AMERICAN public opinion regarding Mexican immigration is confused, chiefly because of the confusion of races in Mexico. The population of Mexico is approximately 13,000,000, of which not more than 10 percent are of unmixed white blood. Although Cortes subdued the natives of Mexico a full hundred years before the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth, the population south of the Rio Grande is predominantly Indian, whereas among the English-speaking peoples to the north the Indian has become a curiosity. The contrast is explained by the fact that the Indians of the north for the most part had never advanced beyond the hunting and fishing stage and consequently were few in number, while the fertile valleys of Mexico were peopled with a dense agricultural population.

The process of racial fusion was hastened by the fact that the Spaniards introduced few white women into their colonies, with the result that the population of Mexico is now made up of from 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 pure-blood Indians, 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 whites, and 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 Mestizos in which the Indian element is predominant. Nevertheless, all natives of Mexico are listed as white in our official census and immigration reports, a practice which also is followed by the various states of the Union, and there is a tacit but universal understanding among government officials that the biological characteristics of the Mexican people shall be assumed to be what they are not in fact.

This is not the place to attempt even a summary of Mexican civilization other than to say that in many important respects it has remained an Indian civilization with but a veneer of European culture. There are at least two million who speak no Spanish and an equal number who prefer to speak their native Indian tongues. The ancient way of living has changed but little for the masses, who till the soil in the native way, eat the native food, and wash it down with pulque just as their forefathers did a thousand years ago.

Mexico City is the fruit and flower of European civilization in Mexico. It boasts the finest cathedral in America and a university more than a hundred years older than Harvard. Yet, until recently at least, 70 percent of the births in that city were illegitimate and the death rate was about treble that of the average in American cities and was even higher than in such eastern cities as Cairo and Madras. The annual per capita consumption of liquor is calculated to be the equivalent of 7.93 litres of pure alcohol. About one fourth of the children of school age are in school. At the time of the Revolution, illiteracy was estimated at from 80 to 85 percent.[i]

This is the darker side of the picture. On the other hand, the whites in Mexico are the peers of any people in Europe; the Indians are home-loving, kind to children, docile, musical, and pious in a superstitious and alcoholic way. The present government is doing much to reduce illiteracy, mortality, and drunkenness and is trying in every way to bridge the gap of some thousands of years that separates Mexican civilization from the European type. The task is a hard and long one, but the country is fortunate in having a group of leaders who, though few in numbers, are cultivated, intelligent and patriotic.

The motives which prompt the peon to come to the United States are almost exclusively economic. His real wage here is from two to six times his wage at home. This is reason enough for his coming, and we ought not to attribute to him motives which he does not have. He does not come as an admirer of our institutions, our language or our culture. Probably few peons emigrate with the expectation of residing permanently in the United States. They say that they expect to return and there is no reason to doubt their honesty. They want to go back someday, but for the bulk of them that day is mañana which never comes. The fact that they really do not like our country, except for its high wages, does not result in their going back to Mexico, but it does prevent them from becoming assimilated.

Mexicans wishing to come to the United States are confronted with several legal barriers and but few real ones. The legal barriers consist of a literacy test, which many of them can not pass, a medical examination, a head tax of $8, a passport visa costing $10 and a medical examination fee of $3. These financial provisions would, alone, be sufficient to keep out the average Mexican family. Fortunately for them the land frontier is approximately 1,800 miles long, with no natural barrier except (for a portion of the way) the Rio Grande, which during most of the year can be waded by a ten-year-old child. As our border patrol is inadequate, the peon walks or swims across to save from $20 to $100 with the same ease that we "walk up stairs and save $10," and is welcomed by his countrymen here as a "wet back." For this reason, no statistics of immigration from Mexico are worth the paper on which they are written. It is estimated by competent observers that the illegal entries at least equal the legal ones.

