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Oregon 1950s-1970s: Settlers and a Second Generation

Growers in the Northwest led by the larger commercial agricultural interests soon found a new source of labor Mexican American migratory laborers recruited from California, Texas, and other areas of the Southwest. During World War II new canneries and packing companies were opened in the Northwest, increasing the acreage of crops. For example, before the war Oregon raised 21,000 acres of processing peas, and after the war that acreage increased to 50,000. Other crop acreage increased as well, making places such as Woodburn known as the berry capital of the world in the mid-1950s.

Like California growers, some Oregon farmers recruited undocumented laborers in the 1950s, but they also continued to recruit laborers from the Southwest. Some of the first families of Mexican origin settled permanently in the Woodburn, Hubbard, and St. Paul areas in the 1950s. Many came in the 1940s and 1950s from Mexican states such as San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Hidalgo, and Nuevo Leon to small towns, such as Progreso and Mission, close to the Texas border. From those states they came to form the first population of permanent Mexican families in Woodburn and the surrounding area in the early 1950s, building on deeper roots in communities such as Nyssa, Ontario, and Independence, which had Mexican settlers from as early as the second and third decade of the twentieth century. Many of the members of these families came originally as farmworkers, but they began to work in local canneries, on the railroad, and in construction, as they continued to carry out seasonal harvesting work.

The 1950s in Oregon and elsewhere were also marked by Operation Wetback, a program focused on preventing undocumented people from entering the United States and on rounding up and deporting undocumented people already here. The city of Woodburn and other places where Mexican workers lived experienced sweeps through local farms and roads that picked up undocumented workers. A newspaper article in the Oregonian from May 15, 1953, ran the headline Agents Sweep Rising Tide of Mexican Illegals South to Border. The paper reported: Most of Portland’s deportees are flown to Los Angeles. The immigration service used to fly them from there to Guadalajara, about 1,500 miles south of this border, just to discourage them from returning so quickly. Now the flood of

wetbacks is so great they are being swept back just to the border. The culture of immigration raids and the right of INS agents to detain foreign-looking workers in any location became entrenched in Woodburn and other areas where Mexican migrants worked and lived.

Mexican and Mexican American families who settled in Oregon in the 1950s and 1960s were often able to eventually purchase small homes. A few settlers opened local businesses such as small stores and restaurants. Their children and grandchildren attended local public and Catholic schools, and they now spoke English as a first language. Some could speak Spanish too, but others had left it behind. Some of the Tejano migrants who grew up along the Texas migrants’ long-haul crop circuit route (Texas, California, Idaho, and Oregon) and settled in Oregon towns and cities have become local civic activists and leaders who bridge different generations of Mexican migrants. A group of such migrants who came to Oregon from the Southwest began the Fiesta Mexicana as well as the Mexican Committee Pro Fiestas Mexicanas in Woodburn.

In the 1970s a second wave of migrants came to Oregon from Mexico, including migrant farmworkers from the state of Michoacan and the first indigenous Oaxacans who were brought to Oregon by labor contractors from California. The 1960s and 1970s also brought to Oregon, primarily to the Portland area, Latin American migrants who arrived by way of a variety of avenues. Some came as students or on tourist visas and stayed; others moved to Portland from other West Coast locations. The Latino population in the state became more complex because of different origins and histories, this being part of the context for some of the first Latino cultural and political institution-building in the state.

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