Little more than a century ago, Chinese immigrants began arriving in the Mexican district of Baja California Norte. The district, though poorly developed and scarcely populated, offered many opportunities to the new settlers. Increasing demands for goods and services allowed the Chinese to take part in a wide array of activities. They entered the agricultural and business sectors, not only as laborers but as entrepreneurs. Despite the limitations of a sometimes hostile socioeconomic and political environment, a sizable Chinese population soon provided a considerable portion of the labor, capital, and enterprise required by the developing frontier society. The history of Baja’s Chinese community, beyond its narrative appeal, contributes some important insights into the links between regional development, territorial sovereignty, and foreign economic control. How such a group played so decisive an economic role is a central question in exploring the area’s transformation through the first decades of this century.
Apart from its regional importance, the topic also presents an opportunity to probe the nature of ethnic relations in Porfirian and revolutionary Mexico. While the Chinese frequently faced discrimination and outright persecution in neighboring Sonora, they seldom did in northern Baja. In his study of Sonora, Leo Jacques contends that many Chinese “became prosperous—too prosperous, in fact, for their wealth and success brought them hatred and persecution.”1 Advancing this idea, Evelyn Hu-DeHart argues persuasively that economic interaction fundamentally conditioned Chinese-Mexican relations. The rise of a dominant Chinese “petite bourgeoisie” produced a concomitant escalation of class-based persecution, ultimately leading to the mass expulsion of all Chinese from Sonora in 1931.2
The question of why similar anti-Chinese antipathy did not arise in Baja remains unanswered. The conventional correlation between economic success and persecution, as Charles Cumberland notes in his pioneering study, fails “to explain the absence of violent outbreaks in other areas where the Chinese were numerous enough to have a marked effect on the labor market.”3 As this essay will show, the distinctive development of northern Baja enabled the Chinese to assume diverse economic roles, ranging from rural laborer to urban capitalist. In turn, Baja’s Chinese became more integrated both economically and socially than those in neighboring states. It was this broad economic integration, not cultural assimilation, that muted ethnic tensions and fostered greater accommodation.
The Search for Immigrants
Mexico’s nineteenth-century political elite agreed that immigration not only would expand the labor force and create markets, but would tighten territorial and economic sovereignty over areas remote from the capital. The ideal colonist would be a free, white, preferably Catholic European, possessing the industriousness and skills needed to exploit the vast untapped “wealth” of Mexico’s frontier. But with greater opportunities in the United States and elsewhere, few European immigrants willingly chose the Spartan life of frequently barren, intemperate regions. For those who did arrive on the frontier, the allure of urban centers and higher wages often limited their stay.4
In lieu of Europeans, Chinese immigrants seemed a viable alternative. Dating from the 1840s, a brisk flow of Chinese contract laborers had already entered the cane fields of Cuba and toiled in Peruvian mines.5 In the early 1870s, the Mexico City press launched a heated debate over the advantages of admitting Chinese workers. Matías Romero, diplomat and coffee grower in Soconusco, reasoned that Chinese labor would be ideal for railroad construction as well as ventures in tropical export agriculture. The Chinese, the argument went, could be paid low salaries and acclimatized easily to tropical America. Their politically impotent country, furthermore, posed little threat of direct intervention on their behalf.6 After two decades of debate and diplomatic maneuvering, Mexico and China signed the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation (1899), which not only opened diplomatic and economic relations but helped to create a new industry in transpacific travel.7
Despite the Mexican interest in colonists and contract laborers, the first Chinese to reach northern Baja arrived as entrepreneurs seeking new investments.8 For years, Chinese-American junks out of San Diego Bay routinely had been harvesting abalone from the waters off Baja for export to China. But the Scott Act, passed by Congress in 1888, prohibited Chinese workers from reentering the United States, effectively barring the junks from leaving U.S. territorial waters. The following year, the Diaz government granted exclusive peninsular fishing rights to Manuel and Salvador Salorio of Ensenada. Facing closure of the lucrative trade, a San Francisco-based syndicate of investors, On Yick and Company, purchased the Salorio concession, and soon Chinese fishermen arrived to administer the new enterprise.9 A gold strike near Ensenada in 1889 also interested On Yick and Company. After touring the mines around Real del Castillo, Yee Chong Long, along with several wealthy associates, promptly acquired a half interest in the 116-square-mile Masac mining concession. Under the terms of the original grant, in return for tax exemptions, water rights, and 2,500 hectares of land, the new owners had to begin operations within five months, invest $225,000 in equipment within five years, and employ 34 men full-time.10 On Yick and Company, as a result, began transporting laborers from China, and by October 1889, the syndicate had already spent $40,000 on mining equipment and $60,000 on its fishing enterprise. It was clear that On Yick and Company understood this investment to be a substantial, long-term gamble on the future of northern Baja. Although the gold and fishing ventures eventually collapsed, they signaled the start of Baja’s long association with Chinese capital, labor, and entrepreneurship.
As a small Chinese community formed around Ensenada, the ever- vigilant U.S. vice consul alerted the State Department that these newcomers would enter the United States illegally unless “stopped by the officers on the frontier.”11 While existing statutes allowed Mexican citizens to seek work in the United States, the Exclusion Act of 1882 and subsequent congressional legislation prohibited the entry of all skilled and unskilled Chinese laborers. While Mexican workers easily crossed the border into Southern California to take advantage of growing employment opportunities, U.S. immigration laws prevented the Chinese from doing the same. Consequently, this legal barrier served as an important safety valve to reduce competition between Chinese and Mexicans for local jobs in northern Baja. Despite dire predictions of a flood of illegal Chinese immigrants, most remained in northern Baja once they arrived.
By the 1890s, the effects of Southern California’s rapid development started to be felt south of the border. The small Chinese community soon established itself in a variety of occupations to meet new demands for goods and services. The Lower Californian, a U.S.-operated newspaper in Ensenada, actually chided its readers that several Chinese,
with the blind stolidity peculiar to their race, are raising vegetables and grain on rented land, and making money; while the superior Anglo-Saxon licks his chops on the street corner and wonders when times will improve.12
Besides small truck gardens, the Chinese capitalized on Ensenada’s expansion as the district’s capital to branch into other business activities. In December 1890, Sing Lee’s laundry placed its first advertisement in the Lower Californian, announcing “clear water, good wash, good iron—cheap as anybody."13 Over the next few years, the Chinese commercial presence in Ensenada spread to retail trade and even small-scale manufacturing.
According to an 1899 commercial survey, one of the ten most prominent businessmen in northern Baja was Yun Kui, who had established a general store six years earlier. Besides stocking Chinese goods, Yun Kui manufactured low-cost canvas shoes and carried a full line of dry goods, groceries, and hardware.14 Within five years of the survey, El Progresista, another Ensenada newspaper, published a tax registry of all businesses in the town. Of the 60 different taxpayers listed, at least 10 were Chinese— among them a factory and ice house owner, three grocers, two small shopkeepers, two launderers (including Sing Lee), a shoemaker, and a street vendor. Except for one British-owned firm and a German mercantile company, Yun Kui’s combined grocery-tailor-shoe factory paid the highest monthly business tax in Ensenada.15 Early businessmen like Yun merely took advantage of the many openings presented by an emerging frontier, not to displace nationals, but to carve out and develop a new niche in the local economy.
