Homeward Bound: The Mexican State and Attempts to Root Migrants Back in their Homeland, 1930–1990

Endorsed by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) and the Western History Association

Friday, April 3, 2020, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Immigration and Internal Migration; Labor and Working-Class; Latino/a


Narratives of migration tend to emphasize migrants as people who depart their nation. Our panel looks at US-Mexico migration and meditates on how migrants remain entwined within their home polity, as their home government in Mexico launched attempts to keep them, use them and root them, and as migrants themselves sought to shape the conditions under which they would remain on home soil. Morales, Gutierrez, and Ibargüen guide us chronologically through three distinct episodes in the 20th century. First, Morales shows how, in the context of the mass repatriation drives spurred by the 1930s Great Depression, the Mexican government rhetorically welcomed Mexicans back home and how migrants responded to the embrace by claiming they would love the opportunity to reestablish themselves in Mexico, given the opportunity. Ibarguen moves into post-WWII era and shows how Mexico lashed out at the emergency war-time guest-worker initiative, known as the “Bracero Program,” because of the way migrants were maltreated by American employers, and made a policy turn towards instead promoting permanence, a turn that was supported and celebrated across Mexican civic society and embraced, as well, by some migrants. Finally, Gutierrez looks at the lived reality of deported Mexicans in the 1970s and 80s who were ostensibly “welcomed” by Mexico but, in practice, were directed through mandatory routes of repatriation to land in areas with serious need of labor. Together, the papers unearth the shifting blend of sentimentalism and opportunism that marked the politics of migration in 20th century Mexico and its implication for migrant lives. Also, by turning away from an exclusive focus on the U.S. end of the migratory circuit, it makes clear that Mexico's policy regarding out-migration was not one simply of a "safety valve," in which migration was welcomed as a way of relieving internal pressures. Mexico brought forth its own strategies, incentives, punishments, and ingenuity to purpose and repurpose the migration.

Papers Presented

Post-Entry Control: The Mexican State and the Management of Deportation in the 1970s–1980s

This paper draws on declassified documents from Mexico’s national archive to analyze how Mexico mapped and tracked deported migrants during the 1970s and 1980s. Mexican officials worked with the Border Patrol to coordinate the daily arrival of hundreds or thousands of men through the California/Baja California border. Beyond tracking points of entry, the government used the arrival of these migrants as a way to manage labor needs within the nation by sending them to areas deemed in need of laborers, despite protests by deportees. Such attempts to manage migrants after return reflect a long history of abusive practices toward returning migrants by the Mexican state.

Presented By
Laura D. Gutiérrez, University of the Pacific

Letras y Ciudadanos: Mexican Migrant Letters to the Mexican Government

The first years of the Great Depression saw the repatriation drives, an effort to send people from the United States to Mexico. While U.S. organizations were the prime instigators of repatriation, the Mexican government was heavily involved in promoting and organizing this return. This paper examines views of migrants, looking at transnational letters to show how migrants made use of the language of return to make claims on the government as legitimate citizens. These letters show a desire by people to return to Mexico if they were able to own land.

Presented By
Daniel Morales, James Madison University

Mexicans for Mexico: Populism, Nationalism, and the End of Migration, 1953–1954

This paper chronicles the height of a nationalist upsurge in Mexico to redirect migration away from the United States and toward Mexico. At the heart of the paper is the Mexican government’s refusal in December 1953 to resign its guest worker contract with the United States, in light of continued journalistic exposés of guest workers being mistreated in the United States. This very public break, I argue, opened the door to an wave of patriotic sentiment across Mexican civil society and to Mexico developing its politics of permanence. Cheered by businesses, peasant associations, unions, journalists, and others, the government led by President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines unfurled a Mexicans for Mexico job-creation program to root Mexicans within their homeland.

