The Pattern of Immigration from the 1900’s to the Present
In the early 20th century there was a growing demand for workers in U.S. coal and copper mines in the Southwest. This need for labor brought in migration from Mexico and greatly expanded the economic and population growths in the Southwest, especially in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver (Romo, 1983). The United States search for an extended labor force also turned to international sources, such as China and Japan. Chinese and Japanese workers were brought in to work in agriculture fields, mines, and railroads until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Japan that closed the door to their immigration (Takaki, 1989).
With the limited sources for immigrant workers in the early 1900’s, Mexicans became a crucial part of the U.S. labor force again in the Southwest. Several reasons encouraged the use of Mexican labor. One conception was that Mexican culture was not as different from American culture, as opposed to Asian cultures and workers before, and that Mexican’s had a long history prior to the current influx of laborers of working in the area. During this time too, Mexicans were viewed as non-competitors, inexpensive hard workers, passive toward employers, and temporary migrants that would simply return to Mexico rather than staying in the United States (De Leon, 1983).
By the 1920’s a pattern of immigration had been established for the first large immigration of Mexicans to the United States (Cordoso, 1980). Immigration stopped during the Great Depression, but then increased again in the 1940’s with the initiation of the “Bracero Program”, meaning arms in Spanish. This program was designed by the United States to utilize unskilled workers who would work on a contract basis for only a few months. During the twenty-two year program, Mexicans had an opportunity to make contacts with employers and experience the benefits the United States offered to their residents. Although the program ended in 1964, the need for migrant workers did not stop. Consequently, the number of illegal aliens rapidly increased during this time.
Due to current federal policies, most new Mexican immigrants tend to be illegal. These illegal immigrants work in agricultural sites and urban/rural low wage jobs (without benefits) that other U.S. citizens would not consider working. Some work for a short while and then return back to Mexico with money for their families, while others migrate with other relatives and reorganize a “new U.S. family”. The new family unit may be the individual’s focus, as over time they become both emotionally and financially dependent on their family members for survival in the new country.
Migrating and Crossing the Border
Typically, the idea of migrating to the United States is initiated by both families that are in the U.S. and Mexico, mainly financial and independence reasons. U.S. employers entice workers to enter the country illegally with financial promises, and other migrant workers return to Mexico with sensationalized accounts of American life. In addition to stories passed down through family members, migrating into the United States tends to be a part of the family’s history where certain individuals are chosen to work to earn a specified amount for the family and then return home. When a family migrates together they develop a sense of community in their new surroundings. As time goes on, they begin to make friends, social contacts, and neighbors. These social networks encourage the family to begin to integrate permanently into society and remain in the United States.
To enter into the United States many families must cross the San Diego-Tijuana border illegally. Places like San Diego, CA, for instance, have many ways to enter. Imperial Beach, coastal hills from the low mountains that follow the Tijuana River Canal, and the formal border crossing of San Ysidro in Tijuana, are popular crossing areas. Crossing the borders illegally is extremely dangerous and many times unsuccessful for families. Along the beaches, outside of Camp Pendleton, officers wait to capture individuals and family groups who meet each other on the beach to cross over. Once families are captured they are deported back to Mexico and could serve jail time for breaking the law.
Immigrants in the San Diego Area
Commonly there is a higher population of Mexican immigrants close to the U.S. border. Although in San Diego, Mexican Americans are found throughout the San Diego County with a greater concentration in the central and southern areas.
Once inside the limits of San Diego, immigrants may feel confined by checkpoints on the south, Mexico International Border, the west, San Clemente, and the east, Temecula. This enclosed area is designed to capture illegal immigrants if they try to leave the San Diego area.
Work and Education in Mexico
In the book, Shadowed Lives, undocumented workers “express a great deal of pride in their ability to work hard” (Chavez, 1998). This attitude of a strong work ethic is encouraged and displayed in Mexico and the United States in both rural and urban areas. Working hard to support family is emphasized above education because in Mexico educational opportunities are limited due to the costs of books, materials, and schools. In Mexico, education usually does not go beyond the sixth grade and by the age of fourteen or fifteen children begin to work.
The children of immigrants become acculturated much quicker to the United States than immigrant parents due to their interaction with television, peers, and public schools. This integration allows children to learn American culture and the English language much faster than their parents’ native culture and language. These differing cultural viewpoints may create confusion for the child as they begin to develop their own beliefs and speak either one or both languages. Sometimes parents want to speak Spanish with their kids at home yet they want them to also learn English. Learning English is a slower process for adults and many times their work environments allow them to speak Spanish among other workers or hope that their children will help to teach them.
Along with children acculturating quicker, they also begin to pick up American customs and know very little about their Mexican heritage and traditions. The children’s lack of knowledge and familiarity with Mexican culture make some parents hesitant to take them back to Mexico after living in the United States for a couple of years.
On a good note, illegal immigrants have high hopes for their child’s future. They expect that they will have better opportunities for education and job placement later in life.
Chavez, L. (1998). Shadowed Lives. Florida: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
DeLeon, A. (1983). They called them greasers. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Romo, R. (1983). East Los Angeles: History of a barrio. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Takaki, R. (1989). Strangers from a different shore: a history of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown.
General Web Resources
Latino American History: A Guide to Resources & Research on the Web:
University of Colorado at Colorado Spring’s site for Latin American history. Includes information and links to history, popular culture, religion, and more.
Latino serach engine. Even has a page especially designed for kids.
A Hispanic heritage page with information nationwide about Hispanic Americans. Categories include education, business, culture, health, and sports. There is even a category for local issues affecting Hispanic Americans in San Diego and Los Angeles.
La Prensa San Diego:
This is a weekly, bilingual (English/Spanish) newspaper in San Diego which is also published on the web. It has educational, political and local links as well as an archive of past issues.
Resources for Teachers
Primary and Secondary Education in Latin America:
A comprehensive page for teachers to gather ideas. This page is only a small part of the Latin American Network Information Center’s site which was created by the University of Texas at Austin.
Johnson, K. R. (1999). How did you get to be Mexican?: A white/brown man’s search for identity.
Pardo, M. (1998). Mexican American women activists: identity and resistance in two Los Angeles communities.
Schmidt, Sr., R. (2000). Language policy and identity politics in the United States.
Slavin, R. E., & Calderón, M. (2001). Effective programs for latino students.Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Trueba, E. T. & Bartolome, L. I. (1997). The education of Latino students: Is school reform enough? ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. Available online at http://www.ericfacility.net/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed410367.html
Valdes, G. (2001). Learning and not learning English: Latino students in American schools