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Risk Takers and History Makers: Mexican Women of the World War II Generation

Escaping poverty and revolution and lured by prospective employment in agriculture, mining, transportation, and the building trades, more than one million Mexicans migrated to the United States between 1910 and 1930, an estimated one-tenth to one-eighth of Mexico’s population. They settled into existing southwestern barrios and created new communities primarily in the Southwest and Midwest. Family migration was common. For Pasquala Esparza, journeying to El Paso with her nine-year-old daughter Jesusita and infant Raquel, the United States represented a safe haven from domestic abuse. Decades later Jesusita reflected: “My mother got married again and things did not work. I guess they did not work because I was mistreated, too, you know.”

A sense of refuge, however, eluded many Mexican American children and their parents. For women who came of age during the 1930s and 1940s, citizenship mattered little. During the early 1930s, one-third of the ethnic Mexican population in the United States (more than one million people) were either deported or repatriated to Mexico even though an estimated 60 percent were native US citizens, mostly children. Viewed as foreign usurpers of American jobs and as unworthy burdens on charity rolls, Mexicans were the only immigrants targeted for removal. They were either summarily deported by immigration agencies or persuaded to depart voluntarily by duplicitous social workers who greatly exaggerated the opportunities awaiting them south of the border. Emilia Castañeda and her family were forced to leave with little warning, even though her father, a recent widower, was a US legal resident and Emilia a citizen by birth. From the age of nine to nineteen, she lived in Mexico under dire circumstances. In her words: “We lived under a tree and a tent for awhile. We had no running water and we had to hang our food on ropes so the rats wouldn’t get it.” Now over ninety years old, Castañeda gives inspiring talks to schoolchildren about her experiences as she advocates for the inclusion of Depression-era deportations as part of the California K−12 History-Social Science Framework.

Read entire article at History Now