While a degree of progress reached Ensenada before the turn of the century, the remainder of northern Baja was mostly untouched, dotted with only an occasional cattle ranch or mining camp. Over the next three decades, however, the northern district underwent an enormous transformation, particularly along the border. As census figures reveal, the district’s population more than doubled between 1910 and 1921. By 1930, the official figures had doubled again (see table 1). Because of a strong in- migration stimulated by an expanding economy, by 1921 almost half the residents had been born outside the district, and some two-thirds by 1930. In absolute terms, the Chinese presence increased sixfold in the decade after 1910 (see table 2). While the Chinese accounted for a little more than 5 percent of the district’s population in 1910, they increased to almost 12 percent by 1921 and approximately 14 percent by 1927. The high percentage of Chinese in northern Baja stood in contrast to that of Sonora, where the Chinese community—although larger until the 1920s—never officially numbered above 2 percent of the state’s population. In this sense, northern Baja’s Chinese represented an economic potential in excess of what the aggregate numbers would suggest.
The region’s economic expansion and consequent rapid population growth resulted from the introduction of irrigation to the Imperial and Mexicali valleys. The diversion of the Colorado River in 1901, proclaimed U.S. trade commissioner P. L. Bell, “converted the region into one of the most productive and promising agricultural regions of the Americas.”16 The vast potential of the adjacent valleys lured a syndicate of Los Angeles businessmen in 1902 to organize the Colorado River Land Company. Headed by Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler, the company acquired nearly 850,000 acres in the Mexicali Valley, including much of its productive land. Formed as a Mexican land development corporation and subject to Mexican law, the Colorado River Land Company sidestepped the legal prohibition against foreigners owning land near the border. The valley remained under company control for the next three decades until its eventual breakup under President Lázaro Cárdenas.17
The high cost of irrigation and flood control projects naturally demanded that agriculture be commercially oriented. After a process of trial and error to find a viable commercial product, Egyptian cotton took hold in the Imperial Valley in 1909 and soon spread south of the border.18 Within a decade, the Mexicali Valley became one of the major cotton producers in Mexico, easily bypassing Ensenada in economic importance. The valley’s border location, however, proved to be a mixed blessing. While it allowed for the easy transfer of U.S. technology, credit, and supplies, it also firmly placed the district into a dependent relationship with its northern neighbor. Geographically isolated from the rest of Mexico and without a deep-water port until the late 1950s, northern Baja relied almost exclusively on its economic ties to Southern California for access to U.S. markets and distribution networks. Cotton soon dominated a regional economy that relied heavily on foreign capital, labor, and expertise.
Labor demand in the Imperial and Mexicali valleys escalated as irrigation canals crisscrossed the territory.19 Alert to the economic potential, the Mexican government searched for ways to provide sufficient labor to exploit and develop the valley basin. Early in 1911, interim president Francisco León de la Barra sent a commission to investigate the possibility of resettling families from other parts of Mexico. The hope was to provide employment, boost exports, and integrate northern Baja more closely with the rest of the country. Unfortunately, as subsequent years would show, resettlement consistently failed to attract permanent settlers. A lack of financial support, along with the more profitable opportunities just across the border, discouraged settlement.20 As a result, northern Baja turned to foreign labor to fuel its economic growth.
In the early months of 1910, a consignment of 51 Chinese laborers landed at San Francisco. Loaded into locked railroad cars, they traveled “in bond” across California to the border town of Calexico, where they crossed to Mexicali.21 These workers were headed to the holdings of the California-Mexican Land and Cattle Company, the parent of the larger Colorado River Land Company. Although local inhabitants greeted these arrivals cooly, the Chinese soon proved desirable employees, especially as cotton production expanded in the next few years. Chinese pickers were considered “the most durable in the district”—and they impressed employers by their stamina, speed, and skill in harvesting cotton, having virtually no previous experience.22 With few barriers to immigration, the number of Chinese workers steadily rose. Cotton ranchers quickly noted the “tremendous advantage” in availing themselves of fairly accessible Chinese labor.23 The Calexico Chronicle foresaw that these “celestials from the Flowery Kingdom” would make excellent cotton pickers and play an important part in developing the rich delta of the lower Colorado.24
With the outbreak of World War I, European demand for cotton created a boom market along the border as production and prices skyrocketed (see table 3). As wartime prosperity absorbed California farm circuit workers, Imperial Valley growers offered high wages to entice Mexican workers across the border. While this led to an unprecedented rise in legal migration into the United States, Baja’s cotton growers—many of whom were U. S. entrepreneurs—were left shorthanded.25 Chinese agricultural labor became the only practical alternative in a depleted labor market that faced chronic shortages. The northern district, in this regard, depended on outside labor to work land held by U.S. interests. Foreign nationals thereby directed the course of Baja’s development.
Until this time, development had taken precedence over other considerations, such as territorial sovereignty. As more Chinese workers arrived, however, district leaders questioned the wisdom of permitting so many non-Mexicans to populate an area adjoining the United States. The fear of losing northern Baja altogether seemed warranted in light of past and more recent events. Tension over the 1914 U. S. occupation of Veracruz and General John J. Pershing’s 1916 expedition in pursuit of Pancho Villa had heightened that awareness. The vital U.S. interest in water rights, the Colorado River Land Company’s control over the valley, and Baja’s dependence on foreign labor only compounded the apprehension.26
A persistent voice for annexation was that of Arizona senator Henry Ashurst, who introduced a resolution in 1919 (the first of five such attempts) calling for the purchase of Lower California and part of Sonora. Senator Ashurst believed that Mexico was incapable of maintaining control over “the Achilles heel to the United States.” Although these attempts never got far in the U.S. Congress, rumors of a North American invasion circulated in the press.27 To Mexican leaders, the “Mexicanization” of northern Baja seemed the only barrier against frontier incursions, assuming the questionable loyalty of its foreign-born residents. The trick was to continue development without sacrificing territorial sovereignty.
In 1916, Baja’s governor, Esteban Cantú, opted to prohibit direct immigration from China, in response to a proposal by the Lower California Agricultural Association—an organization of Mexicali growers—to import three thousand Chinese pickers. The governor hoped the restriction would encourage this largely U.S. group to pay for transporting Mexican colonists into the area. Unfortunately, the ideal of long-term colonization with Mexican citizens clashed with the immediate needs of the cotton ranchers. An acute labor shortage soon forced a modification of Cantú’s decree, allowing Chinese workers to be brought from other parts of Mexico, but only if the contractor sponsored an equal number of Mexican families. This resettlement effort made little headway, however; many colonists simply used the free ride to cross the border to higher-paying ranches on the U.S. side. The decree was soon rescinded.28 Cotton—the key to Baja’s economic growth and development—required a large and steady labor supply, which colonization simply could not provide.
