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11.6.7 Becoming Mexican American

Sanchez, George

George Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900 – 1945. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 210 – 11.

During the Great Depression, people all over the nation found it difficult to secure adequate employment, and thus, they struggled to make enough money to keep their homes and to eat. However, the Depression affected different groups of people in different ways. In this excerpt, historian George Sánchez explains how and why Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles were hit especially hard by the Depression. Based on your reading of this excerpt, what forms of discrimination did Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles experience during the early days of the Great Depression? According to this excerpt, could they rely on private charities or government agencies to obtain the basic necessities? How does the experience that Sánchez describes help answer the question, How did ordinary people respond to the Great Depression?"

In this important historical monograph, George Sánchez examines the making of the Mexican American community in Los Angeles through a study of migration and community development in the early twentieth century. His research highlights the ways that Mexican Americans responded to the difficulties of the Depression and provides an account of Mexican Repatriation, a federal government policy forcing Mexicans and Mexican Americans to return to Mexico during the Depression. Raids on public places all around the nation, though especially in Los Angeles, aimed to round up and deport as many Mexicans as possible, though they also served to send a message of intimidation to those who remained. As your students consider the excerpt, ask them to consider what kinds of discrimination Mexican and Mexican American individuals in Los Angeles faced during the Great Depression. Ask your students to also consider how these people could attempt to counter this kind of discrimination. Together, these points can help your students address the question, How did ordinary people respond to the Great Depression?

Because of their seasonal employment in agricultural work, Mexicans were among the first in Los Angeles to experience the consequences of the Depression. ... Agriculture could no longer absorb urban workers who increasingly needed to supplement their low wages from unskilled industrial jobs. This development caused Mexican workers to depend even more heavily on wages earned in urban Los Angeles.

Finding work in the city, however, became more and more difficult. By April 1930, one of every seven Mexican laborers was unemployed, a figure twice as high as that of any other ethnic group in Los Angeles. Moreover, as Anglo Americans found themselves without work — particularly after several months of unemployment — they began to exert pressure on city employers to hire only "citizens" for work that had normally or occasionally been limited to Mexicans. ...

Many Mexican families were forced to turn to public and private charities for help in surviving unemployment and economic deprivation. Yet here, too, discrimination became the norm. During the 1920s, Mexicans constituted about one-fourth of all city residents who received some form of public assistance. ... But during the Great Depression more Anglo American residents also found themselves in difficult circumstances. The result was increasing pressure on public officials to give preference in welfare allocations to American-born heads of households. ...