The Great Migration of Mexicans

The Great migration of Mexicans to America can be dated by the beginning of the 20th century and first was perceived as a cheap labor of workers who will go back to Mexico. It was welcomed by the American government after the state entered the World War I as an opportunity to gain cheap labor resource that will not demand proper conditions. Along with the migrants from Europe, Mexicans were influenced by Americanization, and in combination to own cultural peculiarities, it raised cosmopolitism. Majorly, Mexicans moved to the pre-border states to the areas with developed agriculture, mining and railway road building, which was different from industrial preferences of the European migrants.

The paper provides analysis of the main reasons and consequences of the Great Migration of Mexicans. It became the reason of post-revolution motions that pushed out unemployed workers and political elite in exile to the pre-border states of the USA.

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After Texas annexation in 1845, the Mexicans who previously inhabited this state migrated back to Mexico or were deported in case of any resistance to the American government. Since 1890s, the United States had started to develop agriculture and new industries, specifically mining. The most active areas in this meaning were situated on the Southwest of the USA, which attracted Mexican labor migrants. The Mexican revolution of 1910 – 1920 increased this flow: political elite in exile and the war refugees escaped to the United States from violence and revenge they could meet in Mexico. People left rural areas while having no resources for survival there: the war desolated everything and the rate of unemployment was too high. Except revolutionary events, the reasons of it has social-economic and political characters such as poverty, abandoned educational, healthcare, trade etc. In addition, there is logic in including natural hazards, water shortages and other natural disasters to the list of reasons that pushed Mexicans to migration abroad.

Mostly, Mexicans moved to America from central and a bit less from Southern areas, people on the North were surviving mostly from contraband and criminal deals. In quantitative meanings, Jason Steinhauer said that the amount of “legal migrants grew from around 20,000 migrants per year during the 1910s to about 50,000 – 100,000 migrants per year during the 1920s”. Simultaneously, a lot of migrants came to the USA from Asia, Eastern and Southern Europe, which seriously bothered Mexican newcomers. Their migration was motivated by a will to escape from the Great Depression that appeared in Europe earlier and lasted longer. Additional reason was in World War I and II, which ruined old European order. The communist revolutions that covered Europe and revanchist motions led to mass escape of the intellectual elites overseas.

Speaking about territorial migratory occupation, the Mexicans were more oriented on those states where mining was well developed and which were closer to the Mexican border. Those areas included New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and California. After the Great Depression, many moved to the large cities looking for a job: Los Angeles, Chicago, Huston etc. For the Mexican political exiles, the most appropriate locations were San Antonio, El Paso, Eagle Pass and Laredo. In general, the closer state is situated to the border with Mexico, the more Mexicans live there. According to Manuel Gonzales, “Some eight thousands refugees, for example, crossed the border from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, to Eagle Pass, Texas in a single day of October 1913. In one week in June 1916, almost five thousand Mexicans poured into El Paso”. The reasons of settling on these territories include sophisticated and pragmatic factors.

First, majorly, those areas belonged to Mexico before the Mexican-American war, many people spoke Spanish there and cultural memory prevailed. Second, it was closer to the border which made migration to both sides easier. Third, climate conditions were similar to Mexican, but simultaneously the areas were better developed. Fourth, there were more working places due to mines, and building of the railroads. Even though later the migration spread all around the USA, the annexed territories were still considered by some Mexicans as Mexican, so for them it was easier in the aspects of language, accommodation, collaboration with the local Americans.

Comparing to the Great Migration from Europe, the Mexican migration was approximately three times higher. The European migrants were more oriented on industrial areas, they were a bit more educated (in average). Consequently, when from Europe the majority of migrants could afford long journey were representatives of the working class, the immigrant Mexicans used to old feudal working. In American comparative vision, the Mexicans had certain positive qualities, which put them higher than other labor migrants. Including advantage of the Mexicans in ability to work on the farms, the American agricultural lobbyists proclaimed that the farmers would not be able to sow and harvest their crops without Mexican labors. Consequently, Mexicans were never included to the list of migratory quotas in the Immigration Act of 1924. Among their physical and ethical benefits, the Mexicans had another advantage: Americans perceived them as temporary migrants, who could go back to Mexico instead of staying permanently. As evidence, during the World War I, the USA government supported contract laborers so that the American workers could go on the front. However, in the first half of 1930s, the United States provided deportation of the mass income of migrants so the government deported even many legal Mexican residents.

The American public society, politics and journalists were deeply concerned about the migratory process from Mexico and other countries/continents. They believed that the newly coming people are different from previous generations, thus, it could bring new threats to the American society and culture. The so-called science of eugenics made possible regulation of those prejudices that later raised into entire concept. Simultaneously, the immigrants were a beneficial blaming reason for the American authorities to explain budget deficit and unemployment. A significant problem the migrants met on their journey is working conditions. Since 1950s, the Hollywood cinematography attempted to depict the struggle of Latin American miners with inappropriate conditions, specifically in the film Salt of the Earth. Migrating families working as miners made entire settlings growing up children and trying to integrate to American society. It is significant after the dangerous border and/or desert crossing, high criminality rate and lack of medical care.

As consequent challenge the Mexicans faced in America was racial discrimination and isolation. According to R. A. Garcia, “The key to the identity of a Mexican American – or to an American of Mexican Descent, or any immigrant – is their own self constructed identity, rather than the imposed identity”. For that time, the Mexicans did not have this strong identity due to reasons with the Mexican-American war and revolution. A hybrid Mexican American mentality acculturation was slow because the white Americans considered others as the people of lower quality. In this prospection, the ethnic groups had inherent/natural qualities defining their intellectual rate, physical condition, bias to criminal or defined whether some ethnic groups had better qualities than other did. After some time, the assimilated Mexican groups gained unique cultural symbiosis, which later identified them as Nuevo Mexicanos, Tejanos Californios etc.

Thus, the American Mexican war and Mexican revolution led to economy default of the country, which in turn became the main reason of mass Mexican migration to the USA. Since it has started simultaneously with the American necessity in cheap labor power to build railroads, develop agriculture, mining and industry. Comparing to the migrants from Europe, except racial discrimination and improper working conditions, generally, the attitude towards Mexicans was more liberal. They mostly settled pre-border states and could come back to their families in Mexico or stay in areas that were annexed by the USA. Even though the Mexican migrant did not gain brilliant opportunities in the USA, for them it was better alternative than unemployment, natural hazards and prosperity of criminal and poverty.