México de Afuera in Francisco E. Balderrama’s In Defense of La Raza: The Los Angeles Mexican Consulate and the Mexican Community, 1929 to 1936

In Defense of La Raza

In Defense of La Raza

Through the wonders of social media, namely Twitter, I have been sharing and recommending hundreds of Chicana/o books and film titles amongst my “followers” for the last four years in order to promote Chicana/o literacy, encourage students to major or minor in Chicana/o Studies, to dispel the myth that Chicanas/os are not creating scholarly and literary works by and for Chicanas/os, and lastly to facilitate an expansive list of works for people to search out these titles in their local bookstores and libraries for personal reading enjoyment or academic research purposes.

Knowledge is our weapon. Knowledge is power. Specifically, knowledge is Chicano Power.

Chicano Power, then, demands that we work towards dismantling racist and sexist institutional structures that negate our human rights as Indigenous peoples. Knowing our history, also, forces us to challenge false assumptions about Chicanas/os that are falsely spread in academic circles and in social media spaces.

We have been omitted from the historical record, and when we do appear we are depicted as passive, docile, and only participating in the social landscape as a result of outside assistance. We are never allowed to exist as original inhabitants. Nearly every time the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o experience is discussed, especially on social media, it is done thru a racist filter that usually describes some outside ethnic/racial group discovering or influencing us, thus revoking our autonomy, sovereignty, and agency as a people.

And so what I wanted to do for this particular blog space was to highlight several Chicana/o books and film titles that our people might find of interest and meaningful as they search for their own knowledge and self-determination. These reviews and those of other contributors are written from a Chicana/o-Mexicana/o frame of reference.

If you are interested in sharing a written review of your favorite Chicana/o book, film, art exhibit, etc. please feel free to contact via email at clshc@me.com – Resistance Through Knowledge, one book at time.

cultural sovereignty

The American stock market crash of October 29, 1929 triggered the Great Depression, the worst economic collapse in modern history. The economic prosperity of the Roaring Twenties came to a scorching halt as millions of people were forced out of their jobs. Thousands of banks went bankrupt resulting in the loss of the hard-earned savings of working-class and poor people forcing many of them out onto the streets to scavenge for rotten fruit and vegetables discarded by produce markets. The Great Depression would last until 1939.

In the American historical, literary, musical and artistic imaginary, the large waves of Okies escaping the Dust Bowl fills the pages of the period of the Great Depression from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to the music of Woody Guthrie, which have worked towards erasing the experiences of the Mexican community in the United States who were by far the hardest hit as a result of the American economic collapse.

Chicano historian Francisco Balderrama has documented the era of the Great Depression from the perspective of the Mexican community in the United States by focusing not on the economic collapse itself but rather on the consequences of that collapse that eventually led to the deportation and repatriation of over one million Mexicans, of which 60% were U.S. citizens.

Decade of Betrayal

Decade of Betrayal

Balderrama’s In Defense of La Raza: The Los Angeles Mexican Consulate and the Mexican Community, 1929 to 1936 (1982) is a pre-cursor to his larger study, co-written with Raymond Rodríguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (1995).

In Defense of La Raza focuses on Southern California’s Mexican consulates and their working relationship with the México de Afuera or the colonia Mexicana as the community was known at the time. Balderrama argues that at the outset of the Great Depression, the Mexican consulates often assumed leadership positions within the community as they challenged American discriminatory practices and racist policies on behalf of Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans.

This consular advocacy was in defiance of existing diplomatic agreements of non-intervention in the politics and internal affairs of the host country (7). Yet this so-called “leadership” by the Mexican consulate was often contradictory as they sometimes decided not to endorse certain community actions nor to forcefully defend their compatriots.

Unlike the experience of the Mexican Texas (San Antonio) community, whereby U.S.-born Mexicans assumed the mantle of leadership, for instance, through the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), in California the Mexican consulate became the leading group that Mexican nationals and U.S.-born Mexicans rallied around for legal protection and mutual aid assistance.

