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

"And so," she concluded, "one morning we saw nine train-loads of our dear friends roll away back to the windowless, dirt-floored homes we had taught them to despise."

On Friday, March 31, a week after Mackey's efforts, 437 Mexicans—"mostly children," according to the News Tribune, and almost all from the Ranch—were herded onto nine passenger trains, one bound for Nogales, another to Juarez. The local media tried to paint the Mexicans as welfare cases—"Repatriation of Mexicans Eases Burden," read a headline in the Santa Ana Register—and pointed out that the Mexican government promised jobs to their repatriated countrymen upon their return. In reality, the Mexicans were left penniless in a country that parents hadn't visited in years and their American-born children simply didn't know. Few, if any, ever returned to Orange County.

It was the largest mass deportation in county history, and stung those few people who witnessed the episode for the rest of their lives. Lucio recalled they "were very poor...went on the half fare of the Southern Pacific." Juanita Ferraris, granddaughter of Domingo Bastanchury, told the News Tribune in 1955 that it was "one of the saddest sights I've ever seen."

A group of women who took the ranch's Americanization classes. Morales is the cute toddler at the bottom left.
A group of women who took the ranch's Americanization classes. Morales is the cute toddler at the bottom left.

And they departed with work available on the Ranch: in April, the new owners announced in the News Tribune that they were looking for "local men" to hire; in May, they revealed they already shipped 55,000 boxes of lemons in just two months—since the Mexicans left.

The Ranch's six colonias were eradicated; by June of that year, the schoolhouse was moved to another school and turned into a soup kitchen. Houses were either sold off to other citrus camps or simply demolished and tossed back into the scrap heap from where they came. Years later, a Fullerton council member told the COHP that the 1930 census showed that the city had 10,882 residents; in 1940, that figure shrank to 10,300. Bewildered, he admitted, "We finally found out that the reason for the population loss was because we lost the workers up" at the Ranch. Figures from the 1940 census reviewed by the Weekly showed that not a single Mexican listed as living on the Bastanchury's estate in 1930 remained.

Some of the Bastanchury Mexicans, however, did evade the deportation train. One of those was the family of Fullerton resident Cuca Morales. Born in 1927, her birth certificate lists her place of birth as the "Tia Juanita Camp" at the Ranch. Her memories are clouded not by age—her mind is as sharp as someone half her age—but rather by the fact that she was only five when her parents were forced to move away.

At her home, in a housing tract set aside for veterans when she and her husband bought it in the 1950s, Morales keeps many photos from those days. One shows her as a baby, held by her mother, as Cuca's father, who worked as a lemon picker, plays the violin and an unnamed man accompanies him on guitar. In another, she's a toddler standing by her mother's side in a group shot of women who took Mackey's Americanization classes. Behind them, rows of citrus groves stretch over the horizon.

"My grandpa used to be the man who would hold the dances" at the schoolhouse, she says. "I'd stand by him while my mom accepted the money." And she also remembered Maria Bastanchury, the dowager of the Ranch. "She was a stingy lady," the octogenarian says with a laugh. "After workers harvested the walnuts every season, she'd be raking through the leaves, looking for more."

Morales says she only knew of one family repatriated to Mexico, that of her brother's godparents—"and he cried for months after they left," she remembered. Everyone else she knew moved on to other colonias, or the barrios of Santa Ana, La Habra and Anaheim. "My dad wanted to go back to Mexico, but Mom [who was born in Arizona to Mexican immigrants] said, 'No, we're going to stay here—if you want to go, you can.' "

To remain, Morales' parents went to Gaston Bastanchury, who fixed her father's papers—but they still had to leave the Ranch. The family sold their house for a Buick, and they ended up living in La Habra's Alta Vista camp, where Morales grew up before moving to Fullerton, where she raised a family and has lived ever since.

Her parents "never talked about" the disappearance of the Bastanchury Mexican colonias. "I remember one time my mom said that they were poorer on the Ranch. And when I bought my house in Fullerton, she said, 'I don't like Fullerton,' but never said why." Morales kept in contact with former residents of Tia Juana but has never dwelled on its importance. But her daughter Clara—a retired employee of the United Auto Workers—does. "You still have families who came from the Bastanchury Ranch around town," she says. "One time, I was at the bank, and somehow, someone asked [one of the customers] where was she born. 'The Bastanchury Ranch,' she said. It sounded like she was proud that she was from there."

"Most of the people who were born there are dead," Cuca suddenly said.

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