They Should Stay There: The Story of Mexican Migration and Repatriation during the Great Depression by Fernando Saúl Alanís Enciso
Fernando Saúl Alanís Enciso has long been the Mexican migration historian most widely cited by U.S.–based scholars of early-twentiethcentury Mexican American history. Nonetheless, the fact that his oeuvre of more than fifteen books and twenty articles is written in Spanish has limited its potential to fully inform these fields or attract interest beyond them. Now, thanks to editor Mark Overmyer-Velázquez and the "Latin America in Translation" series of Duke University and the University of North Carolina presses, at least one of Alanís Enciso's books can be widely read in the English-speaking world. They Should Stay There, which hones in on Mexican government policies toward emigrants in the final years of the Great Depression, will certainly interest the scholars of Mexican American history who ideally were reading him all along. It should also draw attention from historians of U.S. labor and immigration more generally, as well as political scientists [End Page 241] interested in the messy history of immigration and emigration policy in the Americas and the world.
The history of Mexican deportation from the United States during the Great Depression has been capably, though not exhaustively, documented by scholars. Most historians focus on the dramatic raids and expulsions of the early 1930s, and some do consider the actions of the Mexican government. With his unique focus on the final years of the Depression and the activist presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas, Alanís Enciso introduces a wholly new scene to Mexican American history: that of Mexican bureaucrats traveling through Texas in the late 1930s, drawing thousands of compatriots to meetings about the prospect of joining Mexican government-sponsored programs to resettle in northern Mexican agricultural colonies.
Yet, Alanís Enciso's painstaking archival research shows that this intriguing episode masks more than it reveals about Mexican emigration policy. Cárdenas, like the Mexican presidents who came before him, actually did little to encourage Mexican migrants to return home. He commissioned studies and entertained multiple proposals for repatriate agricultural colonies. But despite the developmentalist theories that Mexican intellectuals had long applied to the subject of migrant repatriation, elite fears of mass return combined with bureaucratic disarray to limit the Cárdenas government's investment in actual initiatives. Among a slew of failed and attempted repatriate colonies, only one, the 18 March colony in Tamaulipas, received any sustained federal support. Even then, state efforts to settle emigrants lasted less than two months, in 1939. Those who did settle in the 18 March colony complained bitterly that government support for their efforts was inadequate. While sporadic federal investments did continue, Alanís Enciso's final assessment is that the project "had little or no effect on Mexican society in terms of the total resources devoted to it, the location to which the repatriates were sent, or the number of people who arrived in the new settlement" (p. 192).
This fine-grained history of the state in action provides critical context for social historians of Mexican migration during the 1930s. Graduate students and other scholars of Mexican American history should certainly read They Should Stay There, if only to motivate them to seek out Alanís Enciso's other works, despite the likely slower pace of reading them in Spanish. Additionally, scholars of migration policy in the Americas and the world will find that Alanís Enciso's fine-grained analysis gives life to overdetermined theories of migration policy development.
While highly valuable for scholars, however, the book's audience beyond them will be limited. Experienced translator Russ Davidson has rendered the book faithfully, but perhaps too much so. I would [End Page 242] have given him greater license to smooth the edges of Alanís Enciso's academic Spanish to attract a wider reading audience. A single chapter might be suitable for an upper-division undergraduate course, but the whole book would not be. Nonetheless, the quantity of research and depth of analysis mark They Should Stay There as a significant historiographical contribution, and just as important, a bridge between a towering Mexican historian and the English-speaking world.
JULIE M. WEISE is an associate professor of history at the University of Oregon. She is the author of the award-winning Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910 (2015) and is currently writing a global comparative social history of postwar state-managed migration in the Americas, Europe, and southern Africa.