In Defense of La Raza is divided into seven sections:

– On the Eve of the Depression
– The Deportation-Repatriation Campaign Against La Raza
– The Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana
– The Battle Against School Segregation
– Church-State Conflict in Southern California
– Organizing La Raza Farm Workers
– Retrospect

When the Great Depression hit with a vengeance in 1931, the Herbert Hoover Administration developed a racist plan to deport all Mexicans in the United States to México because government officials blamed Mexicans for “stealing American” jobs and draining the national economy.

As a diversionary political tactic to remove all blame away from the administration’s failed socio-economic policies as well as the complete failure of the capitalist system, the deportation and repatriation campaign against Mexicans was initiated at the federal level, but was facilitated by local city and county efforts.

With President Hoover’s blessing, Secretary of Labor William N. Doak made calls to remove deportable “aliens” in order to open up jobs for “Americans.”

A Los Angeles relief coordinator by the name of Charles P. Visel followed suit and even had the audacity to also declare that enough jobs existed for “Americans,” but that Mexicans and “other aliens” were stealing jobs. The city and county of Los Angeles repatriation efforts was the model that would be followed nationwide.

Visel inflamed the situation by releasing a press release in the various city and county newspapers announcing an impending deportation drive aimed at “illegals now in the United States” (16). Euroamericans demanded that Mexicans be sent “back home” regardless of citizenship status.

Various immigration sweeps of Mexican neighborhoods were begun with the infamous raid in 1931 at La Placita taking center stage in creating an environment of fear in the Mexican community.

The deportation and repatriation of Mexicans was not exclusive to the American Southwest, but extended to the Midwest, the Eastern seaboard, and even as far as Alaska.

This racist attack on Mexicans was welcomed by a large segment of the American populace who hypocritically proclaimed freedom and democracy for all, but somehow this did not include Mexicans.

The anti-Mexican campaign was initiated in two phases: 1) Deportation (forced removal) and 2) Repatriation (“voluntary” self-removal).

It was in this climate that the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate was catapulted to the frontline in the community’s ensuing protest against the racist deportation drives and reign of terror. The Sonora Town Merchants Association, for instance, invited Consul Rafael de la Colina to support a legal defense drive fund to assist those detained by immigration authorities, but the overly cautious Consul Colina refused to officially endorse the campaign fearing the embarrassment that might result for the Mexican government.

In fairness to Consul Colina, he did write “formal” letters protesting the illegal detentions and deportations, but he refused to press further when he was assured by immigration officials that “all deportations were being carried out legally” (18). Consul Colina interpreted his work as limited to focusing only on what he believed were clear illegal deportations.

Despite the “unity” shown by the Spanish language press (La Opinión and El Heraldo), the Mexican consulate, and the community against the dragnet raids, they were powerless to do anything because the Mexican government failed to intervene despite the forceful pleas of Vice-Consul Ricardo Hill and others who objected to the detention of over 4,000 Mexicans.

When the dragnet raids ended, “only” 269 Mexicans were deported, yet the fear of terror basically forced many Mexicans to begin “voluntary” repatriation back to Mexico. The repatriation of Mexicans was initially reserved for those on the relief rolls, but this policy was soon changed to include all Mexicans regardless if they were on relief rolls or not.

Again, the Mexican consulate was powerless to stop the forced repatriation, but as Balderrama shows, the Mexican consulate did what it could with the limited resources it had by insisting that the county underwrite the entire repatriation costs and that repatriates receive proper care. Balderrama also notes that Consul Colina was assured by local authorities that all repatriates would not be “regarded as deportees who would later be declared ineligible to reenter the United States” (21).

As the México de Afuera negotiated the economic and political circumstances that impacted the community, and despite the limitations of the Mexican consulate in dealing directly with the deportation and repatriation campaign, the community renewed its call for an organization that could effectively deal with the increasing racism and unemployment.

With the support of the Mexican consulate, Mexican nationals formed a loose-knit organization known as the Comité Beneficiencia Mexicana to further the work of the Confederación de Sociedades Mexicanas which was established in 1925. The Comité was mostly a mutual aid society that concentrated its work towards providing inexpensive meals and even reduced low train fares for the Mexican repatriates, while also organizing the main Mexican holiday celebrations in Los Angeles (42-45).

Although not the primary focus of Balderrama’s study, and perhaps limited by the availability of archived materials, but it goes without saying that further documentation was needed on the role of Mexican women, especially those in the Cruz Azul and Sociedad de Madres Mexicanas as the impact of deportation and repatriation on the community was not just racialized but gendered since Mexican women were especially targeted for repatriation as well as through the Americanization classes.

