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Officials, families and survivors gather to celebrate Mexican repatriation monument

By Julia Kelson
Published: Monday, February 27, 2012, at 04:03PM
Survivor Emilia Casteñena tells her story

It was nearly 70 years in making – but better late than never. Yesterday, a monument was unveiled at La Plaza de Artes y Culturas to commemorate the nearly two million Mexican-Americans repatriated from the U.S. during the 1930s and '40s.

Though many of those who lived through the repatriation have died, both the monument and the official apology from the state of California for its part in the repatriations (SB 670) are meaningful to their children and grandchildren. Many of the descendants experienced its aftermath or saw the devastating economic and emotional effects it had on their parents and grandparents.

“In this great country of ours, one forgotten injustice is a present injustice to all of us today,” said former Senator Joseph Dunn. He decided to write SB 670 after reading "A Decade of Betrayal" by Francisco Balderrama, the son-in-law of survivor Emilia Castañeda.

The repatriation, which tends to be given little or no space in school history books, took place in the U.S. between 1929 and 1944. It spanned several states and affected 1.8 million Mexican-Americans. President Hoover created it as an effort to keep American jobs in American hands during the Great Depression, though approximately 1.2 million of the people displaced by the program were native-born Americans.

Castañeda, who was born in Los Angeles but forced to return to and live in Mexico with her family for nine years, explained, “I just want for people to know what happened so that it doesn’t happen again and for children to learn about this injustice in school.”

Many of the speakers expressed concern that today’s economic environment causes sentiments towards Mexican-Americans similar to the ones that emerged during the Great Depression. Several spoke out against the harsh and negative rhetoric about Mexican-Americans by some politicians. However U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recognized President Barack Obama for his concern about the issues surrounding the Mexican-American community.

“We hold the memory of the deportations deep in our hearts. This monument is going to help us always remember that,” said civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. “We are going to retain our dignity as citizens of this country.”

With its accessible placement at La Plaza, the hope is that schoolchildren of all ages and races can visit the monument and learn about the history frequently overlooked in their textbooks.

Continuing efforts will be made to incorporate the Mexican repatriation into school curriculums, and the desire for the federal government to issue an apology also remains. For many, the monument serves not only as a reminder of past injustices but hope for future generations – hope that if children are educated about the wrongs of the past, they will not grow up to repeat them.

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