Upon arrival, the typical peon gets his first job through an employment office in El Paso, Los Angeles, or some other border town. He works first in some gang, on a farm or a railroad right-of-way, where a limited knowledge of English on the part of one member will suffice. It is almost impossible for a newly arrived immigrant, ignorant of our language, to work in a factory or shop or on a small farm. The peon is not often employed on a yearly basis, as was the "farm hand" of a generation ago, but merely for the season of planting or harvesting. He finds little work where general farming prevails, but in the cotton-producing areas of the Southwest, in the beet fields of Colorado and Michigan, and particularly in California, where highly specialized agriculture is so generally practiced, he is in great demand, for the farmer who specializes needs other workers in addition to the members of his own family, and can not call in the neighbors, who are usually specialists in the same particular crop.

It is the immigration of migratory labor that has made possible the high degree of agricultural specialization in California, and now, it is argued, specialization has made continued immigration a necessity. Here is a vicious circle, for continued immigration will but increase the specialization, which, in turn, calls for unending supplies of fresh immigrants. There has been considerable propaganda in favor of diversification of crops, but it is likely that specialization will continue so long as an adequate supply of seasonal labor is obtainable. If that supply is cut off, the specialty farmer will have to diversify his crops and in this way smooth out the peaks and depressions that now prevail in the demand for agricultural labor.

The extent to which the peon stays in the United States is a bitterly contested subject by friends and foes of restriction. It is a futile argument which can not be settled, because of the unknown number of illegal entries and the inadequacy of the statistics of departures. However, the census figures show a rapid growth of our Mexican population and the increase is confirmed by common observation. This increase proves that the Mexican is not primarily a "homer" in the sense that he returns home to stay. There is, of course, a great deal of flitting back and forth across the border, but that does not prove he is a homer in any true sense. All estimates of the size of our present Mexican population are but guesses, pending the 1930 census, but it seems certain that their number will be nearer two million than one million. Even if the peon has a homing tendency, it in no way precludes a rapid growth in our Mexican population. The following figures show the number of Mexicans in the United States at various census dates, and the immigration by years. The latter figures are quite unreliable except to indicate the rate of increase.

Recorded Mexican Mexican
Immigration Population
Year into United States in United States
1900 237 103,393
1910 17,760 219,802
1920 51,042 478,383
1921 29,603
1922 18,246
1923 62,709
1924 87,648
1925 32,378
1926 42,638
1927 78,948
1928 57,765

Friends of the peon insist that the Southwest would revert to desert if he were excluded. Restrictionists at times talk and write as if they thought that the entire Mexican population could be withdrawn, and that our production, nevertheless, would be maintained at present levels by the aid of some fabulous laborsaving machines or by the utilization of our unemployed. Both statements are false.

The more desirable lands of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, especially those under irrigation, would not lie fallow if Mexico and the entire Mexican population both here and at home were to sink into the sea. Some of the land in question sells for as much as $1,000 per acre and would not become worthless if we shut off all immigration whatsoever. It is equally true, however, that we could not farm so much land with a smaller population as with a larger one. If we had a Chinese population of ten million, as might easily have been the case by now if we had so chosen, we would be producing much more of everything in this country than we now are, but our per capita production, and therefore our standard of living, would be lower. If the immigration of agricultural laborers were restricted, some acreage now devoted to crops might revert to pasture, but the only land that would be abandoned would be the marginal or least valuable grazing or stump land. If labor were withdrawn from such lands it should be cause for national rejoicing rather than sorrow.

Some insist that but for the peon we could not grow sugar beets or any crop requiring similar labor, because no white man can do the "squatting" work required to cultivate them. Even if "squatting" is a racial accomplishment in which one should take pride, the statement is erroneous. So long as more sugar beets are harvested in Europe than in both the Americas, it is absurd to contend that white people can not or will not do such work. They can do it, and they are doing it where conditions are made acceptable. In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, crops of all kinds are harvested by white laborers, identical in physique with the white laborers of the United States.

It is further contended that only Mexicans can work in the hotter sections of the Southwest. No evidence supports this statement, which rests on the false assumption that all of Mexico is hot and that the peon is, therefore, habituated to a temperature which the whites can not endure. The fact is that 75 percent of the Mexicans live in what the scientists call the cold zone, with a mean temperature of from 59 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and only 7 to 10 percent live in the torrid zone, with a mean temperature of from 77 to 82. The bulk of the Mexican population lives on the high central plateau and few of the immigrant peons are habituated to such temperatures as are found in the hotter districts of the Southwest or the Mississippi Valley.

