Most everyone knows of the financial hardships endured by millions of Americans during the Great Depression of the 1930s. But a less familiar theme during that era is one of deportation – the indiscriminate and forced removal of an estimated two million people of Mexican ancestry to Mexico via an aggressive program involving both government authorities and certain private sector entities. Approximately 1.2 million deportees were U.S. citizens. About 400,000 people were deported from the State of California alone, with a sizable amount from Los Angeles County. Many families were never reunited with their loved ones in the U.S., and many were forced to abandon – or were defrauded of – personal and real property. It was often sold by local authorities as “payment” for the transportation expenses incurred during their deportation.
As a result of a motion authored by Sup. Gloria Molina, Los Angeles County issued a formal apology on Tuesday, February 21, 2012, for the county’s role in the forced repatriation program. The State of California had already done so back in 2005.
And on Sunday, February 26, 2012, state and county representatives joined civil rights activists, local schoolchildren, civic-minded individuals, and several surviving deportees to unveil a plaque commemorating – and formally apologizing for – the forced repatriations. The ceremony took place at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a founders’ museum dedicated to showcasing the history of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles County. It is situated adjacent to Olvera Street, which itself is directly across Alameda St. from Union Station. Hundreds of deportees boarded trains there to Mexico during the course of the now infamous repatriation program. The plaque will serve as a monument to a history which we hope will always be remembered – but never be repeated.