Book shopping online for a Christmas present for son Dan, I stumbled upon “Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s.”
Mexican repatriation? Like most Americans, I’d never heard of it.
It immediately fascinated me, so I’ve given it to myself; but I haven’t waited to open it.
The first chapters are already decorated by yellow highlighter as I learn of what to me was an unknown racial atrocity perpetuated upon people of Mexican heritage.
Normally I don’t highlight books, but I made an exception of “Decade of Betrayal” because it is a paperback and — why not? I’m essentially a student here and highlighting is what students do.
Of course, I am motivated by the crimes that the Trump administration has committed against Latinos, Hispanics, or whatever is the politically correct label.
But life experiences, especially with farm workers, also have informed my interest.
As a little chap living on Grandpa Day’s farm in Kennewick, I played with farm workers’ children in the Bracero Program, which helped Mexican citizens enter the United States for seasonal farm work, then return to Mexico.
As “Decade of Betrayal” explains, many U.S. citizens considered these laborers — much as their labor was wanted — to be “subhuman.” You know, like African-American slaves.
This, of course, was beyond the imagination of small children, as it still is for me as an octogenarian.
A Mexican girl too young to join her family in weeding Grandpa Day’s mint, fascinated me. Living in California’s San Juaquin Valley when I was 20 or 21, I wanted to date a Mexican-American woman my age. She was a great dancer and conversationalist; but, learning that she had promised a Mormon missionary that she would wait two years for him to return, I backed off.
There were a number of Mexican-Americans in the congregation that I attended while serving in the Air Force and I was oblivious to any cultural bias.
My economic and social naiveté was unchallenged until, as a farm reporter for the Tri-City Herald during the late 1960s, I met Tomás Villanueva.
Villanueva was then trying to organize farm labor in Washington. I invited him to lunch for an interview in Prosser’s then most popular restaurant. Tomás demurred, saying that Hispanics weren’t welcome there.
When I protested, he said they wouldn’t wait on me if he was with me, or if they did they would wait on everyone else before us, even if they came in after us.
Incredulous, I said something to the effect that “I’ve got to see this.” We went in to stares and a very cool reception. The waitresses knew I was a news reporter and didn’t dare refuse to serve us; but we indeed waited a very long time.
Tomás went on to found the United Farm Workers of Washington and I soon joined the Washington State University faculty in agricultural science communications.
Now, in “Decade of Betrayal,” we read that more than a million Mexicans and their children were illegally shipped to Mexico during the Great Depression in the 1930s claims were made that Mexicans were subhuman; mentally, physical and culturally deficient.
And it wasn’t just farm workers who were horribly abused. So were Mexicans working in mines and factories throughout the United States.
I shall return and report after reading more of the well-documented “Decade of Betrayal.” It assuredly will be an eye-opener for most readers.
Terence L. Day is a retired Washington State facultymember and a Pullman resident since 1972.He encourages email to firstname.lastname@example.org.