Thus, despite occasional fears, Chinese immigration suited both local Mexican and U.S. interests. According to the U.S. consul, not only did the Chinese stay politically neutral, they
fulfilled all expectations in supplying an uncomplaining, hard-working, wealth-producing subject of exploitation. The favorable condition being that the Chinaman expects to be exploited and will stand for any degree of exploitation just so long as it does not exceed a “fifty-fifty” of sharing his profits with the exploiters.29
Actually, the consul overestimated the immigrants’ complacency. Chinese pickers often demanded salary increases, and if these were not forthcoming, they would quit at critical periods during the harvest. Employers frequently had no alternative but to meet the demands. In June 1918, for instance, more than a thousand Chinese workers reportedly threatened to strike if growers rejected a pay increase. Although an employers’ association was quickly organized to control wages, its members broke ranks and rehired the workers at the increased wage. By the beginning of July, the “shrewd Chinese laborer” had taken advantage of the ranchers’ poor solidarity to work at “the very highest wage.”30 The extraordinary demand for labor thereby gave Chinese pickers great leverage by the end of the decade.
As the Revolution of 1910-20 swept through Mexico, the District of Northern Baja was one of the few areas to find employment and, more important, relative safety from the turmoil that engulfed the nation. The only serious disturbance broke out in 1911, when Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón, political exiles in the United States, attempted to seize control of the peninsula.31 Baja’s Chinese residents weathered the Revolution virtually undisturbed while attacks on Chinese lives, property, and rights became a common occurrence throughout the northern tier of Mexican states.32
Realizing its citizens’ high visibility as xenophobic targets, the Chinese government (which lacked a Mexican consulate until 1925) appealed to the United States for protection. In response, Washington offered “to do everything within its power to protect Chinese in Mexico,” even to the point of granting temporary asylum, a frequent request in the following years.33 Indeed, General Pershing, on his return to Texas from his punitive expedition, brought more than five hundred Chinese refugees with him. This U.S. concern over the treatment of Chinese nationals living in Mexico arose partly from the close commercial ties that had formed between this Chinese community and the United States. Not only did persecution disrupt the sale of U.S. goods to Chinese merchants, it hindered the collection of outstanding accounts. A more likely reason, however, was the fear that xenophobic attacks on the Chinese might easily turn into assaults on U.S. property and interests.34
What lessened the likelihood of these attacks was the peninsula’s virtual isolation from the shifting political tides of the Revolution. The U.S. consul in Ensenada was impressed by the “striking difference” in conditions between the district and the rest of Mexico, and by the great measure of independence Governor Cantú enjoyed during his administration (1914-20). The northern district, the consul noted, was “to all intents a separate country.”35 A skilled politician, Cantú understood that maintaining peace and political autonomy meant stabilizing the region’s finances. He expanded revenues by imposing duties on goods imported from other states, creating a head tax, and raising existing taxes to new levels.36 More controversial was the licensing of sundry vices that were banned north of the border, such as gambling, horseracing, prostitution, and selling drugs, especially opium.37 Cantú even levied a surcharge, ranging between $135 and $140, on each Chinese worker entering the district. While $100 of the fee went to the district, the rest reportedly ended up in the governor’s pocket. This fiscal latitude allowed the governor to retain political control while developing needed infrastructure in northern Baja—schools, roads, and public buildings—as well as providing jobs during the slack season.38
The Chinese generally shied away from local politics, but labor priorities on both sides of the border inevitably entangled them anyway. Because most Chinese workers entered Mexico via special concessions, labor contractors like Wong Wa Foy or Ching Tong Chong often negotiated entry permits directly with the governor. Normally, arrangements went smoothly; but one concession, dating from July 1919, provoked a minor political crisis. Mayor H. C. “Casey” Abbott of Calexico, California, and Sam Chung, a prominent Mexicali resident, received permission from Cantú to import 1,500 Chinese laborers into the region. As the workers began arriving, however, some 30 Mexican soldiers garrisoned in the small pueblo of Algodones suddenly mutinied, on September 8, 1919. Rumors circulated that the mutineers were angry over the potential flood of new immigrants. Whether they were true or not, the rumors persuaded Cantú to prohibit the entry of all Chinese, Japanese, and East Indians into northern Baja, as a gesture of reassurance to his Mexican constituency. This sudden restriction stranded hundreds of workers in transit and threatened a sizable monetary loss, compelling Mayor Abbott to ask for State Department assistance in persuading Cantú to overturn the decision. Caught between possible unrest at home and pressure from “abroad,” Cantú, astutely, asked federal officials in Mexico City for a ruling. By referring the issue to the capital, Cantú played for time until calm returned; two months later, he quietly lifted the ban.39
Some activities brought the Chinese into close contact with the legal system. Although opium dens were prohibited, the district during the 1910s licensed opium trafficking. In 1916, according to the U.S. consul, a syndicate of Chinese opium dealers (represented by David Goldbaum of Ensenada) negotiated with Governor Cantú to handle the concession. The trade was obviously profitable for both parties: the license alone cost an estimated $45,000, with additional fees of $10,000 to $11,000 monthly. A single opium shipment paid a $78,000 duty on 6,400 cans of prepared and crude opium. The drug usually did not remain in the district but was smuggled by boat into Southern California. Repeated complaints by U.S. customs officials eventually pressured the Mexican government in late 1917 to end the legal importation of opium into northern Baja. Under orders from federal authorities, Cantú ended his involvement, calling a halt to the “smuggling or clandestine introduction” of opium, which posed “a malignant menace” and a danger to public health. Yet despite an official district crackdown, drug dealing and use continued through the 1920s, as the numerous arrest reports of Chinese, Americans, and Mexicans show.40
Most Chinese ventures into Mexicali’s expanding economy presented few problems, and Chinese entrepreneurs invested heavily in a variety of local businesses. During the fall of 1913, the Chinese-Mexican Mercantile Company opened a new, five-thousand-dollar store to the public. Within five years, the Mercantile became “the firmest and largest establishment in Baja California of its sort doing general mercantile business.” Beyond retail sales, the company ranched some four thousand acres of cotton land and owned the Paris Cafe, where it was possible “for one to be served correctly and enjoy properly cooked Chinese food.”41 Mixed undertakings like these were common among Chinese entrepreneurs. J. M. Uon of Mexicali, for example, ran several investments, including a general store, a ranch, and the Peninsula Hotel, in addition to working as an employment agent and reputed opium dealer.42
At the end of 1915, the U. S. consul counted only two or three legitimate U.S.-owned businesses in Mexicali, but quite a few Chinese merchants.43 While the total U.S. capital in land and infrastructure (estimated at 69 million dollars) far overshadowed the Chinese in absolute terms, the more modest scale of Chinese investment went into a much wider range of endeavors.44 Although a total estimate of this investment is not available, the range and variety of Chinese ventures undoubtedly brought continuous contact with the daily economic life of the community and saved the Chinese from being identified with just one economic activity, as they had been in Sonora. The diversity of Chinese investment lessened the chance of becoming an easy target for resentment, and thereby smoothed ethnic tensions.
