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STREET LEVEL

Fighting Immigrant Backlash

March 14, 1993|KEVIN BAXTER | B y the time of the Great Depression, Los Angeles was home to many Mexican immigrants. Some had sought safety from the Mexican Revolution, others stayed after being invited when American workers went off to fight in World War I. But as the economy worsened, Mexican workers became scapegoats and thousands were forcibly repatriated. and In response, a dozen community leaders joined with the Mexican consul in 1931 to form El Comite de Beneficencia Mexicana. Jose Diaz, 91, the lone surviving founder of that committee, sees a similarity between that time and the growing sentiment against immigrants of all nationalities that has accompanied the current economic stagnation. Diaz, a retired dentist, shared these views with Kevin Baxter.

There's a similarity. Very much a similarity between now and then.

There has always been an insecurity with the immigration department. I've seen the immigration department take 10, 15, 20 people, put them on a car and whoosh , out they go. Back to the border.

Should we use taxpayer money to round up illegals like they did in 1931? No. They tried it then and it didn't work. These people can't go back to Mexico because there's no work in Mexico. As soon as they get off the bus, they're coming right back.

Look, we're going to have that trouble (anti-immigrant sentiment) forever. A lot of Americans don't like the people coming here taking their jobs. That was the whole problem in 1931.

But if the conditions aren't changed, people are going to react the same way all the time. Whether they're black or white or Asian or whatever. They need a job. That was true then and it's the same now.

If you really want to remedy all these things, you know what will do it? Intercambio de estudiantes. A student exchange. I don't mean one, two, three students. I mean thousands of students. Send students to Mexico and have them live in a Mexican home, see the way they live, and you'd be surprised at the change that would bring.

Experiencing life from the other person's perspective, learning the way they live and having them learn the way you live. Once we live together and understand each other better, we'll understand ourselves better.

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