The Mexican peon is among the most unassimilable of all immigrants. Measured by the percentage of those who learn English, become citizens, or adopt American ways, his record is a poor one. New Mexico affords a striking instance. When that territory was acquired from Mexico in 1849 those of its inhabitants who did not speak the Indian dialects spoke Spanish. Their descendants still speak Spanish, and English is so little understood that, with the aid of interpreters, both languages are used in their legislative assemblies. It is our only state which is officially bi-lingual.

Although the peon is comparatively unassimilable, he is proving an adept at assimilating American charity. In 1925, the Mexicans in Los Angeles County were about 10 percent of the population; yet they furnished 44 percent of the charity tuberculosis patients, 57 percent of the venereal clinic cases, and there was expended on them more than 50 percent of the budget of the Bureau of Catholic Charities and 73 percent of the City Maternity Service. There seems to be no limit to the amount of help the peon will accept. Those who take his part insist that this disproportionate drain on our charities merely demonstrates the intelligence of the peon, who has learned that the softer-hearted communities will support him whether he works and saves or not.

While the social workers are afraid that the peons will not mix with our native population, the eugenists are afraid that they will. It is certain that interbreeding can not be prevented. When we recall that we have injected white blood into more than a quarter of those we call Negroes, and that the Indian mixed bloods are increasing while the full bloods are decreasing, we have little reason to think that the peon can be kept forever apart from the larger racial stream. Ultimately his descendants will be our descendants, and "Gringo" and "Greaser" will be one.

That might be considered a happy ending if the quality of our racial stock were not lowered in the process. If his stock is as good as ours, there can be no scientific objection to a fusion that would end the racial friction that results from the attempt to keep two races apart by means of miscegenation laws, and a system of social and economic castes. There are, however, competent and impartial observers who consider the peon inferior to the whites, both physically and mentally. Dr. S. J. Holmes, of the University of California, a man of national repute both as a biologist and eugenist, finds him below par physically, and in intellectual capacity about equal to the American Indian. The meager contributions of the latter to the intellectual life of the nation speaks eloquently for excluding those who are no better.

The American public has been indifferent to Mexican immigration because the peons have been so concentrated in the Southwest that the problem seemed local, rather than national. There are, however, certain groups with material interests at stake, who are fighting hard, for and against the peon, and will ultimately make him a national issue. For that reason it is important that the public know the parties to the controversy and the motives which actuate them.

The line-up is discerned from the list of witnesses who appear before the committees of the Senate and the House when public hearings are held on bills dealing with immigration from Mexico. At the Senate hearings in 1928 there was only one private citizen who spoke in favor of restriction, Mr. E. H. Dowell, Vice President of the California State Federation of Labor. While he objected to Mexican immigration on the grounds that it constitutes a drain on our charitable and penal institutions, it probably is not unfair to say that his opposition was also based on labor's traditional fear in connection with immigration, that the American wage would be lowered. With the exception of Mr. Dowell, every one of the witnesses was opposed to applying the European quota system to Mexico, and all represented agricultural, mining or railroad interests which employ Mexican laborers. The Senate committee heard no statement from a eugenist, a social scientist, or anyone with even a local reputation as a student of race and immigration problems. None of the witnesses could honestly claim to be an unselfish representative of the general public; that mysterious entity, as usual, had no spokesmen.

From the testimony, one would infer that harvesting peaches, beets, oranges and grapes is labor so menial that white men could never, under any circumstances, be induced to perform it; that the trans-continental railways could not operate if peons were not available for track work; that, with the advent of restriction, the cities of the Southwest would shrivel and the entire region revert to the desert from which the peon allegedly has redeemed it. It is forgotten that there was practically no immigration from Mexico prior to 1908; yet few old-timers would admit that the Southwest has come into existence since that late date.

It is worthy of incidental note that in defending the peon, the railroads and the farmers, usually opponents, stand side by side. They are at one because both employ peons, and they prefer as large a supply at as low a price as possible. The old-fashioned farmers considered themselves workers and rejoiced at any increase in the market value of labor; our present-day farmers, at least the kind that appear before Congressional committees, are primarily employers of labor and prefer to buy it at low prices. So do the railway companies. Of course some farmers are in favor of restriction. But they are mainly "dirt" farmers, whose incomes must be chiefly attributed to the value of their own labor.

