A 1920s View of Mexican Immigrants

As is well-known, the decade of the 1920s represented a sharp peak of anti-immigration sentiment in the United States, leading to the Immigration Act of 1924, which largely closed the door to heavy foreign immigration for over forty years. Furthermore, that same decade saw the rise of the reborn Ku Klux Klan, which gained huge political power in many Midwestern and Southern states, and often directed its hostility more toward immigrant Catholics and Jews than toward American blacks.

A major intellectual figure in the public policy debates of this era was Lothrop Stoddard, a conservative-racialist whose writings had planned a significant role in the immigration cut-off, and one of the favorite venues for his articles was The Century Magazine, a leading general interest publication of that era. In those days, explicit racial arguments were very common in even the most cultured circles, often phrased in terms which would seem extremely grating to modern sensibilities.

Therefore, when we find a long 1926 Century Magazine article about ongoing Mexican immigration bearing the subtitle “The Mexican Who Is Filling the Cheap Labor Vacuum” and whose opening sentence speaks of a new “Mexican war” occuring in the American Southwest, we can naturally assume that the anti-immigrant analysis which follows will be enormously harsher than anything voiced by Tom Tancredo or any modern anti-immigrationist writer.

Strangely enough, this turns out not the case.

Instead, the long article is so overwhelmingly friendly towards Mexican immigrants, their hard work, discipline, and the crucial role they play in the American economy, that it might almost have been published by today’s National Immigration Forum or other pro-immigration organizations. Certainly some of the ideas and ethnic descriptions from almost 90 years ago would not appear in modern print, but the overall tone is unmistakenly favorable.

Although it does seem that certain immigrant groups back then did have highly negative or dangerous reputations—perhaps Jewish Bolsheviks or Italian Anarchists—others, such as Mexicans, apparently did not. Thus, while immigration from Europe was almost completely eliminating in 1924, no similar restrictions were ever enacted against immigration from Mexico or the rest of Latin America.

These historical facts are quite ironic given the American immigration debate of recent years.

“The Man from Next Door” by Charles A. Thomson
The Mexican Who Is Filling the Cheap Labor Vacuum
The Century Magazine, January 1926

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