Presented By
Irvin Ibargüen, New York University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, University of Connecticut
Mark Overmyer-Velázquez is Professor of History and Latino & Latin American Studies, as well as University Campus Director, at UConn Hartford. His research focuses on transnational migration and empire, and Mexico-US migration. After completing my doctoral studies in Latin American history at Yale University (2002), he taught in the History and Chicano/a Studies Departments at Pomona College before coming to UConn in 2004. His first book, Visions of the Emerald City: Modernity, Tradition and the Formation of Porfirian Oaxaca, Mexico (Duke, 2006), analyzes how elites (city officials and Church leaders) and commoners (city artisans and female sex workers) mobilized visual cultures to construct and experience the mutually defining processes of modernity and tradition during late 19th and early 20th century Mexico. His second book examines critical themes in the transnational history of migration between Mexico and the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Beyond la Frontera (Oxford, 2011) brings together a group of leading scholars to analyze the history of Mexican migration from both sides of the border. He is also editor of the two volume series, Latino America: State by State, which addresses the historical significance of the growing Latin(o) American population throughout the United States. While paying careful attention to the transnational dimensions of Latin American migration to the U.S., individual chapters examine the wide range of different Latino/a identities, ethnicities, and social and political positions at the state level. His new book draws on epistemological and methodological elements of those earlier works to examine Latin American and Caribbean migration to new destinations — both within the hemisphere and to countries in Europe and Asia — shifting the analytical lens away from US-dominant interpretations to document the growing flow between and within destinations in the Global South and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It is titled Global Latin(o) Americanos: Transoceanic Diasporas and Regional Migrations (Oxford University Press, History of the Americas Series, 2017). He has also served as Research Professor at the Leonel Fernández Center for Latin American Studies, University of Jordan, Amman, 2014-2018. And he is a Faculty Associate of the Human Rights Institute and a UConn Honors Faculty Fellow. He served as the Co-chair for the Latino Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association from 2012-2014. His graduate and undergraduate courses examine the historical origins of the broad, transnational and interdisciplinary fields of Latin(o) American history, with special emphasis on the history of Greater Mexico (including the Mexico/US border and the Mexican diaspora). Topics analyzed in his courses include economic and political imperialism, human rights, migration, cultural nationalism, political membership, gender relations, race and racism, identity formation, religion, labor, immigration law, and the arts.

Presenter: Laura D. Gutiérrez, University of the Pacific
Laura D. Gutiérrez is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of the Pacific. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, where she also was a fellow at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies in 2015-2016 and a participant in the Mexican Migration Field Research Program. Her book manuscript, "A Constant Threat: Deportation and Return Migration from the U.S. to Northern Mexico, 1918-1965" examines how the forced and voluntary return of Mexican migrants from the U.S. affected cities and communities in Mexico. Focusing on individuals and communities affected by forced removal reveals new facets of the complex social, economic, and political problems posed by policies of border enforcement. Her work has been supported by a number of fellowships and awards from sources such as the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, the Tinker Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her article “Coyotaje, Corruption and Border Enforcement in Ambos Nogales in the 1930s,” is under review at the Pacific Historical Review, as is “Abandoned: Repatriation, Transportation and the Search for Home in Mexico during the Great Depression,” for the Journal of American Ethnic History. At the University of the Pacific, she teaches courses on Mexican history, Latin American History, colonization, U.S. history and migration.

Presenter: Irvin Ibargüen, New York University
Irvin Ibarguen is an assistant Professor of Latino history at New York University. historian of the Americas, with interests in migration, transnational phenomena, and government policies to regulate these. His book project—Faucet Politics: The Fight for Mexico’s Migratory Flows, 1940-1970—rescues the history of businesses, politicians, peasants and other people in Mexican society who opposed large-scale Mexican migration to the U.S. and sought to orchestrate the movement of Mexican people more fruitfully within Mexico. It reveals the decades-long process that played out across the U.S., Mexico, and Borderlands, as actors and institutions along that continuum engaged in what he terms “faucet politics,” the practice of using policy as a tap to open, close, or adjust migratory flows—indeed, coming into struggle as Mexican elements seeking to corral their migratory compatriots within Mexico were forced to contend with American political and economic elites who were keen on perpetuating the movement of Mexican people to the U.S. He received his A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. His writing has received the support of the Mexican Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Harvard Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. At New York University, he teaches courses on Latino/a history, the spatial turn, and modern American history.

Presenter: Daniel Morales, James Madison University
Daniel Morales is an assistant professor of History at James Madison University, since 2017. He was formerly a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His dissertation “The Making of Mexican America: Transnational Networks in the Rise of mass Migration 1900-1940” was nominated for the Bancroft Dissertation Award. It is the basis of his working manuscript. The Making of Mexican America: The Dynamics of Transnational Migration 1900-1940, which explains the creation of the structures that guide transnational migration between Mexico and the United States. He has published “Operation Wetback” in 50 Events That Shaped Latino History, editor Lilia Fernández (CLIO, 2018); “Hicks Camp: A Mexican Barrio” in East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, editors Romeo Guzman, Carribean Fragoza, Alex Cummings, (Rutgers University Press, 2019); “Mobility in the Windy City: Race, Class and Identity among Mexican Immigrants in Pre- Depression Chicago” Columbia Undergraduate Journal of History, 2009. His article “Transnational Citizen: Newspapers, the Mexican Government, and Migrants in San Antonio, Texas 1910–1940” is in review for the Journal of American History, 2018. His teaching interests include the US, Latin America, International Migration, Borderlands, Latino Studies, Race and Ethnicity, Public History, Economic History, and Transnational History. Additionally, he is undertaking public history projects, including “Immigrant Harrisonburg,” which is a cross disciplinary multi-year initiative. The project will document the history of immigrant communities in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and conduct interviews and oral histories to build a publicly accessible digital archive. Other aspects of the project will study immigrant adjustment, refugee communities, immigrant businesses, and city-community relations. He received a grant from James Madison University in the Spring of 2018 to create this project. He obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2016.