In 1910, Mexico celebrated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war for Mexican independence from Spain. The political climate in Mexico was peaceful and orderly. It would not last.
In 1867, Mexican forces had defeated the French occupation army and had captured and executed Hapsburg Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, whom France had installed as emperor of Mexico. Benito Juárez reassumed the presidency of Mexico and remained in power until his death in 1872. He was followed by Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, who in turn was ousted by Porfirio Díaz in 1876. Díaz would serve as a “benevolent dictator” until 1910. On the day after the centennial celebrations, Díaz announced the result of the presidential election: 99 percent in his favor. This sparked the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
Initially, there were three factions in the revolution: one led by Francisco I. Madero, another by Emiliano Zapata, and the third by Pancho Villa. Díaz jailed Madero but he was able to escape to the United States. Madero met with fellow conspirators in San Antonio, declared the election results fraudulent, and began planning the revolution. Zapata’s forces revolted in the state of Morelos under the slogan “land and liberty.” Villa fought in the north and attracted an audience of thousands of Americans on El Paso, Texas, rooftops when he successfully attacked Ciudad Juárez.
Díaz resigned and Madero assumed the presidency. But Madero was soon murdered by agents of Mexican Gen. Victoriano Huerta, who then assumed the presidency. Zapata and Villa continued their fight against Huerta and were joined by another faction led by Venustiano Carranza. Mexico was now engaged in a full-scale revolution that would last for much of the decade. (The situation was made even more complex by American military invasions at Veracruz in 1914 to redeem U.S. “military honor” and into Chihuahua in 1916 in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa — all without a congressional declaration of war.)
Here’s how T.R. Fehrenbach described the situation in his book Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico:
This was the “poor, bleeding Mexico” … a country torn by mindless struggles between emerging rival warlords for power. In the towns and cities men went armed, and Constitutionalist deputies carried pistols into the halls of congress. Some authorities estimated the anarchy and warfare killed as many as two million Mexicans. Whatever the cause, the net population dropped by several hundred thousands between 1910 and 1920.
The war caused enormous chaos for the Mexican people, including those living in the north near the United States border. For example, my grandmother and her family lived in a small Mexican town named Lampazos near Monterrey. They were prominent “Porfiristas.” Here’s how my grandmother, who was then 21 years old, described the situation:
There was lots of excitement because a garrison of federal troops had arrived to protect the town. The troops were under the leadership of Gen. Rubio Novarrete, and he had with him a group of boys of the best families of Monterrey and Mexico. For about six months we enjoyed lots of festivities, like dances and banquets. It was March of 1913 when they told us that the Carranzistas were going to attack the town and that we had to get out immediately. So we took with us the most necessary things and left in horse-drawn carriages; it was a long caravan escorted by federal troops. It took us about three days to reach Nuevo Laredo. The boys on the staff of General Novarrete sent me dozens of beautiful roses. We lived in Nuevo Laredo for about six months and often crossed to Laredo, Texas, to go shopping, see the picture shows, or visit friends. It was at this time that I met my future husband, Matías de Llano. Rumors started that the Carranzistas were going to attack Nuevo Laredo and that the federals were going to burn the bridge. So the refugees crossed into Laredo, Texas. We were so many that it was difficult to find a house to rent.
The situation was the same for thousands of other Mexican families. The Mexican Revolution resulted in one of history’s largest human migrations. Here’s how Matt S. Meier and Feliciano Ribera described it in their book Mexican Americans-American Mexicans:
The 1910 revolution, a period of incredible violence and confusion, directly affected the Southwest. Out of 15 million Mexicans an estimated one million lost their lives in the decade of revolution, and there was a large-scale displacement of people. Thousands fled from the countryside into the larger towns and cities of Mexico; at the same time other thousands fled northward to the United States. No one knows precisely how many Mexicans were involved in this great exodus; one estimate holds that more than one million Mexicans crossed over into the Southwest between 1910 and 1920. These displaced people greatly increased the population of Mexican American border towns and barrios. Despite plans to the contrary, many ultimately settled in the United States since they found comfort and cultural security in the familiar milieu of Mexican American communities.
The wave of Mexican immigrants brought to the United States by the revolution included some who managed to escape with enough capital to start businesses in southwestern barrios. Among them also were landowners, merchants, and intellectuals. At the same time that the revolution was causing thousands of peones to migrate, the demand for workers in the Southwest was growing rapidly.
The ease by which this enormous human migration took place was the result of one crucial factor: after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the border with Mexico remained open. Mexican citizens had been free to do what Mexicans and the Spanish had done for centuries — travel to what had not long before been the northern part of their country. (The U.S. Border Patrol was not established until 1924 and even then was so poorly staffed that it had little significant effect on the ability of Mexican citizens to freely cross into the United States.)
