It should not be a mystery or come as a surprise to anyone with a faint knowledge of factual United States history as to why Mexicans and Mexican Americans are being targeted by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and deported to Mexico. Unlike other immigrant groups, Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans are a racially stigmatized group in the U.S.
After the United States won the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded more than half of Mexican land to the U.S. Mexican citizens living on the ceded land were to retain full property rights and be granted U.S. citizenship. However, Mexican Americans became victims of stereotyping, discrimination and exclusion in the United States.
Stereotypes are created to justify or rationalize the treatment of targeted groups. In this case, the stereotype of the Mexican as an “alien” and “an inferior race” justified Manifest Destiny; the taking of land from Mexico was sanctified. When this occurred, Mexican landowners were displaced and Mexicans became exploited as cheap labor.
U.S. culture promulgates highly negative images of the people, the language and the culture of Mexico and its citizens. Mexican Americans, despite hiring out as “stoop labor,” working long hours, being underpaid and doing jobs unwanted by Americans are often pictured as lazy. They are also stereotyped as being dirty, drunken, gang bangers, unable to speak English, and most often, illegals. Illegal immigrants have been accused of being freeloaders, taking advantage of welfare and other government programs like Social Security which would require the proper identification that they cannot get. Mexican immigrants have most recently been stereotyped by our President as criminals, drug dealers and rapists. White supremacists consider Mexican immigrants as a sort of “cultural cancer” or “cultural parasites” who have a plan to reconquer United States territory for Mexico. Like other racially stigmatized groups in the United States, Mexican Americans have experienced discrimination in housing, education, the judicial process and access to public places. Signs displaying “No Dogs, Negroes, and Mexicans” have been at different times prolific in the Southwest.
In the 1940s, Mexican Americans wearing zoot suits were portrayed as criminals, and during World War Two, they were accused of being disloyal foreigners. In Los Angles, more than 5,000 servicemen and civilians attacked Mexican Americans in what was the worst of the “Zoot Suit Riots.” Mexican Americans did serve in WWII but were denied medical services by the Veteran’s Administration when they returned home.
This chapter in the lives of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans is not new. When the economy takes a downturn, they become easy scapegoats. There are no complaints when they do the labor that no other Americans will do, when they are exploited economically so that Americans can enjoy cheap fruits and vegetables they pick under oppressive conditions. Surely there exists a humane way of growing our economy than stigmatizing and dehumanizing a whole group of people, many of whom are American citizens. Perhaps one of the first things that Americans who wish to understand the issue of Mexican immigration should do is to study American history, the U.S. wars of expansion, and Manifest Destiny.
Most Americans do not know that when needed, Mexicans were brought into our country to work. During the early 20th century, Mexicans were recruited to work in Texas, Arizona and California to help develop commercial farms. However, between 1929 and 1936, a mass deportation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans occurred. As now, they were blamed for taking job from American. Up to two million Mexicans and Mexican Americans were repatriated. Of those deported, some 60% were United States citizens. Their citizenship, family connections, and lives established in the United States were ignored, their deportation based simply on skin color.
As Americans, we must continue to examine our values and ask ourselves: Are we are a nation focused on the “subhuman traits” of hatred and division, or a nation that rejects those base values, recognizes our connectedness as a people and demonstrates our humanity?