While most Chinese after 1910 lived in the Mexicali Valley, a small community numbering four hundred continued to reside in Ensenada. In 1914 according to the U.S. consul, 75 Americans ran 11 businesses, and the Chinese carried on “the majority of the balance of the town’s commerce.” These Chinese firms listed their store inventories with the U.S. consul during the Revolution in fear of forced loans or confiscations. The 27 Chinese businesses registered reported a total value of about 208,700 pesos (approximately 100,000 U.S. dollars), not including cash on hand (see table 4). Although most firms in Ensenada were small, Yun Kui’s store had merchandise alone valued at 95,000 pesos ($47,500 U.S.), a considerable sum.45
The finance capital for these firms originated mostly outside the peninsula, in either San Francisco or Southern California. Through connections with mutual associations, a type of business cooperative, the Chinese in northern Mexico gained ready access to credit and goods. Equipment and supplies for these commercial enterprises came not from Mexican wholesalers but often from purchases in the United States. This not only drained capital from the area but limited the demand on local industry. Some Chinese stores in northern Mexico were little more than branch operations of larger associations headquartered in the United States. Often, these commercial houses carried few Mexican goods, stocking instead Chinese specialties and merchandise from the United States.46
For the increasing number of Chinese planters in the Mexicali Valley, U.S.-owned cotton gins advanced funds. The largest of these were the Chinese-Mexican Ginning Company, controlled by the Vosburg interests of Los Angeles; Cía. Algodonera de la Baja California, a subsidiary of the Globe Cotton Oil Mills Company of Los Angeles; and the Goree-Hartman Gin Company. All three routinely made large loans to planters, both U.S. and Chinese. This agricultural credit, however, could carry an interest rate of up to 24 percent per annum, plus the required payment of one-fourth of the borrower’ s cotton seed and the restriction of ginning only at the lender’s gin.47 Despite the onerous terms, loans from the ginners provided an important source of financing. In this way, investment capital flowed in while some profits drained out.
The end of the decade found a large, prosperous Chinese community with a diverse array of members. Strong demand for labor and capital coupled with low native competition provided ideal conditions for the new immigrants. By 1921, almost half of Baja’s total population lived either in Mexicali (6,782), Ensenada (2,178), or Tijuana (1,028). Except for colonia Zaragoza (637), none of the remaining 331 pueblos, ranchos, and rancherías numbered more than 500 inhabitants. Despite sporadic restrictions, the Chinese population increased throughout the early 1920s. The national census of 1921 reported 23,537 people living in the district, including 18,731 Mexicans, 2,806 Chinese (only 14 of whom were women), 498 Americans, and 481 Russians.48 Contemporary observers, however, felt that these census figures underestimated the Chinese presence in Baja. The newspaper El Excélsior noted that Mexicali was “an entirely Chinese city. The streets, traveled only by Chinese, the restaurants, filled by Chinese, the fieldwork, absolutely dominated by the Chinese. Everything, everything is completely Chinese in Mexicali.”49 The Chinese Association of Mexicali conducted its own survey in 1922 and calculated at least 3,500 Chinese residents. The association noted that this figure had substantially declined over the previous two years because of a severe drop in cotton prices in 1920 (see table 3).50
While employment, high wages, and peace in Baja attracted some Chinese from neighboring states, it also lured unemployed Mexicans. A postwar recession in the United States, moreover, forced many Mexican migrant workers back home. The Mexicali Valley experienced its first real labor surplus in 1921.51 This overall population growth, not surprisingly, weakened the bargaining power of Chinese agricultural labor. In addition, various actions by the government, both national and local, attempted to lessen the region’s dependence on foreign labor. Once again, Mexican colonists from other states were brought into northern Baja to “Mexicanize the region. In 1921, the Chinese Association even issued a formal protest to the governor over the needless importation of labor from Sonora while many Chinese workers faced starvation. The U.S. consul suspected that these Mexican workers from Sonora’s Cananea mines were intended to help “Sonorafy” Lower California, tightening President Alvaro Obregón’s hold on the peninsula.52 Whether it was done for economic or political reasons, though, the Mexicanization of the region did not specifically target the Chinese on racial grounds.
At the local level, officials merely wanted to create a stabler labor force that would serve both development and Mexican sovereignty in the area. La Cámara Agrícola Nacional del Distrito Norte (National Chamber of Agriculture) opened in February 1919 essentially as a labor contractor for the cotton planters. The chamber solicited Mexican workers from southern Baja and other states in the hope that these workers would become colonists. But like the earlier “resettlers,” these arrivals continually left for higher-paying work across the border in the Imperial Valley. Thus, despite its modest success in bringing native workers to the district, the chamber was obliged to extend its sponsorship to Chinese labor.53 Seasonal labor demands, dependence on one crop, and reliance on the United States for everything from financing to flood control limited the options when it came to development.
The Mexican government, meanwhile, moved to strengthen its immigration legislation. Under the existing law of 1908, only age or health constituted legal barriers to labor immigration. A 1921 senate proposal, however, called for a ban on all foreign workers during an economic crisis if they threatened the subsistence of nationals. The government simultaneously amended the Mexican-Chinese Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation of 1899 to stop labor emigration from one nation to the other.54 This restriction, approved by President Obregón on September 26, 1921, ended the entry of unskilled Chinese laborers not only to the peninsula but to all of Mexico. Only Chinese entering for business or commerce with capital of at least five hundred pesos were allowed to settle. Five years later, Mexico notified the Chinese government of its intention to abrogate the treaty altogether.55
Unlike the tolerant attitude of previous decades, racism played a conspicuous role in these protectionist measures. The government ranked the Chinese as the “least desirable” immigrants while it moved to exclude other groups on racial grounds “with the goal of protecting our working class and also to prevent the mixing of races that has been scientifically proven to produce a degeneration in the descendants.” Over the next few years, Mexico prohibited Syrians, Lebanese, Armenians, Palestinians, Arabs, Turks, Poles, Hungarians, and “individuals of the black race.”56 A proponent of this rising nationalist feeling was Governor (later President) Abelardo Rodríguez, a member of Plutarco Calles’ Sonoran clique. Rodríguez strongly believed that foreign competition for jobs displaced Mexican workers. What was worse, foreign firms “systematically” denied employment to Mexicans. By early 1924, Rodríguez noted, growing numbers of unemployed Mexicans were complaining that many businesses, such as dry goods stores, small industries, and ranches, employed only foreign labor. Local investigators found that foreigners (that is, Americans and Chinese) constituted the entire work force of many ranches, mercantile stores, and resorts (saloons and casinos). Imitating measures taken in Sonora, Governor Rodríguez issued a circular requiring all businesses and ranches to employ at least 50 percent Mexican labor.57
While the decree applied to all foreigners, Rodríguez singled out Chinese labor for the low wages workers accepted (a questionable assumption) and the “miserable” conditions they tolerated.58 Moreover, Chinese employers hired their own compatriots, to the exclusion of others. Contrary to initial expectations, most of the Chinese businessmen and ranchers resolved to abide by the “spirit” of the new requirement. But difficulties arose because many operations were either cooperatives or family owned, which meant they technically lacked “employees.” Over the following months, the governor repeatedly ordered the Chinese to hire Mexican workers. Their failure to comply did not mark an effort to forestall Mexican economic control, but only reflected a real difference in the structure of Chinese business. The decree was reissued the following year, advising the noncomplying employers to obey the law or face serious penalties. But this was an empty threat, as Rodríguez realized, since treaty obligations and Article 123 of the 1917 Constitution guaranteed labor rights regardless of nationality. The governor could only lament the increasing difficulties faced by native workers.59
The growing Chinese presence on the land also troubled Rodríguez, who believed the problem to be “undoubtedly one of the most worthy of attention in all the Republic.” At the same time, a 1924 report by the chief of the International Waters Commission pointed out the dire need to settle the northern district with Mexican citizens. A real possibility existed, the report argued, of losing the entire Colorado delta region to the United States. Rodríguez opted to establish a series of Mexican agricultural colonies, “not only to satisfy a political and economic ideal, but to complete the patriotic mission of effectively ‘nationalizing’ the Mexican zone next to the dividing line with the United States.” Although no evidence existed of any conspiracy, colonization would counteract the “Asiatic” influence in the area that “obstructed the immigration or development of national elements.”60 In this way, Rodríguez brought the factor of race into the two longstanding questions of territorial sovereignty and regional development.