Mexicans would cross the border to visit, to live, to work, or to start a business. Of course, visiting and working did not automatically translate into American citizenship. Open borders meant that Mexicans retained their Mexican citizenship while living or working in the United States, much as Americans living or working abroad today retain their American citizenship.
A common complaint of those who favor closed borders is that the entire world would flood into the United States if the borders were opened. But the complaint is fallacious. For most people, moving to a foreign country is enormously difficult, both psychologically and financially. Equally important, such a move usually depends on economic conditions. The best evidence of this occurred in the United States during the Great Depression. Did people flood into the United States during that decade? On the contrary, there occurred an enormous human migration in the opposite direction. For example, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Mexicans returned to Mexico during the Great Depression.
Of course, they were “assisted” by President Franklin Roosevelt, commonly known as a great humanitarian and a lover of the poor, needy, and disadvantaged, who implemented a policy of repatriation of Mexican citizens in the 1930s. The sordid story is detailed in Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s by Francisco E. Balderama and Raymond Rodríguez.
It was during Roosevelt’s tenure that the United States abandoned the principles of economic liberty on which our nation had been founded. Roosevelt installed (without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment) what is today called the socialistic welfare state. It was a way of life whose roots lay with German socialists during the reign of Otto von Bismarck. (It always surprises Americans to learn that Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist [Nazi] economic programs to get Germany out of its depression bear a remarkable similarity to those of Roosevelt.)
Instead of simply prohibiting noncitizens from receiving welfare, FDR adopted a policy of arrest and repatriation. Never mind that Mexicans had been able to freely come into United States since 1848, had legally started families and businesses, had legally purchased homes and other properties, had secured legal employment, had contributed to American prosperity, and had paid taxes.
The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service began a series of well-publicized raids on Mexican citizens living and working in the United States. No place was secure from the clutches of the INS; one of its proudest accomplishments was a raid that took place on Mexican families who were picnicking in a Los Angeles park. The message Franklin Roosevelt and the INS sent out to Mexican citizens, whom previous Americans had welcomed for decades, was loud and clear: “You’re not welcome here any longer. Get out of our country or face involuntary repatriation to Mexico.”
(Of course, it was not the only time that Roosevelt used immigration controls for immoral ends. Recall his use of immigration laws to refuse the immigration of Jews from Nazi Germany. See “Locking Out the Immigrant” by Jacob G. Hornberger in Ebeling and Hornberger, The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration. )
It is impossible to measure the degree of suffering among the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who migrated back to Mexico during the 1930s. They pulled together their meager belongings and organized their caravans back to Mexico. Those who remained would often sing to those who were departing “Las Golondrinas,” the “Auld Lang Syne” of Mexico. The travail was especially difficult for those families whose children had been born in the United States and who, therefore, were American citizens. The older children sometimes refused to return to Mexico with their parents. Those children who did return were often teased by Mexican children for speaking English.
What was especially galling was Roosevelt’s claim that the Great Depression was the failure of America’s “free-enterprise system” when, in fact, he knew that it had been caused instead by the Federal Reserve System. Instead of admitting that it had been the U.S. bureaucrats who had caused the misery and suffering, Roosevelt chose to find scapegoats like “the free market” as well as Mexican citizens who had contributed so much to the well-being of the United States.
Roosevelt’s treatment of Mexican citizens in the 1930s didn’t stop Mexican-Americans from serving in World War II. Here’s what Meier and Ribera write:
“More than 300,000 Mexican Americans served in the armed forces during World War II. Most enlisted in the army, and based on their percentage of the total population, more Chicanos served in combat divisions than any other ethnic group. Their valor helped them garner proportionately more military honors than any other ethnic group. Of 14 Texans awarded the Medal of Honor, five were Mexican Americans. By the end of the war 17 Mexican Americans had earned the Medal of Honor. Five were awarded posthumously.”
Thus, for those who measure patriotism by military service, it is extremely difficult to question the patriotism of people in the Mexican-American community.
For those who say that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have a patriotic duty to cheer for an American sports team (see part 1 of this series), the proper response is “Nonsense!” Are Texans living in Virginia acting unpatriotically when they cheer for the Dallas Cowboys? Are families in Los Angeles acting unpatriotically when they cheer for a Mexican soccer team that has many of their friends and relatives on it? Are Americans living in Paris acting unpatriotically when they cheer for an American soccer team?
While most people would consider it bad manners to boo during the playing of any country’s national anthem, to equate patriotism with a devotion to symbols rather than to principles or with devotion to a particular sports team makes little sense.
Does the United States today truly need a Berlin Wall along our southern border — or INS killings of immigrants — or repatriation of Cuban refugees into communism — or INS warrantless raids on American homes and businesses — or foreigners dying of thirst on lonely deserts or drowning on the high seas while trying to enter the United States?
For more than 75 years, the American people had a rational and humane immigration policy: one of openness and friendship along the southern border. This is the only policy that is consistent with principles of economic liberty and loving thy neighbor as thyself.