The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


October 27, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Extracting the Truth from Los Repatriados

Extracting the truth can be like extracting a tooth. We have a gnawing pain that won’t go away, but we don’t want to complain — and don’t think anything will help anyway. We finally let the tooth get pulled and suddenly feel a huge relief. People around us now know why we weren’t smiling and just wanted to be left alone.


We see the same dynamic with traumatic events we don’t want to remember — or burden others with — but simply can’t forget. Adults who’ve experienced horror tend to protect their children from the terrifying truth. Think Holocaust survivors and Japanese-Americans in World War II or Iraq veterans in more recent times.


In our Voices this week, Elena Herrada recounts how difficult she found extracting the truth from her grandfather and the many other Repatriados in her Mexican-American Detroit community. During the Great Depression, whole families left the United States  “voluntarily” because government workers told them to go. Government agents took other Mexican-American workers by force and deported them on the spot. They didn’t even have time to say good-by. This entire exodus left Detroit’s once-vibrant Mexican-American community broken and decimated.


We still don’t know how many of the Repatriados died along the way to México — or soon after they arrived into a México also deep in Depression. We also don’t know how many never returned to the United States or how many did in fact return. Or how many Mexican-Americans in Detroit never knew what happened to fathers who disappeared.


We do know that another wave of migration from México to the US took place after World War II. Only then did some migrants find out that they already held US citizenship. They had been deported as young children.


No matter how difficult, we need to hear the facts. Victims need to tell their stories. Only by extracting the truth can we get the comfort that comes when loved ones understand our pain. Only by extracting the truth can we unburden ourselves from the shame that belongs elsewhere. The truth can set us free.


Elena Herrada, a third-generation Mexicana-Detroiter, has centered her work in her hometown. She has co-founded both the Centro Obrero de Detroit, an immigrant rights organization, and Fronteras Nortenas, a group dedicated to chronicling the lives of Mexicans from Michigan. Amid her grassroots organizing, Herrada has also served on the Detroit Human Rights Commission and won election to the Detroit Board of Education in 2012.

To repatriate to return to ones homeland sounds like a good thing. The United States had a repatriation program for Mexicanos from 1929 into 1939. What prompted this program?

Elena Herrada: In the 1910s and 1920s, the US needed workers and actively recruited Mexicans not just for agricultural work, but also for the auto industry in Detroit. But as the US economy collapsed with the Great Depression, President Hoover needed to look like he was taking action.  His solution? Promote American jobs for Americans,that is, for white Americans. Blame Mexican-Americans, round them up, and send them home. About a million were repatriated,some 60 percent citizens, mostly children born in the United States. All of this, unconstitutional.


Your own grandfather was a Repatriado. His story?


He had been recruited by Ford and planned to settle for good in the US. He lived in Detroits thriving Mexican community. The famed Communist muralist Diego Rivera also spent time there and helped start a worker co-op. 


In my grandfathers case, a social worker came to the door and asked, Where are you from?Nobody put a gun to his head. They just told him that the families of laid-off workers like him, ineligible for assistance, would starve if they stayed in the United States. So better pack up for México.

My grandfather ended up lucky. As a World War I veteran, he made it back to Detroit and found work, and then could send money to his children who remained in México.


Did you grow up knowing why your father lived in México as a boy?

I had no clue. In other Repatriado cases, just the father was deported and the family remained in the US. When the fathers returned, they told their children not to speak Spanish, so they wouldnt be targeted. My fathers generation doesnt speak Spanish. Is it any wonder that Mexicans still dont fill out the census, vote, or accept benefits?


Not until the 1970s, when my generation came of age and began to ask questions, did we start to uncover the truth.


Did you find collecting the stories of Repatriados easy?


Hardly! My own father didnt approve of what I was doing. I put an ad in a little Latino paper that asked, Was your family deported during the Depression?No response, for years. Who would want to make public a degrading experience, my dad said. Who would want people to know they have been exported on trains like a herd of cattle? My dad did me a favor! My question changed. I asked: Were you one of the pioneering Mexicans in Detroit?Then I got calls.


But some people started yelling at me when they found out what I was doing and saw me coming. And even after interviews, I would almost invariably get another call: Dont publish my story.My dad’s last words to me, before he died: I never liked your Repatriado project. But no matter how hard, I still feel that victims must speak up to prevent future atrocities.


What effect did the U.S. repatriation program have on Mexican-American families?