The concern over sovereignty in the valley resurfaced as a result of the Chinese being some of its largest tenants. The 1921 census lists at least 32 identifiable Chinese rancherías among 105 listed for Mexicali. They ranged in size from Dung Ginap (4 residents) to La Chinesca No. 2 (182 residents), third largest in the municipio, with a total of 1,314 inhabitants (presumably all Chinese). Many other Chinese undoubtedly lived and worked on other ranches run by either Americans or Mexicans in the district. This tenancy structure developed because the Colorado River Land Company, with more than half a million acres of potentially productive land, chose to lease acreage rather than sell it outright. While leasing minimized the company’s financial risks, the hope was that with future improvements the land’s market price would rise.
If given a choice, the company preferred the Chinese as tenants because of the impression that they were good at developing raw land. When the Kwong Tong Company rented some 577 acres, for example, the parcel was considered “some of the roughest land on the entire ranch. During the year 1914 they [Chinese tenants] leveled three hundred acres of this land in good shape. The cost of this work would have been so great that it would probably have discouraged any white man.”61 In the years that followed, the Colorado River Land Company rented out ever larger tracts of land to Chinese tenants, either as individuals, in association, or indirectly by subleasing.
This form of developmental leasing not only helped the company hold on to the property, but also enabled tenants to obtain control over substantial tracts of land. Juan Chong and Company leased two thousand acres in 1916, and in six years had one million pesos invested in land.62 By the mid-1920s, the Chinese dominated the area as tenants in both number and size of holdings. Of the 95 protocolized leases of the Colorado River Land Company for 1924, some 56 went to Chinese, 22 to Japanese, 9 to Mexicans, and 8 to Americans.63
In general, the Chinese held their leases in large blocks. Lim Lin, Kuong Him, and Pan Hong, for example, submitted an application in 1925 for 4,376 acres of land, while Wah Let applied for 3,744 acres the following year. Although most were smaller (800 to 1,000 acres being more common), this contrasted sharply with most Mexican lease applications, which usually totaled less than one hundred acres. Much local resentment of the Colorado River Land Company—and indirectly of the Chinese tenants— actually resulted from the company’s refusal to rent in small plots. When the company changed this policy (partly so that renters would recognize the company as the legal owner), tensions abated.64
The ability to lease large tracts came primarily from the cooperative nature of Chinese ventures, which allowed large plots of land to be cleared and developed under one overseer and, to a lesser extent, gave the renters easier access to credit. As Trade Commissioner Bell described the operation, “one Chinese with money of his own, or capital which he controls, gets a lease from the company owning the land and forms a cooperative company with an average of 16 men to the 1,000 acres of cotton land.” In turn, each partner in the company contributed a sum ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and worked for a share at the end of the harvest. During the work season, no wages were paid but only food and clothing advanced, very often by Chinese merchants in Mexicali who held leases as well. In this manner, Bell noted, “each person is interested in the success of the crop and has an individual stake in the venture.” This arrangement allowed a smaller initial cash outlay, which meant less financing. Bell estimated that this method allowed the Chinese to raise as much as 8o percent of the valley’s cotton. Their ability to rent large holdings still annoyed some Mexican farmers who could afford to lease only a meager piece of commercial land.65
The Chinese also brought outside capital into the district, despite occasional disruptions. Financial links with California’s Chinese community usually provided access to the capital needed for larger undertakings. In 1924, for example, T. K. Lowe, president of the Chinese Board of Trade, and two other “noted” guests from San Francisco visited Mexicali to help arrange financing for Chinese cotton growers. Periodic setbacks within the Chinese-American community, however, such as the rice market collapse of 1920, occasionally dried up excess funds. U. S. capitalists also would “loan money freely” to Chinese planters, according to the U.S. consul in Mexicali; but a drop in cotton prices in 1921 compelled the U.S. lenders to initiate “a system of supervision of expenditures under loans advanced amounting almost to actual operation by the lender, and in many cases … assumed actual operation on forfeited leases.” The need for capital for planting operations often required the Chinese to pay usurious interest rates and bonuses to private sources when available funds occasionally disappeared from neighboring banks in Calexico. One cotton grower paid 33⅓ percent interest on a six-month loan of $2,500 to settle a delinquent water bill.66
While cotton remained the first choice for investment, some Chinese farmers tried their hand at other commercial crops. In 1922, entrepreneurs from Fresno, California, and Mexicali leased 1,300 acres south of Mexicali for market gardens to supply the city with fresh produce.67 In another case, a prosperous cotton rancher, Lee Wing, took a chance and planted 35 acres of his land in potatoes. Wing informed the Calexico Chronicle in 1926 that if all went well, he would quit cotton for “spuds.”68 This combination of heavy investment, innovation, and flexibility revealed the distinctly entrepreneurial aspects of the Chinese agriculturalists in Baja. Far from being simple farm laborers, they were direct producers of agricultural goods; unlike most overseas Chinese, they were not just merchants in processing or distribution.69 Their activities integrated them directly into the dominant sector of Baja’s local economy and served to counter the popular image of the Chinese as middlemen who profited unreasonably off the local population.
As the district’s economy grew more complex in the 1920s, commercial investment in Mexicali expanded substantially. The Chinese spent a considerable amount of money constructing new retail stores, a bank, a Church of Christ, and two Chinese theaters, along with one of Mexicali’s first gambling houses, “Casino Chino.” When fire destroyed most of Mexicali’s Chinatown—“La Chinesca”—in 1923, losses were estimated as high as three million pesos.70 By 1925, Mexicali had about 24 major commercial Chinese firms, along with several subsidiary ones. This contrasted to only 7 or 8 Mexican shops of consequence. One Chinese firm, La Casa Colorado, gained more than three hundred thousand pesos in capital by outfitting agricultural workers and moonlighting in the opium trade. Chinese entrepreneurs also owned and managed 14 of the 20 groceries in Mexicali, 5 of the 10 small dry-goods stores, and most of the hotels.71 Although a couple of Mexican commercial houses, owned by Miguel González and Benigno Barreiro, were successful, many others opened and closed quickly.72 Thus, while they did not hold a monopoly, the Chinese had a marked presence in local business.
Like their presence in agriculture, this position was aided by a flow of outside commercial capital. Some of the most prominent firms in Mexicali, such as the Chinese-Mexican Mercantile Company, operated as shared ventures between an association of Chinese merchants—some of whom became Mexican citizens—and a group of San Francisco investors.73 Pooled capital also went into Pablo Chee’s Hotel Imperial, “one of the most important commercial edifices in Mexicali.” Like a typical land rental, the hotel belonged to a cooperative association of Chinese partners with shareholders in San Francisco and even China.74 Naturally, these joint ventures siphoned a portion of the district’s wealth out of the area. Besides the shareholder dividends, some profits headed for China to support families or, infrequently, the returning immigrants themselves. Despite this outflow, however, far more capital was invested and reinvested in the local economy, providing for a degree of development unlikely otherwise. In this respect, noted the local chamber of commerce secretary, the Chinese differed from “the individuals or corporations of other nationalities who do not invest a single cent or invest in something of regional benefit.”75 Because of their diverse involvement in the economy, furthermore, the Chinese could only have benefited from local development.
