As the Great Depression gripped the United States in the early 1930s, the Hoover administration sought to preserve jobs for Anglo-Americans by targeting Mexicans, including long-time residents and even US citizens, for deportation. Mexicans comprised more than 46 percent of all people deported between 1930 and 1939, despite being only 1 percent of the US population. In all, about half a million people of Mexican descent were deported to Mexico, a “homeland” many of them had never seen, or returned voluntarily in fear of deportation.
They Came to Toil investigates how the news reporting of this episode in immigration history created frames for representing Mexicans and immigrants that persist to the present. Melita M. Garza sets the story in San Antonio, a city central to the formation of Mexican American identity, and contrasts how the city’s three daily newspapers covered the forced deportations of Mexicans. She shows that the Spanish-language La Prensa not surprisingly provided the fullest and most sympathetic coverage of immigration issues, while the locally owned San Antonio Express and the Hearst chain-owned San Antonio Light varied between supporting Mexican labor and demonizing it. Garza analyzes how these media narratives, particularly in the English-language press, contributed to the racial “othering” of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Adding an important new chapter to the history of the Long Civil Rights Movement, They Came to Toil brings needed historical context to immigration issues that dominate today’s headlines.