I originally made my way to Seattle in 2002 by way of Yakima. My own trek is a shorter variation of a journey my parents made — as part of the Mexican diaspora — to Washington state in the 1980s. Their migration north was not the first northbound journey made by family members. In the 1910s, my paternal great-grandfather moved to Santa Barbara, California, where my grandmother was born. In Texas, my maternal great-grandparents established a home, and to this day I have relatives that I have yet to meet who live in Fort Worth, my grandfather’s birthplace.
I have binational roots with one generation (grandparents) born in the United States and the subsequent generation of my family (parents) born in Mexico.
Had this trend been a result of circular migration on both sides of my family? Or that opportunities dried up for many in the American Southwest upon initiating the Great Depression?
Or possibly collateral from the now infamous “Mexican Repatriation” Program enacted under the Hoover administration in the late 1920s, which deported an estimated 500,000 to 2 million Mexicans in the Southwest, many of them U.S. citizens like my grandparents?
Later in life, my grandmother refused to return to the land of her birth. I can only speculate as to her reluctance. I may never know or understand the scope of my grandparents’ migration story, as they had passed before I had the opportunity to ask. Ninety years later, I am far from my family’s ancestral homelands. Seattle is approximately 2,660 miles from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. In fact, I reside in the Northern Borderlands, whereas my grandparents resided in the Southern Borderlands. Despite these geographic differences, I do see many similarities in our present social climate, which echo conditions that existed in the 1930s.
Institutionalized xenophobia is as virulent today as it was at the height of Mexican Repatriation.
Institutionalized xenophobia is as virulent today as it was at the height of Mexican Repatriation. The Trump administration has made no secret of antagonizing ethnic Mexicans by repeatedly calling us “killers,” “drug dealers” and “rapists.”
The rhetoric has seeped into policy implementation as well. Latinxs of various nationalities have borne the brunt, as authorities make few distinctions between people indigenous to the Americas. In their minds the literal and figurative line of demarcation is at the southern U.S. border.
As my own family history shows, many in my generation are of binational origin. We migrated across the continent for generations, even before a fortified fence was erected. Our indigenous ancestors also interacted with our northern neighbors on lands that were not yet partitioned into geopolitical entities. Likewise, we will also be here long after the fortified wall is torn down.
Somos un pueblo sin fronteras (We are a community without borders).
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
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