Abstract: Social Work and Mexican Americans during the "Great Depression" (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

438P Social Work and Mexican Americans during the "Great Depression"

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lorraine Gutierrez, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: The great depression is viewed as an era when our field was instrumental in the development of economic recovery and social welfare programs. Less attention has been paid on how social work policies and practices impacted different BIPOC communities during that era. The experiences of Mexican Americans during the depression provide one example. The this paper focuses on two significant aspects of the Mexican American experience during the depression, the repatriation programs and the rise of the Mexican American Movement (MAM), in which social welfare programs and social workers played significant roles. These events had long lasting effects on the Mexican-American community.

Methods: This study is part of a larger social work history project focused on the experiences and contributions of Mexican Americans. Primary and secondary historical methods were employed. Secondary methods included scholarly articles and books from the fields of Latinx/Chicanx studies, US history, and social welfare history. Primary sources included archival written and visual materials and interviews with key informants.

Results: The social work profession both supported social injustice and built community capacity of Mexican Americans during this era. The involvement of social service agencies during the depression to deport people of Mexican descent as a means of reducing costs to local income maintenance and social welfare programs is a significant example of social injustice. Federal agencies depended upon local social work and social welfare agencies to identify potential individuals and families for “repatriation” and deportation to Mexico. This resulted in over 400,000 people of Mexican descent, a large percentage of them American citizens, being sent to Mexico and separated from their homes, families, and sources of employment. Most had no means to return to their communities in the US.

During this era one of the earliest documented organizations to address problems experienced by people of Mexican descent in the US, the MAM, was founded. The MAM arose from social groupwork programs of the Los Angeles YMCA which sponsored Mexican Youth Conferences aimed at developing leadership in Mexican American communities. As participants in these conferences grew into adulthood they organized their own programs and conferences, published a newsletter, and founded their own organization. The mission of the MAM was to counteract the negative image and stereotypes of Mexican American youth and to encourage young people to continue their education and work toward personal and community improvement. Many participants went on to become educators, group workers, and attorneys in the greater Los Angeles area and founded new organizations such as the Association of Mexican American Teachers, MALDEF, and the Mexican American Political Association.

Conclusions and Implications: Our field must recognize how we have been a force for empowerment or oppression in BIPOC communities. Historical events have an impact on Latinx communities and their ability to work with and trust social work and social workers. We must recognize, understand, and transcend this history if we hope to work towards racial, social and political justice.