My parents shared stories that were filled with the WPA, the CCCs, high school dances, and making tortillas. From my parents I heard stories about the Charleston, being stationed in Japan, dealing with Pancho Villa, as well as rubber and sugar rationing.
The stories that were shared yesterday were every bit as specific but were all related to the removal of Mexicanos and Mexican Americans to Mexico.
Several prominent Latinos were at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes where a plaque was dedicated memorializing the experience. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis spoke, as did UFW Co-founder Dolores Huerta. They spoke of those who viewed, and view, laborers as a commodity. Dolores spoke, in her direct style, of the workers being brought and then removed as a workforce was needed. Build up Los Angeles – bring them over, shortage of males due to WWI – keep them here, Great Depression -send them back, shortage of males due to WWII – bring them here, GIs return – send them back. The schizophrenic time when both Bracero program and Operation Wetback program are existing concurrently.
Congressman Esteban Torres spoke of his family’s journey. His father was born in the U.S. but was among those citizens that was deported to Mexico. His family was further splintered when his brother was given to another family. The congressman never saw his father again.
Another family with a different outcome. A father, in response to the L.A. Department of Deportation letter, takes his family to the office. He speaks with a man who assures him he’ll be taken care of and hands him a sealed letter that he is directed to take to Window 4. Before going to Window 4 he opens the sealed envelope. In the envelope he reads directions that the man at Window 4 was to give his family one way tickets to the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The father quietly gathers his family, they leave, and manage to stay in the States.
A father on his deathbed lying to his his children about where he was born; his family stories closeted in shame because of his birthplace. His children are complicit in a lie that denies them the opportunity to learn more about their family – even at the end of his life. They know their father was born in Zacatecas but can not share the fact that they know this with him. Seemingly the stuff of drama, but in this instance all to real.
400,000 people deported, some at gunpoint. The story of a young child born in the states and growing up in Mexico who goes to the movie with his siblings in 1939. The movie they see makes him cry. It’s the Wizard of Oz – he desperately wants to go home, too. As an 82 year old he still has nightmares of the raid which removed him from his home.
A panel of academics sharing little known facts…the mechanisms and protocols set in place during this effort were used a decade later when Japanese and Japanese Americans were placed in camps. Procedures and protocols had been practiced so the machine worked efficiently. The reason the event took place yesterday – remembering La Placita Raid that took place 81 years ago, February 26, 1931. 400 Mexicans enclosed in the park by La Placita, made to line up and show evidence of legal entry to the U.S. before they could leave.
Perhaps the most insidious to me is the San Fernando Raid which took place on Ash Wednesday. According to Professor Balderrama, “immigration agents and deputies blocked off all exists to the colonia and ‘rode around the neighborhood with their sirens wailing and advising people to surrender themselves to the authorities’ (Decade of Betrayal)“.*
Mores stories, more words. Attitudes reflected in phrases. Families divided by status, decided on a whim of one person. U.S. citizens deported because of how they look? Not victims, survivors; no desire for reparation, a desire for an apology; not repatriated, expatriated.
What is wanting and wanted – tomorrow.