An Apology for Mass Mexican Deportation

deported mexicans great depressionOn February 26th, a ceremony is to take place in California apologizing to the approximately 400,000 people of Mexican ancestry who were deported from the USA in a spate of ethnic cleansing that gripped the USA during the Depression. What is at stake in this ceremony is not only the apology but what it says about racism and ethnic cleansing in times of economic crisis.

Approximately two million people of Mexican ancestry were deported from the USA during the Depression. This was not only Mexican nationals, but Chicanos as well, — US citizens of Mexican ancestry. This was a blatant example of ethnic cleansing taking place in the USA which destroyed families and exiled family members, in some cases indefinitely.

As with many cases of mass trauma, this deportation process was ignored in the general public. The “Repatriados,” as those who were deported were referenced, existed in a twilight zone. Those who were able to return often did not speak of it and families that remained stuck in Mexico had to begin entirely new lives. It was the work of people like Detroit activist Elena Herrada and the Fronteras Nortenas organization that helped to re-raise the issue, not only in California but also throughout the USA. [For more information click here]

The 1930s, as a period, is often viewed as one of increasingly progressive change. While there is certainly some truth in this, the change was far from linear and far from complete. When it came to race, intense white supremacy was alive and well. And even many progressive organizations failed to speak up in the face of such horrors. Mexicans and Chicanos were being attacked in a wave of a specific form of anti-immigrant mania. In a period of an intense economic crisis, Mexicans and Chicanos were blamed for allegedly taking the jobs of (white) Americans. Nothing comparable was done to immigrants of European ancestry and it was only a few short years later – 1942 – that in the midst of a particular response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were interned for the remainder of the war (compared to the treatment of US citizens of German and Italian ancestry).

One does not have to jump too far to see the relevance of this historical horror to our situation today. Just the other day, I was grabbed by an African American in an airport who recognized me from my TransAfrica Forum days. Among other things he wanted to say to me was the matter of immigrants, and particularly about the competition that is created through immigration. He refused to look at the big picture but his conclusions were clear enough that he did not need to express them: remove the immigrants.

Yet, just as the Great Depression was not caused by Mexicans and Chicanos, today’s economic crisis, and specifically the massive economic crisis faced by African Americans, is not the result of immigrants, be they documented or undocumented. It has to do with the system, and unfortunately too many of us seem to be afraid that identifying the system is the equivalent of looking into the face of the Gorgon, turning us to stone.

bill fletcherThus, for right-wing populists and for too many of our own people, it is easier to blame the immigrant for our suffering than to recognize that capitalism will use whoever it can to weaken the power of working people. It used us in the period around World War I (and after) as a cheap labor source, and it has used successive groups. The mass, indiscriminate deportation of two million people of Mexican ancestry was just one implication of this racist irrationalism.

What’s to prevent this from happening again?

Bill Fletcher


  1. Joanna says

    Some people complain so much about Mexicans taking American jobs, but it’s America taking away these jobs from American citizens.  How is it right that America seeks Mexican workers along the border for cheap labor in maquiladoras, but the moment these Mexicans try to go further into the country America decides its illegal. Its hypocritical. You cant call it legal when it benefits you and the next moment call it illegal cause you feel threatened.

  2. Tom says

    Since your so smart Bill, just answer this. As with the Africans that were sold as slaves why are you people targeting the current day white population for things that were accepted years ago? Since when does capitalism destroy jobs. You better hope we have capitalest for without them we have no jobs, especially those Detroit Auto jobs that are union and paying very high wages.

     Isn’t it odd that those who keep refering to themselves as African- Americans ot Mexican- Americans or Spanish- Americans etc. don’t see or will not admit that those hyphened titles are the root of racist irrationalism. In case you haven’t noticed if you are leagely born in the United States you are an American. Drop the hyphen it really isnt fashonable. What it really does is keep you in the minority status as most want, for as they put it, it entitles them to free hand outs, along with the lazy do nothings who will not work. Just incase you don’t know the so called free be’s are paid for by those who do work. If you want to be a Socialest Marxest then move to a country that is established in that manner.

     Free enterprise is what the United States was founded on and By God we will keep it that way.
    Class warfare, which seems to be the calling ticket of the current administration is just wrong no matter how you cut it.You want to come to the United states then do it by the legal means provided. When you do, it wll open many doors for you and you will never have to worry about deportation.
    It’s time for the United States to grow and become the leading country it once was and not follow any body that want’s to put us into a third world country status.

    Stand up be proud to be a United States Citizen and an American. 


  3. Ti says

    I have an idea, how about an apology from Mexicans that knowingly come here illegally and take away jobs from engineers and machinists and technicians and fabricators… causing them to go on to the public dole… and ruining their quality of life?

    Think we’ll ever see that?  Not a chance.

    Think illegals don’t cause Americans to loose the jobs I just listed?  Also think again.

    In Australia, where they don’t have Mexicans invading their border, the growing Australian wine industry (for just one example) has had to develop modern high tech methods to harvest grapes.  Many engineers, technicians, fabricators, software designers and others in professional, high paying jobs, have been hard at work for many years, enjoying careers in developing this modern infrastructure and investing in the future of wine production.

    In America, Mexicans are keeping us held back in the dark ages… picking grapes like slaves used to pick cotton… keeping our engineers out of work and on the public dole, bankrupting our State Government, and putting us far, far behind other countries like Australia and France and other countries that have modernized.

    The short shortsightedness of progressives on these issues are both plain and shocking.

    • John Devalley says

      Mexicans come to the United States because 1) Their own country is too corrupt to organize employment for them and 2) Because employers in the US want to exploit cheap labor.

  4. says

    February 25 1932 there was a National Unemployed Councils mobilization across the country with a large one in LA where the “dole” was established, the march started at the Plaza where the raid came down the next day, Japanese, Filipinos also were deported, so it was a divide and conquer repression with class aims.  For raza, in particular the “Mexican American generation” it was pivotal and the aqui estamos y no nos vamos syndrome began, by the end of the thirties Mexicans across the nation were into the united front labor upsurge in Los Angeles and elsewhere, Bert Corona, Frank Lopez, others were in the more churchy college oriented Mexican American Movement.

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