One of the great untold stories of the Great Depression remains the repatriation of more than a million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and what little we know about this dark episode is thanks in part to Raymond Rodríguez, a Long Beach native, longtime Long Beach City College professor and administrator, and tireless activist. Together with Francisco Balderrama, they wrote Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, one of the most influential Chicano Studies tomes ever written. It was the only book Rodriguez ever wrote, but his legacy is secured.
And it's a legacy that will long outlive Rodríguez, who passed away late last month and whose obituary is only now percolating through Latino USA and beyond.
The story was personal for Rodríguez, a Navy World War II vet: his dad was one of the repatriados, and he never saw him again. You can sense that air of melancholy in Decade of Betrayal, in the oral histories of dozens of people who sat down with Rodríguez and Balderrama to tell their previously-never-told stories.
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There was an Orange County angle, of course: as documented in my cover story earlier this year, about the more than 400 Mexicans deported from the Bastanchury Ranch in one fell swoop. Decade of Betrayal also mentioned that a train would take Mexicans from SanTana to Union Station in Los Angeles, then straight to El Paso, where people would be dumped into Ciudad Juarez. Don't really hear those stories told by Orange County historians--and how sad that it took a guy from Long Beach to unearth this history, no?
I had the chance to meet Rodriguez in 2003, at an event held at the IBEW Hall in Orange where then-state Senator Joe Dunn was the keynote speaker. At the time, he was trying to convince the state legislature to formally issue an apology for California's role in rounding up so many innocents (the efforts would ultimately be successful). Our meeting was brief, and Rodriguez and Balderrama were kind enough to mention our article on the meeting in the 2006 reprint of Decade of Betrayal. If you haven't yet read the book, make sure to do so, as a tribute to the tireless work that Rodríguez did, all to tell American history in its complete, unbowdlerized, ugly truth.