Along with the risks of poverty and unemployment during the Great Depression, Mexican immigrants and even U.S. citizens of Mexican descent faced an additional hazard: Around half a million of them were kicked out of the country to preserve jobs for white Americans.
If you didn’t know this, it could be because it wasn’t covered the same way by every news outlet.
In her new book, Melita M. Garza, who teaches journalism at TCU in Fort Worth, tracks the coverage of immigrants by the three newspapers operating in San Antonio in the 1930s: a Spanish language daily, a locally owned paper published in English and an English language daily owned by a giant media corporation.
On KERA’s Think, Garza talked with host Krys Boyd about the different “frames” these three news outlets placed on immigrant rights and the deportation of tens of thousands of people to Mexico when the economy went south.
San Antonio Light
Anti-immigrant rhetoric out of Washington was strong during the Depression, Garza says. And William Randolph Hearst-owned newspapers, like the San Antonio Light, fueled the sentiment by publishing “canned editorials,” which were packaged and distributed to local affiliates to run them.
“There were several opponents of Mexican labor in the Southwest. And they jumped on this bandwagon in attempt to get rid of this ‘problem,’ as was perhaps the most polite way it was put in the Hearst press,” she says.
Hearst also used the terms "vermin" and "pests" to describe Mexicans at the time, Garza says.
He owned newspapers all over the United States, with five million-plus readers, which was a large amount of readers during the Depression.
The corporation bought the San Antonio Light in 1924. It folded in 1993.
San Antonio Express
Hearst embarked on a full-scale newspaper war with the San Antonio Express, which was the then-locally owned newspaper, and it represented the ranching, railroad and banking interests of the state, Garza says.
Unlike its competitor, the Express recognized the contributions of Mexicans to the local and statewide economy.
“It recognized the unique position that San Antonio had historically as a gateway to Mexico,” she says. “Even though it was more than 150 miles away from the border, it was the center of commerce and industry,” she says.
The Express ran editorials celebrating the city’s unique relationship with Mexico, as a neighbor.
Now the San Antonio Express-News is owned by the Hearst Corporation.
Historically, the Spanish language paper, which was founded in 1913, has been characterized as more of an elite publication, Garza says. However, people of all socioeconomic backgrounds read it.
The paper published some of the most prominent writers and thinkers at the time, including the Brownsville-born folklorist Americo Paredes, French writer Alexandre Dumas and Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. Despite its intellectual intent, the paper was still embraced by the larger Spanish-speaking community, Garza says.
“My great-grandfather happened to read this paper in San Antonio, and he was only a janitor,” she says. “Considering the tenor of the times, the Great Depression, there weren’t a lot of people with an awful lot of money anyway.”
When La Prensa covered deportations, it would tell human stories, which Garza says wasn’t happening in the Light or the Express. They both focused more on the bigger numbers associated with immigration and the economy.