In 1924, according to local chronicler Aurelio Vivanco y Villegas, Chinese capital occupied “perhaps the first place in capitalization, business activity, and importance” in Mexicali, adding to “the general progress and development of local business.”76 Unlike his contemporaries in Sonora, Vivanco saw positive potential.
The constant exertion, seriousness, and honorability that characterize the sons of the Celestial Empire, now the great republic of China, set an example for everything having relation to work and human industry. Many are those who criticize the thrift and provident characteristics of the Chinese practiced in every way and for every purpose. Their spirit of association has no better example, and this, added to their other qualities constitutes the key to their success in transforming everything into what signifies opulence and well-being.
If instead of addressing severe and unjust criticisms against these laudable qualities, we should devote ourselves to imitating them, we would soon find ourselves accomplishing the same results that they obtain. But as we are more inclined to be extravagantly quixotic and stroll along placidly without considering the morrow, these may be considered the reasons why we remain somewhat to the rear on the road to progress while we blame the men of labor and thrift who block our way.77
If Mexican businessmen imitated the commercial practices of the Chinese, Vivanco argued, they would share that prosperity. His admiration was echoed by the secretary of the local chamber of commerce, who regarded businesses like the Hotel Imperial as “a patent sign of the grand spirit of association of these Chinese, whose labor forms a great contrast with our manner of being Mexican.” The secretary singled out the “amazing activity ” of men like Juan Chong Lung, who enjoyed the grand esteem among all businessmen of this region, owing to his uncommon activity in all investments as well as his indefatigable will for work.” 78
This success related partly to certain commercial advantages in addition to cooperative financing. Mutual aid groups, such as the Chinese Fraternal Union, enabled the Chinese to establish businesses more quickly. Connections between these mutual aid societies and commercial associations in the United States allowed more flexible credit access when stocking inventory. To save on overhead, the Chinese typically employed only other Chinese—mostly single males—so that both owner and employee could live on the premises. To save on warehouse space, owners piled extra stock in the store—thereby also giving the inadvertent appearance of prosperity. Quite often, Chinese stores opened earlier and closed later than their competitors. With strong connections to overseas merchants and U.S. distributors, moreover, the stores usually could undersell the competition in both price and selection.79
Thus, despite wide class distinctions and occasional political or regional disputes brought from home, mutual dependence and relative ethnic solidarity usually mitigated differences among the overseas Chinese.80 Because almost all Chinese immigrants to northern Baja were single males, setting up traditional communities was virtually impossible. Instead, various associations replaced extended families and clans by supporting members through economic assistance and social services. A fraternal organization, the Chee Kung Tong, opened its doors in 1915 with one hundred members; it expanded to more than three thousand members in three years. Housed in “one of the best buildings” in Mexicali, the lodge provided various services, such as repatriating poor or ill compatriots, mediating legal disputes between members, and helping to resolve problems with U. S. and Mexican ranchers who employed Chinese workers. An umbrella organization, the Chinese Association of Mexicali, had a reported membership of nearly five thousand in 1927, making it by far the largest association in the district. The association represented its members in their business dealings with the Mexican authorities at the local and national levels. It also provided social services such as the “Hospital Chino,” founded in 1919. Demonstrating community spirit, the hospital served both the Chinese and Mexican residents with free care and medicine. Revenue came from a special levy on the cotton produced by Chinese ranchers that totaled more than ten thousand pesos annually.81 Despite the usual references to a colonia china, the Chinese clearly mixed into the wider society.
Reflecting trends elsewhere in northern Mexico, regulations on Chinese businessmen increased under Governor Rodríguez. For instance, Chinese petitions for lots situated on the main avenues of Mexicali were refused so as to hinder “the Asiatic invasion.” Similarly, when a new, Mexican-only municipal market opened, two successful Chinese street merchants were forced to cease operations. According to the governor, the mercado municipal would eliminate “the itinerant sale of necessary goods that was maintained mostly by individuals of the Asiatic race.”82 The steady development of Mexicali’s commercial infrastructure during the late 1920s allowed the governor to curb Chinese business in favor of indigenous interests. Although these restrictions directly targeted the Chinese, the initiative for them appears to have come from Rodríguez himself rather than from any groundswell of anti-Chinese sentiment from the public. The economic nationalism of the Revolutionary period had less impact in Baja than elsewhere, since competition among ethnic groups was generally kept at a minimum.
Over time, the expansion of Mexicali overshadowed the former district capital of Ensenada. Once the economic hub of the region, by 1921 Ensenada, noted the U.S. consul, had “no spirit of progress and no material changes…. Not ten houses have been built in ten years, and the physical aspect of the town is that of a dead mining town in Colorado or Nevada.”83 U.S. residents dropped from a high of 1,358 in the boom years of the 1880s to only 52 by 1921. Likewise, only 166 Chinese remained by 1928, one-third of the number 15 years earlier. The few Chinese continued their market gardens, modest businesses, and employment as cooks, bakers, and domestics.84 Their small numbers and long presence in the town seemed to mute anti-Chinese feeling.
On March 14, 1928, the national Department of Migration released a survey of foreigners living in Mexico. By this time, the Chinese (24,218) comprised the second-largest foreign minority in Mexico, next only to the Spaniards (48,558). Of approximately 151,667 foreign residents, only four other groups numbered more than 5,000: Americans (15,219), Syrians (12,645), Germans (6,961), and Canadians (6,447). hi northern regions such as Sonora, Sinaloa, and Baja, the Chinese were actually the largest foreign enclave. The census further revealed that northern Baja by 1927 contained the largest Chinese community in all of Mexico, numbering some 5,889 residents (Sonora ranked second with 3,758). As these official figures reveal, the Chinese population continued to increase despite the immigration ban of 1921.85
By 1930, the Chinese population had begun to decline because of the onset of the Depression. The 1930 census found that 18,965 Chinese (16,254 males and 2,711 females) remained in Mexico, with 1,590 of them (1,550 males and 40 females) in the Mexicali region. (Not all the listed females, however, were ethnically Chinese; some states, such as Sonora, forced Mexican women to renounce their citizenship if they married Chinese men.)
