Past As Prologue: The Cristero War And The Larger Story Of Immigration And Settlement In The U.S.

Men looking for work outside Oaks Park in Oregon, 1944.
Men looking for work outside Oaks Park in Oregon, 1944. Photo public domain.

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NOTE: The following essay and its audio component are part of an ongoing series produced in conjunction with the Washington State University history department. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

In this installment, learn about the connection between the Mexican Revolution and the Hispanic population in the United States. Julian Dodson, Washington State University professor in the Roots of Contemporary Issues Global History program, says the larger story of immigration and settlement is directly connected to regional and global conflicts. 

BY JULIAN DODSON

In the 1920s, the Cristero War in Mexico led to waves of immigration to the United StatesIt was a war between secular revolutionaries and of the Mexican Catholic clergy. The clergy’s supporters resisted new constitutional restrictions on the power of the Church in Mexican society. 

The war quickly became a popular conflict and engulfed large swaths of the center and central Western regions of the country. Many families fled the violence and settled in the U.S. – a majority in California and Chicago. But many others with family connections in the Northwest settled in the rich agricultural lands of eastern Washington and Oregon.  

Julian F. Dodson, Ph.D Instructor Roots of Contemporary Issues Program Department of History Washington State University Author of Fanáticos, Exiles, and Spies: Revolutionary Failures on the US-Mexico Border, 1923-1930.

Julian Dodson, PhD, Instructor Roots of Contemporary Issues Program Department of History at Washington State University

Then came WWII with another influx of migrant labor. The Bracero program from 1942-1964 offered temporary work status for millions of Mexican guest workers because the draft resulted in labor shortages in the U.SMany of those workers stayed and can trace their residence to the early and mid-twentieth century. The Bracero program also drew Latino/a populations from groups that had previously settled in the Southwest, Colorado, Utah, Texas,  and Wyoming.  

 The larger story of immigration and settlement is directly connected to regional conflicts in Mexico and global conflicts like WWII. These events resulted in well-established Latino/a communities that have made the Pacific Northwest the wonderfully rich and diverse region that it is today. With such a large number of immigrant families, particularly in agricultural production, this history is important to preserve and to share. 

Workers line up outside farm labor office in Yakima in 1947.

Farm labor office Yakima, Washington, in 1947.

Braceros were subject to vitriolic racism and unfair labor practices, while the very labor they provided was essential to maintain a healthy and functioning agricultural sector in the years during WWII and afterToday, there is a redoubling of the reinforcement of exclusionary mechanisms, like borders. The conflicts that have been caused by policies and politics emanating from the “Global North” have produced massive refugee populations, and the fires of racism, nativism, and Islamophobia have been stoked at home and in EuropeLook no further than the current administration’s dehumanizing rhetoric regarding Central American migrants and Syrian refugees to get a sense of the callous nativism that underpins current immigration policy.

These nativist sentiments are, as the history indicates, not new. We know that society, on the whole, is enriched by greater diversity—racial, ethnic, gender—and that this contributes to a greater diversity of thought. As life-long learners, we benefit from a wider variety of ideas.  

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