A glance at the history of the relationship between the Republican Party and the working people of the United States leaves me little room for comfort. If we consider Mexican-American working people the thought becomes even more discomforting. Certainly the self-proclaimed concern for the plight of the American worker expressed by the President-elect during the campaign rings hollow to my ears, especially when I reread passages out of my history textbooks.
I marvel at how quickly we seem to out the significance of the presidential names that succeeded Wilson's: Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and, yes, Herbert Hoover. President Coolidge confirmed the long-awaited alliance between business and government: "This is a business country," he proclaimed, "and it wants a business government." His millionaire secretary of the treasury, Andrew Mellon, who enjoyed expensive soft grey suits at a time when most Americans could barely afford denim, restated a message which reverberates once again in the Republican revival of 1980: "The government is just a business and can and should be run on business principles."
Already there is talk about pushing "right to work" laws harder and reviewing the merits of the national minimum wage, the latter a product of violent struggles across the land 50 years ago. Will modern-day conservativesin power anxious to recapture "the good old days," brazenly repeat the words of Samuel Insull, the one-time utilities tycoon of Chicago? In congressional hearings of the day he collly affirmed, "My experience is that the greatest aid to the efficiency of labor is a long line of men waiting at the gate." Perhaps our inflated economic condition has contributed to our forgetful oversight of the disastrous economic events which Mellon's hallowed business principles and Insull's crass prescription brought the nation in the latter 1920s. These events are, of course, commonly known as the Great Depression.
An aspect of the Depression which is rarely acknowledged by most Americans yet bitterly recalled by many of us Mexican-Americans is the forced repatriation of many of our parents and grandparents when their cheap labor was no longer needed in this country. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were expelled. They had earlier been actively recruited by American companies to help develop the West. They had been wooed to lay America's rails over the Rockies and along the Pacific coast, open the earthen ditches that would carry precious water to irrigate the new and flourishing agribusinesses which began to feed the Eastern seaboard, etc.
But in hard times the Mexicans were no longer wanted. In fact, among other things we were referred to as "surplus labor." The republican leadership could coldly disengage the "overdrive" to cool off the economy.
I was born in California instead of Mexico during these hard days, because my parents were able to fend off the frenzied pressure for repatriation. This was partly due to the fact that my father had found a job picking citrus fruit. It was generally believed that citrus workers ran the risk of disease from the widespread use of insecticides in the orchards, so his job seems to have gone unwanted by "regula" Americans. He stayed, and so did his family.
Can the combination of a righteous Republican restoration and a national economic crisis trigger excesses like the Mexican expulsion once again" What can we do?
Most important, we should feel secure in knowing we posses from our forefathers a long experience in surviving under duress. We must handle ourselves well and responsibly. We owe it to our children. Half-cocked militancy is not enough. We must organize ourselves better.
The past Democratic years may be guilty of excessive governmental expenditure , but an ill can easily mask a good.One good thing for us is that these years provided us with opportunities to developed ourselves as never before. We are no longer just rough-hewn toilers as in the 1920s. Through what many conservatives regard as "giveaway" programs we have gradually nurtured local, regional, and national networks of effective leadership. They stand in the vanguard. We must identify them and render them our intelligent assistance.
Lastly, let us not forget that we cannot do it all by ourselves. We need to identify and recognize those fellow Americans of non-Hispanic background who collectively suffered as we have or, if they do not have that collective experience, have nonetheless considered us as their equals. If they exercise leadership roles, so much the better. They will need and appreciate our support.
I am not overlooking the possibility of a Republican restoration being different from those in the past. Nonetheless, it is time for us to man the watchtowers and test our lines of communication.