During the 1950s the newest transformation of Guadalupe’s population was evident in the types of immigrants it attracted and the residents that made the town their new home. As the demands of agriculture expanded the need for cheap labor so did the dependency on Mexican labor and the growth of the Mexican-origin population in the United States. Prior to World War II agricultural laborers had come from various countries including Mexico, Japan and the Philippines and to a lesser extent Europe. As these sources of cheap immigrant labor from Asia and certain European regions were restricted through congressional legislation, such as the National Origins Act of 1924 that placed strict quotas on most European and Asian countries, southwestern economic interests increasingly turned to Mexico for its invaluable source of cheap labor. The 1924 legislation set no limits on immigration from Mexico or Latin America. These conditions and a variety of other factors in Mexico and the United States help to explain why Guadalupe and the rest of the southwestern states experienced an unprecedented growth in its Mexican-origin population and why southwestern economic interests became increasingly dependent on their labor.
Many of these factors originated in the early 20th century political turmoil in Mexico and the final stages of the economic transformation of the southwest in industries that depended on large supplies of unskilled and cheap labor, often referred to as “labor intensive” industries. These forces would transport many of the parents and grandparents of the Sons of Guadalupe from diverse areas of Mexico into the United States and begin to transform the life and culture of their town.
In Mexico the Mexican Revolution from 1910-1921 and the decade that followed created powerful forces that drove away Mexicans from their homeland, meanwhile economic conditions in the United States would pull them in the direction of the agricultural enterprise of the southwestern states. California and Texas would experience the greatest influx of Mexicans since these regions built economies that became centered on agriculture and ranching. Mexican labor was the essential ingredient that made this progress possible. And Mexican labor was favored because of its abundance that tended to freeze agricultural wages, the relatively cheap costs associated with this labor force, their proximity and their flexibility as a labor supply. By the 1920s Mexicans began to comprise a majority of the work force in agriculture and significant percentages in railroad construction and maintenance and mining. The Mexican Revolution was the first major disruptive event that helped to drive Mexicans northward and eroded decades-old practices that tended to immobilize the Mexican immigrant. And the construction of the Mexican railroad network under the despot Porfirio Diaz during the late 19th and early 20th centuries facilitated the movements of larger numbers of people in all directions. As a result of all these factors, and certainly there are more, one million Mexicans fled during the decade following the Mexican Revolution. And there is little debate about where they went.
These were also the days of a relatively free and open southern border with Mexico and the great beneficiary was southwestern agriculture. For a time, no border barrier existed and the border was a mere ambiguous line in the sand. So few restrictions constrained the Mexican influx. In fact, employers were known to hire agents to search deep into Mexico to recruit and transport Mexican laborers by train to the United States. These men were sometimes called enganchadores (hookers—because they “hooked” their labor to the United States). And old-timers often spoke of the days when the border was virtually invisible, sometimes simply requiring a nickel fee to pass from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, among other crossing points. Border controls were virtually non-existent and the main enforcer of immigration laws, the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the Border Patrol, was not funded by congressional legislation until 1926.
Around one million Mexican arrived during the 1920s. And as they began arriving the immigrants came to confront racial and social barriers that were meant to keep and maintain their inferior position as agricultural laborers. Consequently, they organized to protect worker’s rights and the rights of immigrants. In Guadalupe, the well-known organization La Liga Protectora Mexicana convened a mass meeting on September 16, 1929, Mexico’s Independence Day. They were concerned with defending the legal and constitutional rights of the Mexican immigrant. Dramatic changes were on the horizon as the 1930s approached. Soon they would face the first great challenge in the United States.