The so-called repatriation effort was, in large part, a misnomer, given the fact that as many as sixty percent of those sent to “home” Mexico were U.S. citizens: American-born children of Mexican-descent who had never before traveled south of the border. (Dunn noted, “I don’t know how you can repatriate someone to a country they’ve not been born or raised in.”)
“Individuals who left at 5, 6 and 7 years old found themselves in Mexico dealing with process of socialization, of learning the language, but they maintained an American identity,” said Balderrama. “And still had the dream to come back to ‘my country.’”
The raids, as detailed in Balderrama’s chronicle, were vicious. With national concerns over the supposed burden that outsiders were putting on social welfare agencies, authorities targeted those Mexicans utilizing public resources. “In Los Angeles,” explained Balderrama, “they had orderlies who gathered people [in the hospitals] and put them in stretchers on trucks and left them at the border.”
The efforts were equally chaotic. “The first raid in Los Angeles was in 1931—they surrounded La Placita Park near downtown L.A.,” Dunn recalled. “It was a heavily Latino area. They, literally, on a Sunday afternoon, rounded everyone up in park that day, took them to train station and put them on a train that they had leased. These people were taken to Central Mexico to minimize their chances of crossing the border and coming back to the U.S.”
Dunn continued, “It was not like there was a master committee mapping out blocks. It was more fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants. As in, Here’s a park where Mexicans go, okay let’s go there.”
Mexicans in the United States—and Americans of Mexican descent—had little understanding of what was happening, and what their rights were. Elena Herrada, one of the founders of the oral history project, “Los Repatriados: Exiles from the Promised Land,” is the grandchild of Mexican-Americans who were targeted in the raids. Her grandparents, she recalled, lived in a “mostly Mexican neighborhood” in Detroit, known as Court Town.
“It was the welfare officials who were doing it. A worker came to the door,” Herrada said. “My father remembered his father being asked by the worker, Where are you from?”
“My dad was really puzzled,” she said. “Because his father didn’t want to say ‘Mexico’. My father was confused because he had always been a proud Mexican.”
The family, Herrada recounted, was “de-patriated” to Mexico.
“My grandfather didn’t have work at the time, and they were forcing them to leave. There was no gun put to his to head, but [they said he] wouldn’t be eligible to receive assistance—and he would starve.”
“Many people didn’t believe they had a choice,” Herrada explained, “so they didn’t resist. My family didn’t believe they had a choice.”
Herrada’s father and uncle would spend two years in Mexico before his parents were able to bring him back to the United States—after her grandfather, a veteran of the U.S. Army, returned to the country and once again found work.