deported under the repatriation programs, and some scholars now believe that up to 60 percent of the “Mexicans” forced to leave were United States citizens.
Even as their parents were unable to find jobs, deported children were being held back in Mexican schools, if only because they did not know how to read or write Spanish (Sanchez 218). These young people, along with many have the most skilled and Americanized of the returnees, “felt like social outcasts in their native land… not surprisingly … they became the most discontented … and looked for the first opportunity to return to the United States” (Sanchez 218). This gave rise to political protests.
In Mexico City, the newly formed Union of Mexican Repatriates urged the government to stop encouraging repatriation and recognizes the “‘painful reality’” of the repatriates’ condition. They also sent a letter to the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion in Los Angeles stating that “they had returned to Mexico only to die of hunger and to inspire pity” from charitable organizations (Sanchez 219). In farming regions, activists accustomed to higher wages in the U. S. efused to return to sharecropping or “debt peonage” and demanded that the government honor its land redistribution promises. One agrarian activist declared: “‘You see, there is precisely something about the United States which awakens me … We saw in the United States that progress comes from work … and we remembered that here, the rich men don’t work, they just exploit the poor’” (Sanchez 219). Though the progress in the U. S. has been made since then, discrimination has hardly vanished.
The “immigrant bashing” became a huge problem in the 1980s and ‘90s and for a time intensified. However the work ethic is another problem that has also proven to be self-sustaining. Sanchez did an amazing job on this book. This has truly opened my eyes. Mexican- Americans have had it rough and even though they have hardly reached the freedom of full acceptance, the influence of Mexican Americans is growing and the social justice continues to get better than ever. It seems impossible for Mexican-Americans to fail.