Mexican immigrants represent the largest minority ethnic group in the United States and differ from other immigrant groups in the nearness of their home country, which makes movement back and forth easier and makes their culture more visible within American society.
Mexico was originally inhabited by Native American peoples who originated in Asia many millennia before the first European explorers and settlers arrived in the Western Hemisphere. The Native American peoples developed advanced cultures that gave rise to civilizations such as those of the Aztecs and Mayas in what are now Mexico and Central America that were responsible for impressive achievements in technology and mathematics. These civilizations were eventually conquered by Spain during the early sixteenth century. The Spanish introduced their language and the Roman Catholic religion to the original inhabitants of Mexico. Over time, the newcomers mixed with the Native peoples and created the mestizo, or mixed-race, peoples who would become known as modern Mexicans.
Spanish Mexico, or New Spain, extended well into the southwestern parts of what is now the United States, and those regions became part of Mexico when that country won its independence in 1821. However, American settlers wrested Texas from Mexico during the 1830’s, and the American victory in the Mexican War of 1846-1848 cost Mexico California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of what would become other U.S. states. In one stroke, the
Another factor pushing Mexicans to go north was the
In August, 1914, World War I began in Europe, pitting Germany against Great Britain and France and other nations. The United States remained neutral, but in early 1917, an incident involving Mexico occurred that helped to draw the United States into the war. Germany’s foreign secretary,
Later that same year, the U.S. Congress passed the
The 1920’s saw the first major wave of Mexican immigration, but after the stock market crash of 1929 started the Great Depression, those numbers began reversing. Mexicans became the scapegoats for job losses in the United States, and impoverished American farmers in the Midwest, which was devastated by dust bowl conditions, began migrating west in search of seasonal agricultural work that had previously been done mostly by immigrants. By 1934, more than half of California’s crop pickers were white American migrant workers.
Meanwhile, additional resentment fell on American citizens of Mexican descent who were receiving federal benefits in New Deal programs during the Depression, and
In February, 1931, agents of the U.S. Department of Labor began staging public raids across California’s Los Angeles County, using local police to help identify Mexicans. Persons who could not produce documentation of their American citizenship or valid passports were bused to the Mexican border. In their haste to round up suspected Mexican nationals, government agents sent some American citizens and persons of Asian ancestry to Mexico.
Mexican immigrants passing through the border station at El Paso, Texas, in 1938.
The mass deportations had the desired effect of creating the fear of expulsion in the minds of Mexican immigrants, many of whom began accepting offers of free passage to Mexico. Eventually, Los Angeles set up county-sponsored trains that provided free transportation to all the Mexicans who wished to leave the country voluntarily. Many of those sent to Mexico were later unable to prove their American citizenship, which they consequently lost.
After the United States entered
Criticisms of the bracero program soon emerged. Most of the conditions for workers that Mexico had set were not met. Substandard housing of the workers was a particular problem, but this was remedied in 1943 when new housing units were built by the federal government. Another criticism was the failure of wage rates to increase along with those in areas where braceros were not working, such as Texas. Another criticism of the program was that it encouraged illegal immigration by workers who did not return to Mexico when they completed their contracts. When the program was finally ended by the U.S. government in 1964, Mexico was left with the problem of having large numbers of workers who needed employment.
During the early 1950’s, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was urged by President
Andreas, Peter. Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001. Scholarly study of issues surrounding the policing of the U.S.-Mexican border. Gutierrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Discusses the issue of race in Mexican and Mexican American identities. Hoffman, Abraham. Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression: Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974. Comprehensive study of the massive repatriation of Mexicans during the Great Depression, with detailed data from each state that was involved Jones, Maldwyn A. American Immigration. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Objective historical summary of immigration in the United States, providing general information about Mexican immigration. Meier, Matt S., and Feliciano Ribera. Mexican Americans/American Mexicans: From Conquistadors to Chicanos. 2d ed. Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 1993. Thorough summary of Mexican immigration, from the earliest Spanish conquests to the modern Chicano movement. Includes concise accounts of the Depression-era repatriation and the bracero program. Moquin, Wayne, and Charles Van Doren, eds. A Documentary History of the Mexican Americans. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971. Detailed history of Mexican ties to the United States, with full histories of Mexicans in New Mexico, California, and Texas. Rodriguez, Gregory. Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Broad overview of immigration law and Mexican identity in United States history. Telles, Edward, and Vilma Ortiz. Generations of Exclusion: Mexican Americans, Assimilation and Race. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008. Good investigation of four decades of the Mexican American experience.
Farm and migrant workers
Latin American immigrants
Latinos and immigrants
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Mexican deportations of 1931
Sociedad Progresista Mexicana