Among all Chinese males in Mexico in 1930, roughly 42.5 percent worked in commerce, 25 percent in agriculture, and 7.7 percent in industry. Although not sorted by specific nationality, occupational figures for Mexicali reveal that 61 percent of all foreign males worked in agriculture, 22.5 percent in commerce, and 7 percent in industry. Given that approximately 85 percent of these foreign males were Chinese, an overall occupational correlation can be made. Clearly, Chinese males in mainland Mexico worked predominantly in commerce and secondarily in agriculture—but in Mexicali the situation was reversed.86 The spread of Baja’s Chinese community beyond an urban-commercial environment made initiating an anti-Chinese campaign far more difficult. Economic integration helped to avert the easily focused persecution that faced Sonora’s petty retailers.87
The depression that began in 1929 significantly derailed northern Baja’s agricultural prosperity. By 1930, all 32 Chinese rancherías recorded in the 1921 census had disappeared.88 Joblessness rose, and a clamor for greater employment of Mexican workers erupted in Mexicali. In August 1929, some three hundred members of the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM) instigated demonstrations against all foreign-owned cafes and saloons that did not employ at least 80 percent Mexican labor. Because many Chinese businesses operated as partnerships, few had Mexican employees. The first places targeted for boycott were the San Diego and Climax cafes, both Chinese owned. At the union’s request, local authorities quickly closed all 20 Chinese cafes, and a few that were U.S.-owned, after they refused to comply. For a while, the boycotted U.S.-owned establishments joined their Chinese associates by rejecting the union’s demands. In days, however, the Americans reached an agreement with the union and reopened with 80 percent Mexican employees. By the end of the week, the San Diego and Climax cafes had followed suit, after making arrangements with CROM.89 Although the boycott primarily affected Chinese businesses, the inclusion of U.S.-owned saloons suggested a general opposition to all foreign interests. These attacks on foreign business reflected the growing economic nationalism of organized labor, but not a direct public attack on the Chinese themselves.
In any case, the union’s victory was fleeting, as employment abruptly hit an all-time low. With Chinese immigration already limited, the Secretaría de Gobernación issued an acuerdo on April 27, 1929, prohibiting all foreigners from entering Mexico to engage in manual labor. The only exceptions applied to skilled or technical workers if substitutes could not be found in Mexico.90
These restrictions, unfortunately, did little to relieve the growing economic trouble. The forced repatriation of Mexican workers from the United States only worsened the labor surplus in the northern district. In 1929 about 79,419 workers returned to Mexico; another 70,127 returned in 1930, and about 138,519 in 1931.91 Many of these agricultural workers returning from California headed for the Mexicali Valley. By mid-1930 the district was suffering widespread unemployment. The few Mexicans who did manage to find work picking cotton discovered that wages, the only adjustable cost, had plummeted along with the cotton price (see table 3). The Calexico Chronicle reported that many Mexican families were near starvation by the end of the year.92
The economic downturn naturally affected Baja s Chinese community. An increase in the head tax and little work at low wages forced many Chinese laborers to leave. Some went to other parts of Mexico and Latin America, while most in northern Baja returned to China. Between 1927 and 1930, by official counts, the population dropped from almost 6,000 to 2,982—a 50 percent decline.93 Along with this departure went a substantial amount of capital, as Chinese depositors withdrew their funds from local banks. The Mercantile Bank of Mexicali was particularly hard hit because its clientele was mainly Chinese. Because “many of the Chinamen are leaving, and they are drawing out their money,” a U.S. observer noted, “those in charge of the bank are very much worried.”94 Chinese workers without property or businesses often drifted across the border to seek work in the United States or intentionally to let themselves be detained so as to obtain free return passage to China. In a two-week period in February 1930, border officials caught 53 Chinese illegally entering the United States. The exodus across the border continued throughout the following year. Arraigning 61 “illegals,” a federal judge in San Diego asked one Chinese man why he had crossed into the United States. The man replied, “to eat.”95
By 1940, census takers found only 618 Chinese in the entire northern district.96 The rapid decline came not from persecution or forced expulsion, as it did in the neighboring state of Sonora, but from the slump in the cotton economy, which affected Chinese and Mexicans alike. As Guillermo Durante de Cabarga noted in the early 1930s, “there was no need for anti-Chinese societies, nor extreme government measures, nor the ‘direct action’ that had been used in other areas. The Asians began to leave; some in search of new work horizons, many back to their countries of origin.”97 Northern Baja’s economic dependence on cotton cultivation left few options when the market collapsed. Ironically, the Depression achieved for Mexico the territorial and economic sovereignty that it had long desired. Only those few Chinese with solvent businesses and commercial interests stayed, despite occasional friction over labor laws.98
The only real “direct action” began belatedly in 1933 against the small Chinese community in Ensenada. Confined to the urban commercial sector, the Chinese there were easier to isolate and target. Striving to rid Ensenada of all Chinese, the Comité Nacionalista actually was composed not of district residents but of members of anti-Chinese groups from other parts of Mexico. Its leader, Alfredo Echevarría, president of the Nationalist Anti-Chinese Party of Baja California, had also led Sonora’s successful expulsion of the Chinese two years earlier. Ensenada’s cause célèbre involved Chinese merchants who reportedly lowered their prices to undersell four Mexican businesses. Backed by merchants either in debt to the Chinese or unable to compete effectively with them, the committee held public meetings and attempted a boycott against Chinese businesses. Supporters urged Ensenada residents, “Don’t Buy Chinese, Buy Mexican” and reminded them, “Buying Mexican is a Patriotic Act.”99
On February 21, 1934, the Nationalist Committee forced the Chinese businesses into an agreement to close their doors and move out of Ensenada. More than a score of Chinese reportedly left that night for the more serene atmosphere of Mexicali and Tijuana. The public at large, however, did not enthusiastically back the anti-Chinese crusade. Attempts to spread the campaign to Tijuana and Mexicali also failed to stir up local residents. When the United States indicated that if the effort encouraged the Chinese to cross the border illegally it would not be viewed favorably, the movement faltered. These developments persuaded now-President Abelardo Rodríguez to instruct Baja’s governor, Agustín Olachea, to protect the boycotted businesses and allow them to reopen.100 As a result, the committee’s demand that the Ensenada Chamber of Commerce expel all Chinese from the city failed overwhelmingly. By the end of March, most of the closed stores had reopened for business. The Nationalist Committee vowed to pursue its cause, but never did. Unlike Sonora, northern Baja did not see its remaining Chinese as a foreign threat to native interests but as an important part of the region’s early development.101
An Enduring Legacy
In later years, northern Baja’s rapid growth dwarfed a Chinese community increasingly confined to the commercial sector. By the mid-i94os, Mexicali contained 134 Chinese businesses, half of which were either groceries or restaurants.102 In the 1951 directory of the National Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese accounted for 7 percent of the listings in Tijuana, 8 percent in Ensenada, and more than 10 percent in Mexicali. Businesses with names like El Amigo del Pueblo and El 16 de Septiembre now catered to a predominately Mexican clientele. By the 1950s, local officials had recognized the second generation of Chinese as an integral part of “the betterment of Baja California” and were praising their forebears as pioneers in agriculture and commerce “when the conditions of life in the region were very poor and almost impossible.”103 Chinese labor and capital had been basic factors in growth, but these “pioneers” had diminished in importance as the frontier disappeared. Northern Baja inherited an economic development begun, in part, by these early immigrants.
Although Chinese participation in Baja’s development helped to arouse notions of territorial and economic sovereignty, it did not provoke the rancor generally associated with similar events elsewhere in Mexico. For more than four decades, the Chinese conducted a range of diverse economic endeavors made possible by a number of conditions peculiar to northern Baja. Sparse population, low competition between groups, intense border development, and the abundant opportunities brought about by cotton growing permitted a degree of economic integration not found in other areas of Mexico. Chinese-Mexican relations were thereby mollified. By all measures, Baja s Chinese were successful, yet they experienced little racial persecution or discrimination. It appears that by not being confined to one sector of the local economy, such as shopkeeping or manual labor, the Chinese as an ethnic group were less commonly resented. This economic diffusion might explain why Baja’s Chinese encountered more cordial ethnic relations than in neighboring Sonora. Although the Chinese were never assimilated, they were accommodated.104 The decline of the Chinese community in northern Baja finally came with the downturn in economic opportunities—opportunities that had brought them there in the first place.
