How one of the most ostracized groups in America has endured throughout the years
When people think of California, their minds instantly go to Hollywood and the big businesses in Los Angeles. They may think of actors, singers and producers, or imagine that The Golden State is somehow more glamorous than most others. Few may be inclined to acknowledge the long history of abuse towards Latinx communities that happened here, or how generations later, Mexican-Americans are still being unjustly persecuted.
In 1812, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and California was deemed a Mexican province. California was officially named a state in 1850 after signing a treaty with the U.S. to end the Mexican War only a few days after gold was discovered in California’s land.
The Gold Rush ushered in immigrants from across the world who wanted to take the gold for themselves. Although Mexicans already inhabited the land, they began to face unprecedented discrimination as rumors spread of them being violent, greedy people who would cause harm to anyone trying to take the gold.
With the influx of Anglo-Saxon immigrants, the Californios lost their privileges, their land and their social standing. Their land was no longer theirs, and they had to suffer because a more privileged group became selfish, invaded their land and tried to claim the gold for themselves.
The Great Depression hit in the 1930s, leading to mistrust within communities. During this time, the Mexican Repatriation saw an estimated 400,000 to 1 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans deported further south. Many of these deportees were U.S. citizens, but because of their backgrounds, language and culture, they were demonized and unjustly persecuted.
Although historians largely agree that this event occurred on behalf of racist U.S. policies, the U.S. has never taken ownership of the crime, claiming instead that these people simply “left” their homes, as noted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). The CIS also claimed that no federal record exists for these departures.
“Relatively few of them were expelled under formal INS-directed removal proceedings. The majority returned to Mexico by their own decision or through officially voluntary — though often coercive — repatriation programs directed by state and local governments and charitable aid agencies,” CIS reports.
Around this time, many propaganda posters began to surface against Mexicans. These images were an example of how the government vilified Latinx communities, depicting a warped idea of Mexicans being dirty, violent, lazy and scheming.
La Plaza De Culturas y Artes is a Latinx culture, history and art museum in Los Angeles which puts these issues on display.
A propaganda comic from Fullerton Daily News depicts a Mexican man in a sombrero with the words “Mexican Peón” on it. The unkempt man walks across the Mexican/U.S. border barefoot, holding a bindle labeled with the words “ignorance — disregard for the law.” Uncle Sam is on the other side holding a baton which reads “immigration law.”
The implication is that the hero Uncle Sam will beat back the Mexican hooligan and preserve a just immigration law.
Another propaganda poster from the Library of Congress depicts Uncle Sam using a snow shovel to pick up tiny people labeled as “Mexican revolutionaries” to throw in a fiery bin labeled “international rubbish can.”
Latinx people have a long history of being discriminated against by the U.S., even when they are U.S. citizens themselves.
Before Anglo-Saxons inhabited California, the land belonged to Latinx people. California was Mexican. But through systemic racism, the U.S. oppressed Latinx communities, taking their money, their land and their rights. Families were torn apart and sent further south to areas they had never visited, and those in power refused to acknowledge what they had done.
The fact is that throughout U.S. history, Mexicans and those from Latinx heritage were not the bad guys. Rather, they were the victims of an oppressing society which favored one type of foreigner over the other.
It is important to acknowledge that oppression is not a competition. To say that one group had it worse than another helps no one, but by acknowledging histories that are forgotten and neglected is necessary if we plan to do better in the future.
U.S. President Donald Trump is a modern example of how systemic racism and propaganda still vilified Latinx people. During his time as president, Trump has called Mexicans criminals and rapists, encouraged an immigration system which caged children as young as two years old and separated families.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are … These aren’t people. These are animals,” Trump said about Mexican immigrants.
It is important to know history in order to recognize problems presently and create a better future. Despite all the hardships they have endured, the Latinx community has always stood strong, aiming for a better future for themselves and their children — and the fight keeps going.