The repatriation divided families. The deportees, in trauma and ashamed, suffered in silence. Many elders who had been small children at the time of the deportations felt abandoned by their fathers, who in many cases had been rounded up and deported without a chance to inform their families.


Repatriation left huge emotional scars on families and communities. Detroits Mexicano community dwindled from 15,000 to 5,000.


You and other descendants of Repatriados made a video documentary.  What reception did you receive?


In 2001, we had a showing at the Detroit Institute of Art. In spite of the resistance to the project, 300 people showed up. A cathartic experience. Tears flowed. Families talked. After so many years, the wall of silence tumbled down. Across generations, people finally knew the truth about their family separations.


Then in 2004, to my surprise, a professor in México contacted me. He wanted to show our video to Repatriados who never made it home to the US. Their stories still need to be told. More families need to be reunited, at least in memory.


New Arrest and Deportation Guidelines for Immigration Agents

Is the US finally pivoting from the draconian anti-immigrant policies of recent years? The nation’s Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, is making that case, as the Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti reported late last month.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has issued broad new directives to immigration officers, saying that the fact that someone is an undocumented immigrant should not alone be the basis” of a decision to detain and deport them from the United States.


The Biden administration will continue to prioritize the arrest and deportation of immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety and those who recently crossed a border illegally into the United States. Mayorkas said Immigration and  Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers should not attempt to arrest and deport farmworkers, or the elderly.… He also said agents should avoid detaining immigrants because they spoke out against unscrupulous” landlords or employers, or at public demonstrations. The new rules take effect Nov.29.


Are we going to spend the time apprehending and removing the farmworker who is breaking his or her back to pick fruit that we all put on our tables?” Mayorkas said in an interview. Because if we pursue that individual, we will not be spending those same resources on somebody who does, in fact, threaten our safety.”


Some advocates for immigrants praised the new ICE priorities, while others were skeptical that immigration agents would exercise restraint. This memo falls far short of delivering what our communities need: bold and fundamental transformation, not changes around the edges to the same detention and deportation machinery,” said Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigration Project, in a statement.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Kurt Hackbarth, AMLO Is Nationalizing México’s Lithium Supply, Jacobin. López Obrador is attempting to transform the country’s overpriced energy industry by nationalizing lithium, a move essential to kicking out private mining and developing a robust and affordable public energy sector.


Ulises Rodríguez López, Evo Morales aplaude la reforma eléctrica de AMLO por nacionalizar al litio, Polemón. El exmandatario boliviano aseguró que América Latina tiene el potencial de ser una potencia mundial en la explotación y producción de litio, utilizado para fabricar baterías.


Nick Miroff, Border arrests have soared to all-time high, new CBP data shows, Washington Post. Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail to make the US more welcoming to immigrants, in contrast to Donald Trump, whose zero-tolerance family separations generated widespread outrage.


México's Richest Man Carlos Slim to Rebuild Collapsed Subway Line, Associated Press. Slim's agreement with Mexican authorities, his construction company says, does not constitute any admission of responsibility for the collapse of the elevated subway line that killed 26 people this past May.


Kyle Jaeger, Top Mexican Senator Says Marijuana Legalization Bill May Be Taken Up Within Weeks, Marijuana Moment. The Mexican Supreme Court three years ago declared the country’s prohibition on the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis unconstitutional. But lawmakers have since been unable to reach a consensus on regulations for marijuana use.


Manuel Aguilar Mora, México: Amlo empantanado a medio camino, SinPermiso. La lista de los conflictos que enfrenta AMLO aumenta y se complica.


Sí por México anuncia coalición para 2024; el objetivo es ‘echar’ a Morena, El Financiero. La organización Sí por México que encabezan los empresarios Gustavo de Hoyos y Claudio X. González, anunció este miércoles que buscarán una amplia coalición política entre el PAN, PRI, PRD y Movimiento Ciudadano con miras a las elecciones presidenciales de 2024.


Maya Averbuch and Amy Stillman, México's Power Bill Will Preserve Renewable Contracts, Key Lawmaker Says, Bloomberg. The Morena government won’t cancel existing contracts with private companies to produce renewable energy, an apparent concession to build consensus around a proposed constitutional reform that would ensure México’s state-owned power utility a 54-percent market share of electricity generation.


LatAm leftists gather to close ranks against ‘meddling imperialists,’ México News Daily. Issues before the conference in México City ranged from the pandemic to the case of the 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero in 2014.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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