Though the employers in question are fairly well agreed in wanting as many peons as they can get, the restrictionist must choose from a variety of proposals. It has been proposed that Mexico be placed under the quota provisions applicable to European countries, which would mean that about 1,500 Mexicans might enter each year. There is little to commend such an arbitrary method, but it has the practical advantage of being in force with respect to Europe and therefore seems logical for application to other regions.

It has been suggested that we could not with good grace apply the quota system to Mexico without at the same time applying it to Canada, although there is almost no opposition to immigration across the northern frontier. This objection can not be sustained. Our government has never considered itself obliged to extend an equal welcome to all races. The control of immigration is a domestic question, and the fear of offending some of those who do business with us in South America should not deter us from making such discriminations as are felt to be in the national interest. The Department of Labor has favored a quota plan for Mexico, based on 10 percent of those who were here in 1890 instead of the 2 percent allotted to European countries. Others favor excluding Mexicans as we now exclude Asiatics.

Any restriction, however, will be futile until some way has been found of effectively preventing illegal entries. Until then any further tightening of the paper restrictions would probably make matters worse. As it is, the illegal entrants who evade our inspecting officers are the ones who bring in some of the worst crop pests, as well as diseases of men and animals. Illegal entry can not be prevented by means of an inadequate border patrol spread out along 1,800 miles of frontier. The methods now employed could not be made effective if our entire military forces were concentrated along the border. If the peons who enter illegally are left undisturbed they will always find ways to cross the frontier. We must be on guard against illegal entrants, not merely at the border, but throughout the entire United States. Registration of aliens would help. Laws prohibiting the employment of those with visible Indian blood, who could not show that they were rightfully in the country, would help more. Practically all the peons are wage workers, and if they were required to show their right to be in the United States before they could lawfully be furnished with lodging or employment, crossing the border illegally would become a feat not worth the doing.

There has been a proposal that Mexican laborers be permitted to enter under contract for a definite term and that bonds be posted for their return. If Congress attempted to enforce specific performance of such contracts, it would probably be held unconstitutional by reason of the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting involuntary servitude. Even if there were no such attempt, the plan is of doubtful merit. If the peon is considered undesirable as an immigrant and permanent citizen, we ought not to accept him as a mere piece of productive machinery. Immigration inevitably leads to racial fusion; and any nation which regards its immigrants as mere factors of production is laying up trouble for itself.

It remains for us to consider the suggestion that our immigration authorities are admitting many peons in violation of the Immigration Act of 1924. That act, it will be recalled, denies admission to all aliens "ineligible to citizenship," save those falling within the excepted classes. Our laws restrict naturalization to "free white persons and to persons of African nativity or descent." The federal courts have repeatedly held that aliens of mixed blood are eligible only in case they have a preponderance of white or African blood. Under these laws and decisions, full-blood Indians, or Indians of mixed blood unless they are preponderantly white, are not admissible. The Immigration Bureau is not enforcing the law. There is no evidence that the immigration authorities on our southern border are rejecting full-blood Indians from Mexico or requiring those of mixed blood to prove that they are predominantly white. It seems, rather, that there is a tacit understanding among all the departments of the federal government that they will proceed on the false assumption that anyone born south of the Rio Grande is a white person. In spite of a mountain of anthropological evidence to the contrary, the Bureau of the Census lists all immigrants from Mexico among the foreign born whites, and this practice has extended to our state authorities.

It is impossible to predict what form of restriction will be applied to Mexican immigration, but it seems certain that restriction of some sort must come. Approximately one out of fifteen of the present generation of Mexicans has left his homeland for the United States. More Indians have crossed the southern border in one year than lived in the entire territory of New England at the time of the Plymouth settlement. This movement, the greatest Indian migration of all time, will have to be curtailed for the same reasons that dictated the Immigration Act of 1924.

[i]Cf. Ernest Gruening, "Mexico and Its Heritage." New York: Century Co., 1928.

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