Los Repatriados
Los Repatriados > History > The Family: La Vida

Vargas Family April 9, 1936
Nicholas Vargas, his wife Maria, sons Nicholas Jr. and Jesus are standing in the doorway of their home near the Dumas-Lewis property, where many of the Mexican residents may be removed for new oil derricks.

The Mexican family in the 1930’s not only included immediate members but those of the extended family as well. Family unity, respect for parents, religious beliefs, a strong work ethic and a sense of loyalty were values deeply rooted in the Mexican family. With this in mind, preserving the Mexican identity was held to high importance because of the negative stereotypical views of Mexicans as dirty, diseased, and lazy. The family actually grew in stature and strength by providing a variety of sustenance to one another. The Great Depression and its effects, such as the Repatriation, would turn out to be a true test of the strength and self-reliance among many Mexican families.

Emigration was a family affair that was first risked by heads of households. Because heads of households (fathers, oldest sons, etc.) ventured to the U.S. alone, many Mexican communities (consisting of bars and pool halls), comprised primarily of single or married men living alone, formed in areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Gary and other cities in the Midwest. As a result, the isolation these men faced, contributed to gambling off their hard-earned wages. Due to this rising concern among Mexican families in Mexico, the question of emigrating was not just determined by one member of the family, it was a family matter. The key factor in the decision to emigrate was if they had relatives or friends already settled in the U.S. and if they were reliable for help. Predominantly young men attempted to acquire jobs and homes which would then allow them to send for their families or at least be able to send remittances for the time being. El oro y el moro (the gold and the glory) was the phrase that was spread to families back in Mexico.

Although keeping with their cultures and traditions, the way of American life for their children seemed appealing and gratifying to Mexican families in the U.S.  Those who did find a place in the U.S. however, had to face obstacles they never dreamed their family would have to endure.

Schooling and the chance to gain valuable skills for the future of their children was an opportunity that was hard to attain for Mexican families. Education and training for Mexican males included unskilled manual tasks such as agriculture and shop work of various kinds; whereas, the females did more sewing, knitting, crocheting, drawn work, rug weaving and cared for the sick. These were some of the only educational outlets provided for Mexican youth at the time and even so, some saw these Mexican children as “being deliberately programmed for failure” and “any wonder that educational achievement eluded them. Yet, rather than accept any responsibility or admit fault, the educational system preferred to blame the family for the students’ lack of academic success.”1 The lack of academic success can be derived from the lack of opportunities. With a great deal of discrimination in the educational system amongst all minorities at the time, it was inevitable that the Mexican youth would feel inferior; consequently, exerting failure.

Children were not attending school and families had to work to support their new arrival to the U.S. This situation made way for Mexican immigrants to become the most sought out working group of people due to their hard work and acceptance of low pay. “U.S. employers quickly recognized the importance of families among Mexican migrant workers and successfully exploited this feature for generating maximum profits. The Mexican family became the preferred work unit for agricultural contractors.”2 Of these agricultural areas to work in, the sugar-beet industry was the major network of field work. Upon hiring, it was very common to give preference to families with children over six years old because they could also work in the fields.

 Although there was a nice inflow of money for families during this time, the working conditions, however, were not. Many suffered from tuberculosis due to horrendous working conditions, the lack of sanitation and housing facilities, and prolonged malnutrition.  These conditions led to high death rates in comparison to the general population. “Infant-mortality rate among Mexican children was three times greater than for the general population.”3 The tools they used were also hazardous to their immigrant’s health.  A bent-over position held for 10-12 hours was especially detrimental for young persons whose bones are still developing.  Many times they gained a curvature in their spine.

Outside of the grueling work Mexican families had to undergo on a daily basis, many found sanctuary in religious practices. The majority of Mexicans are Catholic and traditions/rituals were to be passed down. The mother had the duty of seeing that children were bien educados (well educated). “The foremost manifestation of a child being bien educado was treating elders with courtesy and respect.”4 Another religious belief, that may or may not have had an effect on struggling Mexican families, was the idea that children were a gift from God. It was a woman’s job to rear children. Children are un bien de Dios (a gift from God); therefore, much time was devoted to child rearing. The mother was not only important in the Latino family in regards to religion, but also in the nuclear family structure.

The women of the households were the “accountants/budgeters” for the family; meanwhile, the men were either working or searching for jobs. During this period of repatriation, many fathers and husbands were deported which left the women and children to find their own means of income in order to survive. As a result, the women of the communities organized informal groups, referred to as, comadres. These groups consisted of family or close personal friends whom “pooled and shared what little they possessed to help truly destitute survive the crisis.”5 The image of the Mexican woman in America, however, was that she was “docile and subservient”; the damas of the communities proved otherwise. They set up clinics for pregnant women that provided prenatal care which was based on the advice of mothers, close friends, or the local curandera (healer) who often served as a midwife. “A mother’s strong will and quiet determination made her a force to be reckoned with, both within the family and the colonia, when she and her comadres joined forces.”6 Many women not only managed the household but also worked as breadwinners oftentimes alongside their husbands. Employers were more willing to hire Mexican women because “they are more desirable and more efficient than white women.”7 If and when these jobs were not available, and given that most women were not reunited with their husbands until sometime later, some women were forced to resort to prostitution or bootlegging.

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