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March 5, 2012

Apology For Deporting Mexican Americans During Great Depression Doesn’t Overturn Racist Policies And Sentiment

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What’s in an apology if you don’t really mean it? This is a question I ask all the time as I see both public figures and people I know personally apologize for things they seem to have no real remorse for doing. From my view, an authentic apology should be accompanied by actions that support the apology–If you’re truly sorry for what you did, then you’ll take at least some steps to prevent similar future actions. If you are, however, apologizing as a matter of political correctness or for other reasons, evidence of this is clear by the lack of accompanying actions with the words of apology. Sadly, we live in a world where the only thing necessary is giving the appearance of regret.

These days, we hear story after story related to undocumented Mexican immigrants being deported. Countless families have been torn apart this way, with a family member leaving home never to return again. We also hear about both the laws on the books and the bills states are trying to pass in order to target undocumented immigrants. The issue here isn’t really immigration status, it’s race and socioeconomic status.

What Controlling The Borders Is Really About

whites only, no mexicans or spanishThe push to “control the borders” isn’t really about the fear of terrorists or other “criminals” entering the country. It’s about controlling the flow of Black and brown people–primarily Mexicans and those south of the border–into the country. The whole time it’s been about doing whatever’s necessary to hoard the resources for those believed to deserve it most–those who are not poor, or Black, or Brown.

Controlling the borders is also about controlling the culture–many people feel that having other (what they feel are less desirable) cultures in the United States dilutes American culture. You need only look as far as presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s statement where he called Spanish “the language of living in a ghetto,” to understand this mentality. Proponents of this wrongheaded thinking attempting to sway public opinion through the use of fear tactics, in an attempt to reinforce the idea that immigrants pose a threat to the national security and economy of the United States.

Deportation Of Mexican Americans During The Great Depression

While there’s all of this talk about deporting “illegal” immigrants today, did you know that during The Great Depression (about 80 years ago) LA county deported actual U.S. citizens of Mexican descent? That’s right, they did sweeps of the areas where Mexican Americans lived and rounded people us, put them on trains, and shipped them to Mexico!

You see, it didn’t matter that more than half of the people rounded up were U.S. citizens. They were forced to leave to protect the few available jobs for whites. Ironically, the movement of thousands of families was termed “repatriation.” The motive for the deportations was clearly race and the whites’ sense of entitlement to those jobs in tough economic times.

Some 80 years ago, tens of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in L.A. County were forced aboard trains and taken south of the border, supposedly to stop them from taking American jobs. [...]

Those taken to Mexico from Los Angeles were only a portion of the more than 2 million people that officials estimate were deported or forced to leave during The Great Depression-era campaign.

Scholars estimate that more than 60% were U.S. citizens. Some also said the campaign in Southern California served as a model for the rest of the country.
Source: LA Times

Insincere Apology From LA County

Mexican American Legal Defense Fund unveiled the memorial at La Plaza on Main Street.Recently, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors formally apologized for the deportations, but it was merely a symbolic gesture that had nothing to do with actually being sorry for what they did to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans during The Great Depression.

Seeking this formal apology had been in the works for some time. Back in 2003 proponents organized a campaign to seek the apology. So, make no mistake, it’s not as if L.A. County looked at history and said, “Wow! What we did to Mexican-American U.S. citizens during The Great Depression was terrible.” On the contrary, supporters had to seek a formal apology from the county.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors formally apologized.

“L.A. was very much part of these official roundups,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina. “There’s a point in time where the only thing you can do is offer an apology.” [...]

“Families were forced to abandon, or were defrauded of, personal and real property, which often was sold by local authorities as ‘payment’ for the transportation expenses incurred in their removal,” according to the motion.

Politicians and legal advocates launched a campaign in 2003 to win a formal apology and reparations. And in 2005, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill apologizing to the estimated 400,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents who were illegally deported to Mexico between 1929 and 1944.

County officials said part of that legislation was used to secure funding for a commemorative monument in Los Angeles, and on Sunday public officials and representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund will unveil the memorial at La Plaza on Main Street.

There will also be a panel discussion about the issue, among other events, and officials encourage anyone who was affected by the repatriation campaign to come and record their stories.
Source: LA Times

Deportations Continue With The Same Racist Policies In A Different Century

In this case, the apology was really a formality. L.A. County continues to push stringent anti-immigration policies to this day. If this apology was about actually being sorry, their immigration policies would reflect it–they wouldn’t continue to treat Mexican immigrants with such disdain and suspicion. The bottom line is that the same underlying prejudice is what motivates much of the anti-immigration sentiments and subsequent policies. Immigration policies are racist policies. Just like the poll taxes and literacy tests that were intended to keep Blacks from voting, today’s immigration policies are legalized racism and discrimination against Black and brown people from south of the border (and other places around the world).

The anti-Mexican-immigration sentiments are underscored by the overall resistance to Mexican culture–both the Spanish language and the way of life. The fact is that many Americans who are racist support anti-immigration policies as a means of preventing what they view as an “erosion” of their own “American” culture.

In the end, the racist immigration policies serve to control both the racial makeup and culture of the United States.

So why apologize if they weren’t really sorry? Well, reparations and other acts of restitution cannot be pursued without establishing wrongdoing on the part of the offender. The formal apology establishes this wrongdoing and paves the way for those affected, or their descendants, to pursue other remedies. Perhaps this is the upside of the insincere apology.

The thing is, no amount of apologies or monuments in commemoration will fix the mentality of those who view Mexican immigrants as “those people” who are usurpers of the “American Dream.” Apologies won’t reunite the families torn apart by decades of racist immigration practices and policies. So, while a formal apology might open the door to healing, it’s not what is going to solve the issue that caused the offense in the first place–only gaining the ability to see others as equally human and equally deserving of the opportunity to live life free from oppression will do that.

Sources:

Newt Gingrich Called Spanish “Language Of Living In The Ghetto”
Monument is Reminder of Shameful Time in US History



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Cheri