The Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the period of civil war that followed displaced many rural Mexican communities. Jesus Moreno, who moved to Los Angeles in 1915, remarked, "We were running away from the rebellion. . . . We came to the United States to wait out the conclusion of the Revolution. We thought it would be over in a few months." But it lasted for years.
In the United States, World War I had sparked an economic boom. The U.S. defense industry became a source of employment and profit as it produced ammunition and supplies for sale to other allied world powers. With Americans able to find higher-paying jobs and other economic opportunities, the U.S. looked to Mexico for laborers willing to work on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, particularly in seasonal agricultural work.
From 1900 to 1930, roughly 10 percent of Mexico's population immigrated into the United States. Most settled in southwestern states, including California, but not all of them stayed in the country permanently.
In California, the new Mexican workforce picked the crops and tended the fields that U.S. workers had abandoned for better-paying jobs. Mexican men also played an important role in building construction in the border states, while many Mexican women labored in garment factories and canneries. This workforce included recent arrivals as well as people of Mexican descent born in California. These U.S.-born Mexicans would later identify themselves as Mexican Americans to reflect their dual linguistic and cultural heritage.
The Great Depression
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, agricultural wages were cut at the same time that competition for farm jobs grew fierce. While some Mexican laborers staged strikes against the growers, others sought work in cities, migrating to Los Angeles and other urban hubs. Urban life presented new obstacles. With American unemployment at an all-time high, city and government employers were pressured to hire U.S. citizens exclusively. California passed a state law, the Alien Labor Act of 1931, that made it illegal for businesses in partnership with government agencies to employ those considered "foreign."
Deportation and Immigration of Mexicans and Mexican Americans to Mexico
In 1933, Los Angeles County hired over a dozen trains to deport more than 10,000 Mexicans who had been on county relief rolls. Soon after, in 1935, the California Relief Administration began denying public aid to Mexicans across the state. Between 1929 and 1935, the federal government played a direct role in deporting 82,000 Mexicans.
In response to well-publicized raids at work sites throughout California, many Mexican citizens and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent lived under constant threat of deportation. As a result, more than 400,000 of them voluntarily emigrated to Mexico. Many of them were people of Mexican heritage who had been born in the U.S. and never before seen Mexico. By the late 1930s the Mexican government helped route people across the Mexican border by providing low cost one-way train tickets. Remarkably, more than half of the nearly 500,000 people who moved to Mexico were actually U.S. citizens.