October 9, 2019
Es mi orgullo haber nacido En el barrio mas humilde; Alejado del bullicio Y de la falsa sociedad. Yo camino por la vida Muy feliz con mi pobreza; Como no tengo dinero Tengo mucho Corazon.—Jose Alfredo Jimenez
These lyrics from the song “El hijo del pueblo” proudly announce the singer’s humble
beginnings estranged from the noise of false or inauthentic society, happy to be poor in money, but rich in heartfelt feelings (my translation). These words aptly describe the underclass existence Mexican Americans have led within US society. As we celebrate another Hispanic heritage month, some studies profess that soon Latinos will be the largest minority population in the United States, yet their voice within the American community remains largely inaudible.
Mexicans immigrated in waves throughout the first part of the twentieth century due to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, WWI in 1914, and WWII in 1942. Scores were brought into the US legally and illegally to be used as a source of cheap labor and worked in low-skilled, low- paying jobs. They labored primarily as field hands (the bracero program) on the large commercial farms, in factories, and on the railroads in Texas, California and the Southwest. Unfortunately, over the years they came to be considered second class citizens and the term “Mexican” became one of opprobrium. Any person whose surname was Spanish, be they a US citizen or alien, were considered persona non-grata. In 1943 George Sanchez wrote Common Ground and it contained an essay entitled “Pachucos in the Making.” Sanchez highlighted the various instances of discrimination against Mexicans: denying them access to restaurants,
theaters, swimming pools, and stores. Furthermore, he maintained that a host of public facilities from restrooms, schools, and hospitals segregated them from whites, while other data throughout the U.S. showed restrictive housing covenants being passed that prohibited them from owning property in certain all White neighborhoods. Sadly, these instances record only the tip of the iceberg since countless other forms of discrimination applied to them during this era in American history.
In an essay published in Sociology and Social Research in 1940, Emory Bogardus analyzed the problems that faced the Mexicans. During the late 1930’s (the Great Depression) and early days of WWII, due to the political and economic situations in the US, Mexicans were being repatriated or deported back to Mexico. Many others faced the possibility of being placed in concentration camps, similar to the Japanese. Suddenly Mexican immigrants and their grown- up children (who were US citizens) were being fired by their employers because aliens were not to be employed any longer. These young people were first generation Mexican Americans who were citizens and who were eligible to vote! These hard working people—some of whom had been here decades—were ordered back to Mexico. All too often the US judicial system denied them redress.
This month is Hispanic Heritage Month and along with celebrating the culture, we should also remember the hardships our predecessors faced—such as the toxic racism that permeated American society during those decades of American history. What is more, it is lamentable that although these some of these events took place over a century ago, the same injustices are being replayed over and over again much like a broken record, in our present day society.
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