Things That Matter

This Exhibition Told The Stories Of Mexicans And Mexican-Americans Who Were Illegally Deported In The ’20s And ’30s

An exhibition in Boyle Heights, Calif. revisited the illegal deportation of millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the Great Depression through rare archival footage and personal stories. “Aqui Estamos Y No Nos Vamos (We Are Here and We Won’t Leave): Fighting Mexican Removal Since the 1930s” focuses on the community in Boyle Heights that fought against the unconstitutional deportations.

This topic is very close to my heart. My great-grandparents, my grandmother and her siblings experienced the Mexican Repatriation firsthand —  they were deported to Mexico even though they were U.S. citizens. I have written extensively on the topic ever since I found out about it in 2015.

Though the Mexican Repatriation happened more than 80 years ago, it’s a historical fact that is rarely discussed, which is one reason this exhibition is so important. It’s also crucial to recognize that the racism Latinos faced then has persisted and continues to this day.

The show is set up chronologically, beginning with a look at Latinos living in Boyle Heights in the 1920s.

Courtesy Boyle Heights Museum

“Boyle Heights existed relatively undisturbed in the 1920s as a largely immigrant neighborhood that supplied much needed labor for surrounding industries,” the exhibit explains. It goes on to say that Latinos in Southern California were making a decent living with modest pay. Many of them had good jobs and homes and were able to provide a better life to their family.

Many Mexicans that moved to the U.S. during this time were able to work here because men were fighting in World War I, and employers desperately needed workers. The Immigration Act provided legal work for Mexicans for several years. This stability of work and money allowed Mexicans to flourish and be productive members of society. They also didn’t relocate just to California, but to various parts of the U.S.

The Great Depression changed everything. With millions of Americans out of work, Mexicans were targeted, along with their U.S.-born children.

Courtesy Boyle Heights Museum

The exhibition does an amazing job of showing what the culture was like back then. Images like the one above is a testament to the discriminatory conditions that Latinos faced in the United States.

The government intentionally called the removal of Latinos “repatriation” rather than deportation.

Courtesy Boyle Heights Museum

Curators of this show detail the terminology that the government used back then, and why they did so.

DEPORTATION: commonly known as forced return migration to Mexico, usually as a result of being captured by U.S. immigration officials and being identified as illegally in the United States (or without proper documents).”

REPATRIATION: commonly known as ‘voluntary’ return migration, this is the term most commonly used to describe most departures in the period.  Involves a wide range of situations, from those who left on their own at the start of the economic depression when they lost their jobs to those pressured later on to leave on organized trains funded by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.”

My father tells me that when this happened to my grandmother and her family, that they had no choice. They were told, “Take this stipend and go to Mexico, or we will do it the hard way.” So, in essence, a “volunteer” relocation back to your native country (even though million of U.S.-born children had never been to Mexico) is technically not considered illegal.

This telegram from 1931 almost sounds like it could apply to ICE raids today.

Courtesy Boyle Heights Museum

“Figure four hundred thousand deportable aliens,” states the telegram. “We can pick them all up through police and sheriff channels … You advise please as to method of getting rid.” Truly appalling.

There was even a corrido written about what it’s like to be deported.

Hermanos Banuelos – Topic / YouTube

This portion of the exhibition, which is all available online, really brought me to tears. The song above, “El Deportado” by Los Hermanos Bañuelos, paints a picture like no other. Here’s a portion of the lyrics, translated in English:

“I am going to tell you gentlemen / Everything I had to suffer / Since I left my nation / Since I left my nation / To come to this country / It may have been ten at night / A train begins to whistle / I heard my mother say / There comes that terrible train / That is taking my son / Goodbye, my dear mother / Give me your blessing / I am leaving to a foreign land / I am leaving to a foreign land / Where there is no revolution.”

The exhibition also features interviews with people that were part of the repatriation.

Courtesy Boyle Heights Museum

Emilia Castañeda, a Boyle Heights resident who was born in 1926 (two years before my grandmother) in Los Angeles, recalled what it was like to leave for Mexico with her father.

“After my mother died, I guess my dad was pretty sad,” Castañeda told the curators at the Boyle Heights Museum. “Here he was, left with a family, no wife, no work, and living off of welfare. He had a trade and could work, if the work was available.  Maybe he thought he should go back to his country.”

Castañeda returned to the U.S. in 1944.

“Well, I don’t like [this whole idea of repatriation],” Castañeda said. “I don’t think I’ll ever like it, not after the way I was made to suffer. I feel that this country should have done something for its citizens instead of getting rid of them the way they did.”

The exhibition happened on October 1 through December 1 2017 at the Boyle Heights Museum, located at 2102 E 1st St, Los Angeles.

The show is also available online. Click here to experience the virtual exhibition.

READ: Ernesto Galarza Is The Chicano Pioneer That You Probably Never Read About In Your History Books

Did you know about the Mexican Repatriation? Let us know your thoughts by sharing this story and commenting below! 

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9-Year-Old Migrant Girl Drowns While Trying to Cross the Rio Grande in the U.S.

Things That Matter

9-Year-Old Migrant Girl Drowns While Trying to Cross the Rio Grande in the U.S.

Photo via Getty Images

On March 20th, U.S. Border Patrol agents found a 9-year-old migrant girl unresponsive along with her mother and sibling on an island in the Rio Grande.

U.S. Border Patrol agents attempted to resuscitate the family. The agents were able to revive the mother and her younger, 3-year-old child. The Border Patrol agents transferred the 9-year-old migrant girl to emergency medics in emergency medics in Eagle Pass, Texas, but she remained unresponsive.

