Historically, new settlement experiences have occurred due to personal economic need on the part of Mexican American and Mexican nationals as well as to fiscal security interests on the part of the United States. The 1900s employment opportunities had become bountiful, and Latinos were surreptitiously welcomed as they provided cheap labor. Thus, a pattern began to emerge: Mexicans, Chicanos, and other Latinos would primarily be used to fill the demand for cheap labor in agricultural and railroad industries.40 The railroad expansion served as a catalyst for Mexican American employment in Chicago, and that city would later be identified as the Midwest Mexican Capital.41 During the industrial and agricultural boom, many Mexican migrants lived in railroad camps, in and around Chicago. During the winter of 1927-1928, 950 Mexican people were found living in 20 camps. Men accounted for 423 of camp residents, 155 were women, and 372 were children. Among the railroads with camps were Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Ry. Co.; Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Ry. Co.; Chicago and Northwestern Ry.; and Burlington Railroad.42
Midwestern Mexican colonias appeared in the early twentieth century a period during which there was massive Mexican migration to the area because there were no established Mexican communities. South Chicago had one such colonia.43 The year of 1929 saw a sizable influx of Mexican and Mexican Americans into Illinois, most notably into Chicago. Chicago housed one of the largest and strongest Mexican populations outside the Southwest. Although the population was relatively small compared to the city’s total population, it was a Midwest destination that drew Latinos by the largest numbers.44
By 1930, the number of Mexicans in Chicago had increased dramatically. Single men were no longer the only ones making the trip. Initially, groups of Mexican male workers came directly to Chicago, having been recruited by industries to fill voids caused by wartime labor shortages; others came as a result of the known demand for more laborers. Ultimately, Mexican men and women journeyed toward Chicago from the agricultural fields, looking for other opportunities. The lure of gainful employment in the United States and the desire to escape the revolution in Mexico were the primary reasons for the massive migrations north.
The movement of Mexicans to urban areas had thus begun. It is estimated that there were 1,265 Mexicans in Chicago in 1920, and that the number had jumped to 19,362 by 1930. The urban colonias, or barrios, were dreadful. Inundated by rodents, chronic disease, high infant mortality rates, lack of essential utilities, and lack of protection from the elements, the families huddled together to find comfort in supporting one another. Eventually, the rise of culturally familiar shops, restaurants, and churches added to the comfort level of the local residents.45 By this time, one-third of the Mexican population was composed of women, children, and extended family members. These new families formed cultural and social networks that provided relief from discrimination and economic hardship. Their connection to their mother country remained strong, leading to local celebrations of holidays such as Mexican Independence Day.46
Thousands upon thousands of Mexican laborers had entered the industrial labor force in the Midwest. By 1930, the Mexican population of Illinois numbered 28,906.47 However, the stock market crash of 1929 left the country in economic despair that lasted until World War II. The war also caused the loss of over half of the population of Mexican origin in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan.
In the 1930s the U.S. secretary of labor, William N. Doak, initiated a nationwide campaign of terror against Mexicans.48 Although this initiative was referred to as repatriation, many U.S. citizens of Latin American origin were deported. Local immigration officers and law enforcement agencies willingly supported implicit anti-Mexican sentiment as well as deportation raids that resulted in more losses of Mexican-origin residents and citizens.
During the 1930s and 1940s, as a result of this anti-Mexican campaign, the Mexican population dropped 40 percent in the United States. In Illinois it caused the Mexican population to decline to 21,449 in the 1930s and 10,065 in the 1940s. This represented a 53 percent loss of Mexican-origin residents in Illinois.49
In 1941, the United States became engaged in World War II, once again finding itself with wartime labor voids and additional wartime industrial demands. The United States again eased on immigration restrictions; much in the same way as it did with the Puerto Rican government, it was now working with the Mexican government to contract labor. As a result of U.S.-Mexican negotiations over 15,000 guest workers, called braceros, arrived in Chicago from 1943 to 1945. Numerous braceros stayed and settled permanently after the expiration of their contracts. By the late 1940s, many had settled in Aurora, Joliet, Gary, and Blue Island. Among the settlers were Mexican Americans and Tejanos (Texans of Mexican origin).