Whatever Happened to the Santa Ana Four?

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


The flier's author was Ladislao Cruz, a Santa Ana grocery-store owner and Justo's only son. Ladislao, who appears to have coined the term "Santa Ana Four," would pen another letter on his father's behalf. In "The Story of Justo Cruz," Ladislao went into further detail about his father's activist past. "Everywhere that my father has worked," Ladislao wrote, "he has joined with others to get decent wages, to get decent conditions on the job, and to get rid of the discrimination and second-class treatment of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Negroes and all minority groups.

"But you say, what did he do to be arrested and jailed?" Ladislao asked rhetorically in his letter. "That's it. I've just finished telling you.

"If a man is 'dangerous' because he thinks that wages should allow the worker and his family to have enough to eat and live in a decent home," Ladislao continued, "then I'll agree—Justo Cruz is a very 'dangerous' man.

"Many who have fought against oppression and are being persecuted by the Immigration Service, have lived here for 30 or more years, and have American-born children and sometimes grandchildren," Ladislao concluded. "Some people didn't know these facts until someone close to them was arrested and persecuted under the McCarran Act. I was one of these. But now, with all of my heart, I urge every person to come to the defense of not only my father, but [also] every foreign born person trying to live a peaceful, useful life in this country."

The LACPFB also produced a pamphlet on behalf of Espinoza. Titled "Why Joel Benjamin Espinoza, Aged 9, American, Wrote a Letter to Mr. Landon," the front page of the foldout featured a picture of the cherubic Joel, wearing a Cub Scout uniform replete with kerchief, jeans, medals and a short haircut. It also excerpted his letter, part of which read, "I a nine years old and I was in your office last Wednesday because I don't want you to deport my father. . . . My brother Danny and I ware Cub Scouts and we need our father to take us on hikes and to Pack meetings."

Inside the pamphlet was a picture of the Espinoza family: five sons; three daughters; Elias' wife, Consuelo; and his mother-in-law. You couldn't find a better portrait of an all-American family. One son sports a letterman's jacket, another a Hawaiian shirt, another a baseball cap. The girls look like bobby-soxers; Consuelo and her mother smile broadly. The bespectacled Elias commands the center of the photo and wears a tie. Underneath, a paragraph read, "The Espinoza Family will be left fatherless and almost penniless if other Americans permit Elias Espinoza Sr. . . . to be deported to Mexico."

While the LACPFB fought the deportations of the Santa Ana Four, Consuelo barnstormed across the country to publicize her husband's case. She even testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in Washington, D.C., where she presented committee members with more than 5,000 signatures asking that Elias be released.

But powerful forces worked behind-the-scenes to boot the Santa Ana Four from the United States, namely the Associated Farmers of Orange County. The organization had formed in response to the Citrus War of 1936, when more than 3,000 Latino orange pickers went on strike for the right to create a union and higher wages. The Associated Farmers—composed of the county's citrus growers and packing houses—colluded with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office and local police units to brutally suppress the strike and sought the deportation of strike leaders and even the Mexican consul (see "Gunkist Oranges," June 9, 2006). After the strike, the Associated Farmers placed many Latinos on a blacklist, a move that a 1939 congressional committee deemed illegal.

Shortly after the arrest of the Santa Ana Four, the Associated Farmers put out a bulletin warning growers of "subversive activities" in the county. "Following the arrest of the four Mexican aliens, Justo Cruz, Augustine [sic] Esparza, Andres Gonzales and Elias Espinoza," the bulletin read, the LACPFB was trying to "organize the Mexican community into a left-wing pressure group" and convince them they were the "only organization striving to protect the rights of and looking for the interest of 'oppressed' minority groups."

Ladislao Cruz's letter claimed that the Associated Farmers fingered his father to the authorities. "The Associated Farmers want their oranges picked and packed cheaply—they want to pay starvation wages to their workers," Ladislao wrote. "And anyone who tries to get a decent wage is 'dangerous.'"

Meanwhile, Consuelo Espinoza's campaign led her to the offices of James B. Utt, the Tustin-area congressman better remembered for his 1963 claim that the United Nations was training "a large contingent of barefooted Africans" in Georgia to "take over the United States." According to an LACPFB document, "Mrs. Espinoza quoted Congressman Utt as saying that he would like to do something about the McCarran-Walter Act but that the Associated Farmers wouldn't let him." Another private letter in Elias Espinoza's LACPFB file stated that Utt "intimated that he had received many requests from his constituency asking him to do something for Mr. Espinoza, but he regretted that at this moment he could do very little because the Associated Farmers of Orange County did not approve of Mr. Espinoza. He advised Mrs. Espinoza to see if she couldn't convince the Associated Farmers to change their minds about Mr. Espinoza."

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