1931 newspaper article on the raid in La Placita, Los Angeles.
In the early 1930s, Secretary of Labor William Doak, with the support of President Herbert Hoover, initiated a deportation campaign against “deportable aliens.” Although the campaign was used against immigrants from many nations, Mexicans were a particular target. Hoover authorized an increase in the number of Border Patrol officers and Doak found willing partners in state and local officials. At the time the Bureau of Immigration worked under the auspices of the Department of Labor. Doak believed that the Great Depression was caused by “alien labor” taking the jobs of American workers. Mexican immigrants, according to government officials, also used welfare benefits that should go to “Americans.” Either way, Mexican immigrants were viewed as bad for the nation: they worked and they did not work.
Between 1930 and 1932, the Border Patrol raided work places, union halls, parks, and neighborhoods. Officers demanded identification. The raids took both immigrants and U.S. citizens who could not immediately prove citizenship. Vigilante groups felt validated to attack Mexican American barrios. In El Paso, individuals disguised themselves as immigration officials and pressured people to return to Mexico.
Like today, the government’s greatest weapon was fear.
I know profoundly the long-term consequences of this strategy. Several branches of my family repatriated, including two generations of U.S.-born citizen children. They returned a few years later and the boys who had been sent to Mexico joined the military, serving honorably in World War II. The fear remained so strong in their mother that I was not allowed to speak to her about the experience even five decades later.
Today our community is experiencing a similar wave of fear. A Google search for today’s news on deportations as I write this reveals headlines such as “Memos signed by DHS secretary describe sweeping new guidelines for deportations,” “Trump plans to ramp up deportations, expand target immigrant groups,” and “Homeland Security set to make it much easier to deport undocumented immigrants.”
I have witnessed fear move from generation to generation in my family from a deportation campaign that happened eighty years ago. I don’t want more families to be scarred by threats of deportation. I don’t want children to tell their teachers that they are scared. I don’t want my friends elementary-age daughter to say, “They know where we live.”
This is a time of fear. As people with friends, family, and community members under threat from this latest fear campaign, we want to help. We have heart-felt intentions to protect our loved ones. But we need to be careful. We have to be responsible, clear-headed, and cautious not to spread the fear.
Social media is filled with messages warning of raids, of the DMV registering legal residents to vote in order to frame them as criminals, and other stories posted by supporters of immigrant communities. Some are accurate; others are not. It can be difficult to distinguish between them. But it is essential that we be careful to do this. We can’t help Trump and his administration in their mission to increase the terror in our communities.Let's not feed the fear machine.
Wear your Voice outlines how to avoid being part of the fear machine here: http://wearyourvoicemag.com/more/social-justice/share-info-ice-raids-social-media-read
There where they watch you
From another time.
They stroke your face
Skin toughened by sun.
Wrinkled deep like
Mud cracks in a dry river bed
Crossing some primordial
They run their tiny soft fingers
Down your bony arms
Across calloused hands that
Wondering if you were
Not knowing that behind
Those cloudy closed eyes
You still dream.
The connections between people and their cultures are very important. When we make those links, we strengthen those capacities to be human, in the best sense. [She started to cry with emotion.] It's always there, hiding in the rocks, we have to give it a chance to grow. A big chance.
Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez
Interview in Colorlines, Oct 20, 2011
“Saw client X fishing at the river this morning. Do not give the family any food this week.” 1933 notation by a county social worker, Travis County. File found in the attic of the agency, 1986.
The river flowed as it always did
The sun rose as it always had
In those sunrise times
She remembered walking together
Down a dirt road to the river
Cane fishing pole propped on her shoulder.
Walking slow so her grandma could keep up.
Her grandma taught her to dig the worms
In the evening
In the soft worked dirt of the flower bed
Put them in the rusty coffee can she
Kept under the warped wooden stairs
Put a little soil with them so they could
Survive the night.
Morning and evening are the best times
To fish her grandma said
When the catfish swim lazy at the bottom
Their big mouths opening and closing
Eating algae and tiny silver minnows.
When the crappies swim near the water’s edge
Hoping to catch a flying insect, a tiny speck of bread.
Throw the hook in softly her grandma said,
Gently so it floats down with the current
Natural like the leaves and pieces of twig
That she saw moving on the river’s surface.
Hold the pole like you are holding something delicate
So that any tug will bring your hands alive
But don’t pull it is too fast
Give that fish time to put its mouth
Around that worm
Then pull hard.
When you get that fish, treat it gentle.
Once she remembered that she caught a
The size of a perch but instead of the
Rainbow color it was black with white
Dots and her grandma said it was a good sign.
That morning she woke up remembering her grandma
So she headed to the river to fish
As the sun came up on the eastern horizon.
She was looking forward to a dinner of fried fish.
When that white man who worked for county
Welfare drove by, she smiled and waved.
In my twenties, I lived and worked in East Austin. To the south of my house was the Mexican American part of East Austin; to the north was the African American part. Recently, I began to look at the 1860 census for Austin, where enslaved people had no names. They were identified only by their age and their gender. I followed the family into the 1870s and found the little brother's name. In this poem, a young girl names her brother.
Schedule 2- Slave Inhabitants in the City of Austin in the County of Travis State of Texas, enumerated by me, on the 1st day of August, 1860, S. J. Wood Ass’t Marshal
Slave owner: J.H. Hutchins
Number of slaves Age Sex Color
1 5 M B
My brother’s name is Brown
Like the soft color of his skin.
I named him that
Forty days after his birth
Waiting for the stars to whisper it to me.
For forty days, I stood listening in the cold
Winter darkness, waiting.
Brown, his name is Brown, they shined.
Honey brown like the oak leaves
That covered the Texas ground in fall.
Like the tiny hats that balanced on
Acorns as they hung on the tall trees.
Brown like the soil I dig up
With my hands to feel the warmth
Of the sun.
I whisper to him
No matter what they tell you.
You have a name.
Your name is Brown.
“The only way to bear the overwhelming pain of oppression is by telling, in all its detail, in the presence of witnesses and in a context of resistance, how unbearable it is. If we attempt to craft resistance without understanding this task, we are collectively vulnerable to all the errors of judgment that unresolved trauma generates in individuals.”
Aurora Levins Morales