Latinos in California

The Depression and the Mexican Repatriation Program

The Depression had a profound and immediate impact on Latinos in California. As North Americans lost their jobs, Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the state

became targets of growing resentment and were increasingly accused of taking jobs from U.S. citizens. Subsequently, many employers were forced to discharge Mexican employees. As the Depression worsened, anti-immigrant sentiment flourished, culminating in a xenophobic campaign that resulted in the forced repatriation of Mexicans. Mexican workers were no longer welcomed.

Between 1929 and 1930, an estimated 500,000 Mexicans were repatriated without any deportation hearingsmany of them U.S. citizens. Railroad transportation facilitated the repatriation process across the Mexican border. While the impact of repatriation was felt across the country, California had the highest number of repatriates, with Los Angeles County feeling the largest effects. As documented in Decade of Betrayal, a recent historical account, 50,000 Mexicans and their children departed from Los Angeles within a five-month period in 1931.

For Mexicans living in California, repatriation was internalized as a form of betrayal. Needless to say, for many Mexican Americans who remained in California, the repatriation program spawned both distrust and protest. For many of the repatriated, this act produced great shame. While some Mexican American citizens and legal residents eventually returned to the United States, others remained in Mexico, unable to overcome feelings of betrayal and loss.

The recent passage of California’s Apology Act of 2005 may help repair the sting left behind in the wake of Mexican repatriation. Through the Apology Act, the state of California offered formal apology for the forceful and illegal removal of Mexicans who were legal residents and citizens at the time. More importantly, it recognized the denial of their civil liberties and constitutional rights.

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