Monument is Reminder of Shameful Time in US History

By EGP & EFE News Service

A monument installed Feb. 27 at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles commemorates Mexican-American U.S. citizens who were deported during the Great Depression era.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOLMonumento es un Recordatorio de un Capítulo Vergonzoso en la Historia de EE.UU.

The unveiling ceremony on Sunday, attended by civic leaders and elected official, included a formal apology from the State of California and the County of Los Angeles for their roles in the forced “repatriation” to Mexico of about two million Mexicans and Mexican-American citizens between 1929 and 1944.

A survivor of repatriation with her family viewing the monument.

“We were Americans citizens and there was no reason for us to be driven out of our country,” said Emilia Castaneda, who participated in the ceremony.

“We had to experience many difficulties and hardships to overcome this unjust expulsion,” Castaneda added.

“This mass exodus of our people during the Depression era was indeed a very dark period in our history — as a community — and as a nation,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said during the unveiling ceremony.

Solis said the reasons for the mass deportation of 80 years ago sound eerily similar to the rhetoric attacking undocumented immigrants heard today. She called the monument an important reminder:

“Especially now, as the rhetoric surrounding modern-day immigrants has become increasingly demonizing — and hauntingly similar to that of the Depression era. … You know that in tough economic times vulnerable communities are the easiest target for exploitation,” Solis said.

Several speakers noted that the stated purpose of the Mexican Repatriation Program was to ensure jobs for “real Americans.”

Former congressman and LA Plaza Board Chair Esteban Torres gave perhaps some of the most moving remarks during the ceremony. Torres recalled how his father was caught up in a raid while working at a mine in Miami New Mexico and was sent to Mexico. “I never saw him again,” said Torres, who was just six-years-old when his father was deported. He went on to tell the stories of several other family members, who like his father were illegally deported, but never told why.

The event, hosted by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and LA Plaza, included a panel of experts which drew comparisons between the repatriation with current views on immigrants.

“This remembrance has powerful lessons for today in the contemporary context of states and cities that have policies to terrorize the peaceful residents who live in our country,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF.

“This event today is a formal apology from California to all those who were illegally deported and forced to emigrate to Mexico,” said retired Sen. Joseph Dunn, whose legislation, SB 670, was passed in 2005 and resulted in the state offering a formal apology and ordering a monument be made.

Supervisor Gloria Molina stressed the importance of the event as also recognizing a little studied chapter in history.

“Not only are we celebrating the apology by the state but LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes is also bringing to the fore a tragic piece of our history that was swept under the rug and cannot be found in our textbooks,” she said. LA Plaza is located across from Olvera Street, the site of one of the largest raids of the era.

Approximately 1.2 million of the people deported during the Mexican Repatriation program were born in the U.S., had U.S. citizens or legal residents, and not “illegal aliens” as they were labeled.

Francisco Valderrama, a University of California Los Angeles professor and co-author with Raymond Rodriguez of “A Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930’s”, explained the Mexican community was the “scapegoat” of the economic difficulties at the time.

In California alone, about 400,000 U.S. citizens or legal residents of Mexican origin were, as Dunn said passionately, “illegally deported” to Mexico.

The monument has been erected in LA Plaza’s courtyard, and reads: “The state of California presents an apology to these people who were victims of this ‘repatriation’ program for the fundamental violations of their basic freedoms and legal rights committed during the period of illegal deportation and forced migration.”

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March 1, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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