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The Lost Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch

80 years ago, officials deported hundreds of Fullerton residents—and Orange County has tried to forget ever since

A community grew. The 1920 census showed only a few Mexicans living on the Ranch; by the 1930 census, the official count was 411. It had grown so much that the U.S. Census Bureau gave the Bastanchurys their own designated tract, split into six colonias: Tia Juana, Mexicali, Escondido, Coyote, Santa Fe and San Quintín, which some ominously called El Hoyo—The Hole. Tia Juana was the largest, then Mexicali, and they were around what's now Laguna Lake Park in Fullerton; the rest gravitated near what's now St. Jude Hospital. Stand-alone shacks remained dotted throughout the Ranch.

"I think they were very happy people, really, they lived a very simple life, but it was probably somewhat better than the life they lived in Mexico," Kelly said, and the Mexicans made do with what they had. Though the houses were downtrodden, they were well kept, with gardens of flowers and vegetables prettying the environment. Mothers sent their children off to school scrubbed clean and dressed in their Sunday best. During the major Mexican holidays—Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos—the colonias held their own private celebrations or traveled together to Placentia and Los Angeles to partake in bigger ones. A monthly dance was held at the schoolhouse, and the Americanization teachers frequently presented their Mexican pupils to the Fullerton population at large as proof of their good work, affairs that earned approving write-ups in the Fullerton News Tribune and the Santa Ana Register. No one was an illegal immigrant; all the Bastanchury Mexicans were either American citizens or sponsored by their hosts, with most originating from Tepic, Jalisco.

This bucolic life couldn't last. In October 1931, at the height of the Great Depression, the Bastanchurys shocked Orange County by announcing they had debts of $2 million and were placing their beloved Ranch into a receivership. The celebrated citrus grove wasn't producing; it turned out that the soil on the Ranch wasn't conducive to large-scale, long-term growing, just as the old-timers had tried to tell the Bastanchurys.

John Gilhooley
John Gilhooley

But something more nefarious had infested the Ranch as well. In just three years, Orange County politicians had gone from begging Congress for more Mexican labor to demanding that those workers give up their jobs, homes and lives to whites and return to Mexico. By 1931, federal agents were raiding barrios and colonias across Southern California, rounding up legal residents and American citizens of Mexican descent alike, and deporting them to Mexico; upon arriving, the Mexicans were forced to give up their legal papers allowing entry back into the States. Taking a kinder approach, church, civic and business groups asked Mexicans to leave, vowing to pay their train fare. Even the Mexican Consulate, not wishing to anger their American neighbors, organized return trips back, with promises of jobs that somehow never materialized.

Without the family's patronage, the Bastanchury Mexicans were threatened. In the fall of 1932, the Mexican Consulate helped to organize a meeting in Fullerton to figure out how immigrants could stave off repatriation. The government's deportation campaigns had begun in Orange County, organized by the local Department of Welfare. The consulate's Orange County representative, Santa Ana resident Lucas Lucio, accompanied deported Mexicans from the Santa Ana train station to Union Station in Los Angeles, where he would then join them on a Southern Pacific train to El Paso to ensure they weren't further abused. Even 45 years later, in an interview with a professor, the experience made Lucio shudder.

"At the station in Santa Ana, hundreds of Mexicans came and there was quite a lot of crying," he said. "The men were pensive and the majority of the children and mothers were crying." Lucio told the story of how on one trip, when the train didn't stop in El Paso but rather proceeded into Juarez, there was "a terrible cry... many did not want to cross the border ... a disaster, because the majority of the families were separated. There was no way for anyone to try to leave the train or run or complete their desire to return to the United States."

In February of 1933, the Bastanchurys' empire was auctioned from the steps of the Orange County Courthouse and put under new management; within five days, a hundred unemployed white men swarmed the Ranch, confident white ownership would give them a job. The era of the Bastanchury Mexicans was about to end.

Sometime that spring, new management and a consortium of white business, political and civic leaders went to the Ranch's schoolhouse and told the Mexicans they had to leave. "The Americanization centers in which these people had been taught how to buy homes and make themselves a part of the American community," Mackey wrote 18 years later, "were now used for calling together assemblages in which county welfare workers explained to bewildered audiences that their small jobs would now be taken over by the white men, that they were no longer needed nor wanted in these United States." As a last-ditch effort, she paraded her Americanization students in front of a men's civic group as she always had, desperately trying to show that the Bastanchury Mexicans were worthy of staying. But it didn't work.

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