The final chapters of In Defense of La Raza document the school desegregation cases of Lemon Grove and Méndez v Westminster, Mexico’s church-state conflict, and the organizing of Mexican farm workers in Southern California, all of which took place during the Great Depression and in the midst of the deportation and repatriation campaigns.

One tends to assume that Mexicans were docile and passively accepting the fate of deportation and repatriation, but Balderrama’s study highlights the heightened activism of the Mexican community that was tenuously supported by the Mexican consulate. An ideological struggle between radical and reformist elements ensued in these 1930s Civil Rights struggles.

Becoming Mexican American

Becoming Mexican American

Further study is needed to assess this era, although George J. Sánchez’s Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 diverges with Balderrama on the issue of identity and ethnicity. Sánchez would argue that Mexicans in Los Angeles altered their orientation by looking forward (as residents of the United States) not towards the past (i.e. former residents of México).

Although the Los Angeles Mexican consulate was influential in getting other Mexican consulates throughout the country to involve itself in the advocacy and support of the Mexican community, it was largely dependent on who was in charge of the individual consulate. For instance, Vice-Consul Ricardo Hill pledged his unconditional support for his paisanos (95). Others weren’t so forthcoming.

Vice-Consul Hill’s tenure and defense of the Mexican community ended, however, when he almost exchanged blows with Lieutenant Delgado of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Despite the protests of the community, the Mexican government removed Hill from Los Angeles and exiled him to San Antonio, where his influence would be almost non-existent.

Vice-Consul Hill was instrumental in helping to organize and unionize farm workers to demand better wages against the Japanese growers during the early 1930s labor strikes. With the notorious Red Squad of the LAPD siding with the growers and arresting strikers, the situation turned violent when Orange County Sheriff Logan Jackson issued a “shoot to kill” order. Sheriff Jackson was later forced to call it off when a farm worker threatened to use dynamite in retaliation (104). Vice-Consul Hill’s unapologetic defense of the community undermined his relationship with Los Angeles authorities, according to Balderrama (105).

Both In Defense of La Raza and Decade of Betrayal are great additions to your Chicana/o Studies collection. It is a reminder of our past, but also a warning that the present is just a mere reflection of the past.

Francisco Balderrama is a Chicana/o Studies professor at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) who has done great work in bringing to light the injustices faced by the Mexican community during the Great Depression. It is a neglected history. It is not taught in schools. It is a history that is rarely known outside of Chicana/o Studies.

This injustice hits close to home. The issue of (im)migration impacts many of us. Many of us, despite being American “citizens,” have been conditioned to fear the MIGRA at border checkpoints set up throughout the United States, especially in what is today known as the American Southwest.

Many of us have had family and friends who have been caught in racist raids and deported without due process. The most glaring examples have been the deportation and repatriation campaigns of the 1930s and the military-style campaigns of the 1950s known as Operation Wetback.

My own father, who as an American citizen, was deported at the height of the Great Depression. My dad was born in Bayard, Nebraska, US of A in 1932 to Mexican parents who were following the railroad, mining, and agricultural industries yet they were also land owners in this country. My dad’s brothers and sisters were also American citizens.

In the ordeal of the racist deportation and repatriation campaign, my dad’s parents, of course, lost their plot of land in Nebraska and to this day have never been fully compensated for being emotionally and financially uprooted. Even when they did return to the United States after the racist hysteria had subsided, things were never the same.

In 1995, Francisco Balderrama along with Raymond Rodríguez (QEPD) co-wrote Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s. Prior to his death, Raymond Rodriguez testified before a state committee on the California repatriation: “My dad left in 1936, when I was 10. I never saw my dad again,” he said. This was the experience of an entire generation of Mexicans.

Former California state senator Joseph Dunn said the repatriation was designed to keep scarce jobs and government benefits solely for Euroamericans during the Great Depression. Balderrama and Rodriguez, along with others, worked with Dunn to seek an official apology from the state to the Mexican families who were unjustly deported and repatriated. In 2006, the Apology Act For Mexican Repatriation became official.

— by D. Cid

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