Whatever Happened to the Santa Ana Four?

Orange County seethes with immigration raids, demonized Mexicans and appeals for amnesty. 2007? No, 1951

But the government didn't even wait for the installation of the McCarran-Walter Act before targeting immigrants who had participated in the various social struggles of the turbulent 1930s. In 1948, Nixon—then a congressman—had proposed a bill that would require all Communist Party members and "sympathizers" to register with the Attorney General and submit fingerprints. The bill died in the Senate, but McCarran revived it two years later as the Internal Security Act, and Congress overwhelmingly passed it; many similar provisions exist today in the PATRIOT Act. When the feds first approached the Santa Ana Four in the summer of 1951, it was under the provisions of the Internal Security Act.

Justo Cruz had the most tenuous ties to the Communist Party. During the 1930s, he joined the Worker's Alliance (WA), an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration that served as a bargaining agency for the organization. Allegations of Communist infiltration dogged the WA, mainly because Communists and socialists were in leadership positions.

But while Cruz was merely a fellow traveler, Elias Espinoza, Augustin Esparza and Andres Gonzales were all committed Commies. Gonzales—who illegally entered the country in 1915 as a 19-year-old—joined under the false name Lagardiere Pistola, along with Esparza. Espinoza, meanwhile, was a Communist Party organizer in Orange County who named two of his sons Carlos Marx and Lenin. He was so radical that organizers of the 1936 Orange County citrus strike barred Espinoza from joining their incipient union, allowing him only to address citrus workers with speeches.

After the 1930s, however, the men moved on with their lives. Only Espinoza seems to have maintained ties with the Communist Party; former neighbors interviewed by the Weekly claim Espinoza held Communist Party meetings in Orange's Cypress Street barrio during the 1940s. Cruz, meanwhile, joined the Orange County Community Chest, a loose collective of civic groups that played a crucial role in Mendez v. Westminster, the landmark case that desegregated schools in Orange County and served as direct inspiration for Brown v. Board of Education.

Cruz, Esparza, Espinoza and Gonzales settled into their jobs—Cruz as a machine operator at a textile mill in Santa Ana, Esparza and Gonzales as orange pickers, Espinoza as a janitor at a packing house. They married, raised large families and participated in Orange County's burgeoning Latino community.

Until the raids.

*   *   *

Philip Colin was helping his father make tortillas before dawn on Oct. 17, 1951, when immigration officials came for Espinoza at his home at 495 N. Cypress St. The Colin family store was just down the street from Espinoza's house. Philip was a senior at Orange High School and a classmate of Espinoza's oldest daughter, Henna. The arrest came "as an absolute shock," he now says. "Nobody suspected anything."

Esparza was also caught at home that morning; Gonzales had been put into custody the week before. La migra caught Cruz at his job. Just weeks before, FBI agents asked Cruz's boss to fire him because of his activism. According to a flier circulated after Cruz's arrest, the boss replied, "If business gets so bad that I have only two men working in the mill, one of them will be me. The other will be Justo Cruz."

Immigration officials set bail for Esparza, Espinoza and Gonzales at $1,000, but saddled Cruz with a figure of $5,000. Deportation proceedings were started shortly after. All were charged with belonging to the Communist Party under the 1950 Internal Security Act.

The evidence against the Santa Ana Four was damning. All had confessed to their affiliation with the Communist Party in the 1930s during their summer meetings with government officials; in fact, everyone except Esparza signed sworn declarations attesting to that fact. FBI officials asked Cruz to identify other Mexicans who had been involved in activism in the past in exchange for leniency, but Cruz refused.

The arrest of the Santa Ana Four drew the attention of the Los Angeles Committee for Protection of the Foreign-Born (LACPFB), an organization that provided pro bono services to immigrants imprisoned for political reasons. The group, as the late UC Irvine professor Jeffrey M. Garcilazo noted in his own study of the Santa Ana Four, "proudly opposed anticommunism when it was unpopular to do so" and espoused radical views that "alienated many in the communities from which it sought support."

The LACPFB's records on the Santa Ana Four are kept at the Southern California Public Library in Los Angeles but remain incomplete—members threw away many of its internal documents for fear that the government would seize their records and prosecute members.

The LACPFB immediately began an education campaign across Southern California to set the Santa Ana Four free. Fliers in English and Spanish described their ordeal, claiming that the middle-aged men were arrested "because of some ideas they supposedly held some 10 or 20 years ago." Noting their previous activism, the LACPFB asked readers in caps:


WHY ARE THESE MEN TO BE DEPORTED?
IS IT A CRIME TO FIGHT FOR DECENT WAGES?
IS IT A CRIME TO FIGHT FOR DECENT HOUSING?
IS IT A CRIME TO RESIST DISCRIMINATION IN SCHOOL?
IS IT A CRIME TO REALIZE THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE?

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