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Mexico’s Day of the Dead and a chapter of American history we cannot ignore


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This week as the warm aroma of marigolds fills the air and candlelit shrines illuminate the faces of those gone, we remember. 

On November 1 and 2, I will stand before a shrine reminiscent of the film “Coco,” dedicated to my beloved grandmother who tragically succumbed to COVID, Cecilia Romo, who played on the basketball national team of Mexico and became a renowned actress later in her life. 

Just as I cherish my abuelita’s memory, I urge us all to remember a chapter in American history that remains overlooked.

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In the shadow of the Great Depression, over one million Mexicans were exiled from the U.S. These weren’t just immigrants. Most, born on American soil, were also U.S. citizens, unknowingly sent to face hunger and hardship in arid regions of Mexico. 

Businesses, under government pressure, turned their backs on their hard-working Mexican employees, despite their substantial contributions to the American Dream. These were people who had lived, worked, and built lives in America. Imagine the heartbreak of being torn from your home, to be thrust into a land where you are viewed as an outsider. 

As an 18-year-old Mexican-Swiss-American, I have experienced cultural shifts but nothing like this. 

Arriving in the U.S. a decade ago, I sought to learn more about my roots. While school taught me about the Great Depression, it skipped the story of the deported Mexicans. An exploration of this historical incident led me to this heartbreaking tale, a topic almost unknown even among historians.

Shrine to Cecilia Romo

A shrine dedicated to Tamara Gisiger’s beloved grandmother who tragically succumbed to COVID, Cecilia Romo.

Mexican immigrants weren’t just day laborers in the United States. In 1929, they constituted 59.5% of Western railroad workers. In Minnesota, 30% of the sugar beet industry’s workforce was Mexican, while in the 1920s, Arizona’s copper mines were humming with a workforce that was 43% Mexican. Despite their dedication to hard work, a study found Mexican railroad workers earned 25% less than their white counterparts.

This isn’t just history. It’s a narrative of Hispanics’ profound contributions to America. As they approach 20% of the U.S. population, their stories deserve recognition. We’re all Americans, after all.

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Intrigued by this oversight, my school research led to profound discoveries. Partnering with the Mexican Consul in New York City, I brought this hidden chapter to broader platforms. 

Today, I am committed to spotlighting Hispanic contributions to ensure they are interwoven into America’s history. 

We need to know more about brutalities like the Placita raid in Los Angeles, where over 400 people were detained within an hour, showcase the era’s harsh realities. Fear tactics, including media campaigns in Mexican newspapers, intensified the mass exodus. 

Shrine dedicated to Cecilia Romo

A view of a shrine reminiscent of the film “Coco,” dedicated to Tamara Gisiger’s grandmother Cecilia Romo, who tragically succumbed to COVID.

We need to shine a spotlight on the chilling “Plan of Terror” which coerced many Mexican-Americans to leave the U.S. without a trial. 

Thousands of people left the country in cars, but many were also deported by train. In L.A. just in the year 1931 alone, more than 15 trains holding 50,000 to 75,000 people, traveled from California to Juarez on the border of Mexico, leaving them there with no food or money.  By 1937, two million out of the two and a half million Mexicans in the U.S. were unemployed. 

History echoes its painful refrains. After World War II, the Bracero Program allowed 4.5 million Mexicans back on temporary visas. Yet, the 1950s saw another wave; 1.1 million Mexicans, including some citizens, were again forcibly returned.

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Efforts to recognize past wrongs emerged in 2004. Though California Senate Bill 427, aimed at reparations, was vetoed by then-Gov. Schwarzenegger, he did sign SB 670, which offered an apology for the repatriation mistreatment.

The Day of the Dead is not just about remembrance but also about learning. As I honor my grandmother this week, let’s pledge to remember those torn from their American dream and work towards ensuring history doesn’t repeat its painful episodes. As I have discovered, learning about our past predicts our future



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