In the end, the 9-year-old migrant girl died–the cause of death being drowning.

The mother of the two children was Guatemalan while the two children were born in Mexico.

The death of the 9-year-old migrant girl is notable because this is the first migrant child death recorded in this current migration surge. And experts worry that it won’t be the last.

And while this is the first child death, it is not the only migrant who has died trying to make it across the border. On Wednesday, a Cuban man drowned while trying to swim across the border between Tijuana and San Diego. He was the second migrant to drown in just a two-week period.

Why is this happening?

According to some reports, the reason so many migrants are heading towards the U.S. right now is “because President Trump is gone”. They believe they have a better chance of claiming asylum in the U.S.

Another factor to take into consideration is that a large number of these migrants are unaccompanied minors. According to migrant services volunteer Ruben Garcia, Title 42 is actually having the opposite effect of its intent. President Trump enacted Title 42 to prevent immigration during COVID-19 for “safety reasons”.

“Families that have been expelled multiple times that are traveling with children,” Garcia told PBS News Hour. “Some of them are making the decision to send their children in by themselves, because they have families someplace in the U.S., and they know their children will be released to them.”

Is there a “border crisis”?

That depends on who you ask. According to some experts, the numbers of migrants heading to the U.S./Mexico border aren’t out-of-the-ordinary considering the time of year and the fact that COVID-19 made traveling last year virtually impossible.

According to Tom Wong of the University of California at San Diego’s U.S. Immigration Policy Center, there is no “border crisis”. “This year looks like the usual seasonal increase, plus migrants who would have come last year but could not,” Wong says.

As the Washington Post explained: “What we’re seeing right now is a predictable seasonal shift. When the numbers drop again in June and July, policymakers may be tempted to claim that their deterrence policies succeeded.”

What is the Biden Administration planning on doing about it?

As of now, it is pretty evident that the Biden Administration has not been handling this migrant surge well, despite ample warning from experts. As of now, President Biden has put Vice President Harris in charge of handling the issues at the border.

As of now, the game plan is still very vague. But in the past, the Biden Administration has stated that they plan to fix the migrant surge at the source. That means providing more aid to Central America in order to prevent further corruption of elected officials.

They also want to put in place a plan that processes children and minors as refugees in their own countries before they travel to the U.S. The government had not tested these plans and they may take years to implement. Here’s to hoping that these changes will prevent a case like the death of the 9-year-old migrant girl.

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Biden Administration’s Handling Of The Border Criticized By Both Sides Of The Aisle

Things That Matter

Biden Administration’s Handling Of The Border Criticized By Both Sides Of The Aisle

The Biden administration inherited more than an out of control pandemic when they got to work in January. The former administration also left the Biden administration an orchestrated crisis at the border. For some, President Joe Biden is not acting fast enough to fix the problem.

President Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the response to immigration at the border.

The approach, according to Politico, is going to be a two-pronged approach to effectively curb irregular immigration. First, the vice president will focus on stopping the migration journey by addressing the issues in the countries that people are fleeing. Particularly, Vice President Harris will be focusing on the issues in the Northern Triangle countries, which are El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

At the same time, the vice president will be working with the countries directly to solve the root problems. Vice President Harris will be working to strengthen the nation’s relations with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

“I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this,” President Biden told reporters at the White House.

There is a lot of talk about the U.S.-Mexico border right now from both Democrats and Republicans.

Bruno Lozano, the Democratic mayor of Del Rio, Texas, is calling on the Biden administration to take steps to curb the issue. Mayor Lozano was a guest on Fox News recently and spoke about what he saw as an influx of migrants coming into his town. Mayor Lozano told Fox News that the number of people coming to the border has strained Customs and Border Patrol in his city.

“You have a breach on national security levels that have never before been seen in modern history and you’re not even batting an eye about it, you’re not even calling it a ‘crisis‘, you’re calling it a quote-unquote challenge,” Mayor Lozano, told the New York Post on Sunday. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Some residents of Del Rio are critical of their local leaders shifting blame for their own shortcomings.

The brutal winter storm that recently shut down Texas depleted many municipalities of their resources. Residents in Del Rio are putting the blame on their local leaders who have tried to pass the buck. Weeks after the winter storm crippled Texas, grocery store shelves remained empty and residents felt overlooked.

Mayor Lozano has been pleading with President Biden to step up and help them deal with the influx of migrants. Del Rio has one processing center for migrants and the increase has left the city and the processing facility strained.

The Biden administration has faced backlash after photos of detention centers show people sleeping on floors.

There have been several reports that the Biden administration is building new places to hold migrants that have come to the border seeking asylum. The administration is currently taking in unaccompanied minors who are arriving at the border while preventing other migrants from crossing the border.

The Biden administration promised to change the approach to the border, but Title 42 has been left intact. Title 42, which was enacted by the former administration at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, keeps people from entering the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order that invoked Title 42, which closed the border indefinitely due to public health concerns.

At the root of the attention is the claim that there is a surge of migrants.

Some Republican politicians are claiming that news of more lenient immigration laws is prompting a “surge” of arrivals. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California claims that what is happening is a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”

Yet, a Washington Post report debunks the idea that there is a sudden surge. Rather, what is happening, according to the report, is a usual seasonal trend. CBP has reported a 28 percent increase in apprehensions at the southern border in January and February but data shows an annual spike in migrants from March to May every year.

The issues on the border are complex and will require a lot of time and energy to handle effectively and compassionately. The Biden administration promised to tackle the complex issue of immigration during the campaign.

READ: Biden Is Counting On Mexico’s President To Help With Immigration But That’s A Risky Move

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