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  • They Should Stay There: The Story of Mexican Migration and Repatriation during the Great Depression by Fernando Saúl Alanís Enciso
  • Yolanda Valencia
Fernando Saúl Alanís Enciso, translated by Russ Davidson. They Should Stay There: The Story of Mexican Migration and Repatriation during the Great Depression. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 272 pp. Tables, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 paper (978-1-4696-3426-5); $90.00 cloth (978-1-4696-3425-8); $19.99 electronic (978-1-4696-3427-2).

In they should stay there, fernando Saúl Alanís Enciso documents Mexico's social, political, and economic conditions and examines Mexican migrants' lives and struggles in the United States through a unique transnational historical analysis of the repatriation of Mexican immigrants during the Great Depression. At its heart, the book argues that the Mexican government has never fully supported its citizens who migrated (and continue to migrate) to the US. Although the perception was that they were actively supporting and encouraging repatriation during the Great Depression, in reality the Mexican government desired (and continues to prefer) for out-migrants to stay there, in the United States. Lázaro Cardenas (president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940) and earlier Mexican presidents had, in fact, created a series of repatriation programs, but these programs did not succeed. Only a few of such programs were implemented, and those targeted a limited number of people who the state perceived as more skilled to modernize the nation. The Mexican government also lacked the technology, tools, and economic resources to support what programs were implemented.

In its meticulous documentation of the historical context of this time period, They Should Stay There makes some significant contributions to the history of Mexico-US migration. Chapter 1 especially provides an invaluable history of the beginnings of migration from Mexico to the United States prior to the Great Depression, with particular attention to how and why this migration began. This text is an excellent complement to other works that analyze labor, development, and migration in relation to politics and the economy on either side of the US-Mexico border. From a US point of view, Joe Nevins's Operation Gatekeeper (2002) highlights historical events that propelled recruitment for Mexican labor (during a shortage of labor produced by wars, [End Page 192] for instance) and deportation from the US (during high unemployment resulting from economic crisis) and the production and reinforcement of the US-Mexico border. Kitty Calabita's Inside the State (1992) shows how the US government -- in support of US agrarian employers – participated in recruiting and racializing Mexican labor, whether through the Bracero Program or support for hiring undocumented Mexican immigrants. Both of these books provide a deep analytical context to the US government's participation in taking advantage of Mexicans' labor and disposing of this labor via deportation practices when it is no longer needed. Alanís Enciso contributes to this conversation a political (and economic) historical context about Mexico's government involvement in pushing people to migrate and preventing many from retuning.

Alanís Enciso's work also complements Guillermo Bonfil Batalla's Mexico Profundo (1996), by demonstrating how Western ideologies of modernity propelled the Mexican government to implement de-Indianizing practices during the Porfiriato (the presidency of Porfirio Diaz) and beyond. Out-migration to the United States was framed as an opportunity to learn and modernize and thus was encouraged as a part of these de-Indianizing efforts. Then, after a failure to successfully industrialize according to the model of the West, out-migration became a survival strategy (Bonfil Batalla, 1996). However, the authors I have mentioned give a one-nation perspective only. As such, Alanís Enciso's contribution makes for a more nuanced understanding of politics across borders and their effects on Mexican populations.

Reading this book raised a series of questions for me—some organizational and some related to the substantive politics of returning Mexican immigrants. At moments it was challenging to follow the narrative and arc of the argument; some of the chapters are organized around periods of time, others around themes, and others have a mixture of both...


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