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La Ruta Hacia el Norte / The Route to the North

Hello, my name is Pedro Enrique Puentes. I am a second-year history graduate student at California State University, Northridge, and a curatorial intern at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. As a member of the curatorial team, my main concentration is to research the development of the Chicano Movement and the creation of bilingual education in Los Angeles for LA Plaza’s permanent exhibition, LA Starts Here! My work has focused on documenting Mexican-American and Latin-American communities’ experiences in Los Angeles from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In my research, I’ve analyzed court cases, educational policies, propositions, and so-called “Mexican schools” to highlight Latinx youth’s historical struggles within public schools. My contribution to this project has pushed me to dig deeper into Chicana/o and Latinx leaders who have played a significant role in creating political and social awareness in our communities. This internship at LA Plaza has solidified the value of public history programs and broadened my research and archival skills.

Today, we continue to see more Latinx in higher education that are creating a foundation for future generations. However, this was not always the case for Latinx in education. In order to comprehend the importance of accessing higher education, we must understand the historical significance of two specific events that happened in the twentieth century that shaped our Latinx communities. These events allow us to analyze the long-term effects of a racist political agenda that impacted policies and classroom settings, which led to social and political awareness among Latinx youth.

Southern California continues to be a prime destination and the home of many Latinx immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and South America. Yet, in the early twentieth century, the majority of immigrants coming into the United States were from Mexico. This distinction is critical because it is not until the latter part of the twentieth century that we see mass migrations from Central America and South America that fled from military dictatorships and civil wars that subjected many people to human rights violations. Furthermore, the 1960s saw the emergence of the Chicana/o Movement, a social and political group of Mexican and Mexican-American youth that fought to represent their communities.

Two major events that led to mass Mexican migration into the United States was the Reclamation Act of 1902 and the Mexican Revolution (1911-1920). The Reclamation Act of 1902 created irrigation projects throughout the arid West and Southwest in the United States. These Acts enabled many Mexican families to work on irrigation projects in California to meet the growing population’s demands. Fred Eaton and William Mulholland were the masterminds behind Owens Valley’s acquisition and the creation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Building the aqueduct required a workforce, and many Mexicans answered the call, drawn by good-paying jobs and long days of work. Mexican laborers became an essential part of California and Los Angeles county. They were provided with shelter, food, and medical care by city officials, which demonstrated their significant contribution to the state’s infrastructure and population growth, establishing Los Angeles as a vital city in the United States.

During the Mexican Revolution, many Mexican families emigrated to the United States between 1911 to 1920 to escape the erupting violence and the lack of economic opportunities. This event, the bloodiest in Mexican history, left “tens of thousands slaughtered and some estimates go as high as a million.” Given the death and violence that the Mexican Revolution triggered, Mexican families came to see el Norte (the North) as an option to escape the terror, secure their own safety, and find economic stability.

These two events are critical to review because they allow us to contextualize the mass migration of Mexicans into the United States and cement their presence in Southern California. Migrating from Mexico into the United States allowed families to have a better life and offer their children opportunities that would not have been possible in their country. One of those opportunities would be access to public education; however, the children of Mexican immigrants would be caught between two cultures and charged with seeking a unique identity in the United States.

Next, I will follow-up on how city and public health officials shaped biased agendas and how that created stereotypes for Mexican families. These racial stereotypes not only followed the parents but also their children into the educational setting. However, access to education among Mexican American youth meant that they could move away from Mexican-constructed gender roles and seek better opportunities as American citizens.

1. Douglas Monroy, Rebirth: Mexican Los Angeles from the Great Migration to the Great Depression (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
2. “The Los Angeles Aqueduct, 1913-1988 A 75th Anniversary Tribute,” Southern California Quarterly, Vol.70, No 3 (Fall 1988): 329-354.
3. Ibid, 329-354.
4. Tosi Humbert, “Violence Reigned During Mexican Revolution Era,” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995), Sep 29, 1968.