Aquí Estamos Y
No Nos Vamos
Fighting Mexican Removal Since the 1930s
Boyle Heights existed relatively undisturbed in the 1920s as a largely immigrant neighborhood that supplied much needed labor for surrounding industries. Jobs were plentiful, even if pay was modest, and working-class families could find homes to live in that provided a modicum of stability and hope that the future would be brighter for their children. All that changed with the collapse of the economy in late 1929 when Mexicans and Mexican Americans faced claims by nativists that they stole jobs from U.S. citizens and did not belong in Los Angeles. They fought against their removal in the 1930s and continue to do so to the present-day.
In October 1929 the stock market crashed and unemployment soared all over the country. Within one year, one in five seeking employment in the city of Los Angeles was not able to secure work. Even those fortunate enough to stay employed were impacted with shortened hours and cut wages. Many homeowners in Los Angeles could not meet their mortgage payments and many lost their homes.
Fueled by the growing nativism and the collapse of the US economy, Mexican immigrants became the target of scapegoating policies that resulted in mass deportations. These telegrams document the communication of intentional deportation of Mexican nationals by the spokesman for the Los Angeles Citizens Committee for Coordination of Unemployment Relief (LACCCU), C.P. Visel and Col. Arthur Woods, and the Secretary of Labor, William Knuckles Doak. These telegrams demonstrate their intent to scare Mexicans out of the US in order to create “jobs for needy citizens.”
In 1931 The Los Angeles County Welfare Offices saw a higher demand for welfare assistance. As a result, Los Angeles, County Supervisor Frank Shaw began to construct a plan that would reduce this need. Frank Shaw’s efforts would begin the largest organized repatriation campaign in US history. Ironically of the 126,000 families that required welfare service during the depression, only a small percentage were Mexican. Discrimination by welfare agencies, restrictions on employment, and prohibitions on entering many restaurants and shops were some of the ways in which Mexican-origin people were driven out of the country.
Many families and community members fought back against repatriation. Some responded to anti-immigrant pressures by listening to the radio and joining labor unions, while others fought back by simply deciding to stay.
In order to encourage their citizens to return to Mexico through repatriation, the Mexican government made promises of land and support to those that decided to go south. But by late 1932, repatriates from Los Angeles formed the La Unión de Repatriados Mexicanos (Union of Mexican Repatriates) in Mexico City to protest unfulfilled promises by Mexican officials and a stop to the deception by the Mexican consulate offices in the U.S. that tried to seduce potential repatriates with “a thousand promises of improvement and aid to all Mexicans who returned to their native country.” On April 29, 1933, La Opinion newspaper in Los Angeles published a letter sent by La Union detailing their desperate condition, as well as photographs documenting their impoverished situation.
Pedro J. Gonzalez’s Story
Immigration activist Pedro J. Gonzalez was a radio DJ, musician, organizer and eventually a political prisoner. After his experiences fighting in the Mexican Revolution, Gonzalez migrated to Los Angeles where he established a popular radio show. He broadcasted in the early morning out of Teatro Hidalgo near Olvera Street and formed a musical group, Los Madrugadores. He wrote corridos that documented the conditions of immigrants in the U.S., broadcast job opportunities for unemployed Mexicans, and tried to support the poor among the Mexican community of Los Angeles. His show was so popular among Mexicans in the 1930’s that city officials became fearful of a potential uprising of Pedro’s listeners. City officials successfully orchestrated false charges against Pedro in 1934. Pedro served five years in San Quentin penitentiary while his family and loyal fans worked tirelessly to overturn his sentence. When Pedro was released in 1940 and immediately deported to Tijuana, Mexico, Pedro returned to radio and was instrumental in developing radio in the wider border region.
Those who Stayed
The inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1933 introduced a “New Deal” to U.S. politics that encouraged the formation of labor unions to elevate wages, restore work hours, and establish economic stability. In Los Angeles, the first group of workers to organize under the “New Deal” were Mexican American female seamstresses under the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Rose Pesotta, a Jewish labor organizer, used the bilingual press and Spanish language radio to appeal to Mexican women to join the picket lines. They went on strike in October 1933 in an industry where 75 percent of the dressmakers were Mexicanas. By participating in a union that affected over 2000 female workers, Mexicanas incorporated themselves into the fight for civil rights in America. The decision to stay and fight demonstrated a strong affirmation that Boyle Heights was their home.