This is a revised form of a paper presented at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies, California State University, Fullerton, October 18, 1991. The author wishes to thank Drs. Steven C. Topik and Dorothy Kerig for their comments and encouragement.
Leo M. D. Jacques, “Have Quick More Money Than Mandarins: The Chinese in Sonora,” Journal of Arizona History 17 (1976), 201.
Evelyn Hu-DeHart, “Immigrants to a Developing Society: The Chinese in Northern Mexico,” Journal of Arizona History 21 (1980), 275-312; “Racism and Anti-Chinese Persecution in Sonora, Mexico, 1876-1932,” Amerasia 9 (1982), 1-28; “Sonora: Indians and Immigrants on a Developing Frontier,” in Other Mexicos: Essays on Regional Mexican History, 1876-1911, ed. Thomas Benjamin and William McNellie (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1984); “Coolies, Shopkeepers, Pioneers: The Chinese of Mexico and Peru,” Amerasia 15 (1989), 91-116. See also her preliminary examination of the Chinese in Baja, “The Chinese of Baja California Norte, 1910-1934,” Proceedings of the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies 12 (1985–86), 9-30.
Charles C. Cumberland, “The Sonora Chinese and the Mexican Revolution,” HAHR 40:2 (May 1960), 204.
Kennett Cott, “Porfirian Investment Policies, 1876-1910” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of New Mexico, 1979), 14–15, 88-89, 231–33; Leo M. D. Jacques, “The Anti-Chinese Campaigns in Sonora, Mexico, 1900-1931” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Arizona, 1974), 6. The government did set up colonies of Russians and European Jews in Baja, but with limited success. See Eugenia Bonifaz de Novela, “La colonia ruse del Valle de Guadalupe,” in Panorama histórico de la Baja California, ed. David Piñera Ramírez (Tijuana: Univ. Autónoma de Baja California, 1983); Norton B. Stern, Baja California: Jewish Refuge and Homeland (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1973).
Roughly 124,815 Chinese workers went to Cuba between 1847 and 1874. Mary Turner, “Chinese Contract Labour in Cuba, 1847-1874,” Caribbean Studies 14 (July 1974), 66–81; Anita Bradley, Transpacific Relations of Latin America (New York: Institute of Pacific Relations, 1942); E. Chang-Rodríguez, “Chinese Labor Migration into Latin America in the Nineteenth Century,” Revista de Historia de Ameríca 46 (Dec. 1958), 375-97; Arnold Joseph Meagher, “The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America: The Coolie Trade,’ 1847–1874” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California, Davis, 1975).
Jorge Gómez Izquierdo, “El nacimiento del prejuicio antichino en México, 1877–1932,” Antropología 12(Jan.-Feb. 1987), 21–22.
Vera Valdés Ladkowsky, “México y China: Del galeón de manila al tratado de 1899,” Estudios de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea de México 9 (1983), 19.
The U.S.-owned Lower California Company had imported a few Chinese laborers for its land grants back in the 1870s, but the settlement effort failed. Enrique Gerardo Cortés, “Mexican-Japanese Relations During the Díaz Years” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Southern California, 1974), 111; See also Ruth Elizabeth Kearney, “American Colonization Ventures in Lower California, 1862-1917” (M.A. thesis, Univ. of California, Berkeley, 1944), 59-60.
Robert Nash, “The Chinese Fishing Industry in Baja California,” Baja California Symposium IX (Santa Ana, Calif., May 1971), 1-12; The Lower Californian (Ensenada), Apr. 11, 1889, p. 1; Aug. 9, 1889, p. 1; Aug. 29, 1889, p. 1.
Theophilus Masac acquired the mining concession in 1887, but did little to develop the property before selling it two years later for an estimated $328,000. Lower Californian, Apr. 18 and 25, 1889, p. 1; Aug. 8 and 15, 1889, p. 1; Sept. 5, 1889, p. 1; Oct. 10, 1889, p. 1; Cott, “Porfìrian Investment Policies,” 279. The symbol $ refers to pesos except where noted.
Godbe to State Department, Ensenada, Sept. 13, 1889, National Archives, Record Group (RG) 59, microcopy 291, Dispatches from United States Consuls in Ensenada, Mexico, 1888-1906 (hereafter cited as Ensenada Dispatches). Charging up to $250 a head, smugglers brought Chinese workers into Ensenada using the Masac partnership as an excuse. Once the worker became somewhat acculturated, or “frosted,” he headed for the border and a new arrival took his place. See Godbe to State Department, Ensenada, Apr. 21, 1890, and Viosca to State Department, Ensenada, Sept. 28, 1889, Ensenada Dispatches. The issue of illegal border crossings continues to plague U.S.-Mexican relations, but the particular fears of those years proved largely unfounded. See Kennett Cott, ‘‘Mexican Diplomacy and the Chinese Issue, 1876-1910," HAHR 67:1 (Feb. 1987), 63–85. For a firsthand account of a border patrol officer of this time, see Clifford A. Perkins, “Reminiscences of a Chinese Inspector,” Journal of Arizona History 17 (1976), 181-200.
Lower Californian, Mar. 14, 1890, p. 1.
Ibid., Dec. 25, 1890, p. 1.
John Southworth, El territorio de la Baja California, México: su agricultura, comercio, minería, é industrias (San Francisco: Hicks-Judd, 1899), 5, 25-28.
The tax list appeared on June 5, 1904, and is reprinted in David Piñera Ramírez, “Ensenada a principios del siglo XX,” in Piñera Ramírez, Panorama histórico, 296–98.
P. L. Bell and H. Bentley Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast and Lower California: A Commercial and Industrial Survey, Department of Commerce, Special Agents’ Series no. 220 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1923), 281, 290. Completed in 1901, the Alamo canal diverted water from the Colorado River just below the border some 60 miles west across northern Baja, crossing into the Imperial Valley near Calexico. An “All-American Canal” was not completed until the 1930s.
Dorothy Kerig, “Yankee Enclave: The Colorado River Land Company and Mexican Agrarian Reform in Baja California, 1902-1944” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California, Irvine, 1988), 72-76.
Calexico Chronicle, Aug. 19, 1909, p. 1.
Forty-two Chinese laborers from Sinaloa arrived in San Felipe in early 1902 and attempted to walk the 136 miles across the desert to find work around Mexicali. All but seven of the original party died along the route. See John Edward Hogg, “El desierto de los chinos,” Touring Topics (Los Angeles: Automobile Club of Southern Calif.) 22 (Oct. 1930), 36-40. 55·
Kerig, “Yankee Enclave,” 139–45.
U.S. exclusionary laws obliged the Southern Pacific Railroad to deposit a five- hundred-dollar bond for each Chinese worker to guarantee arrival in Calexico and transportation across the border. Calexico Chronicle, Feb. 12, 1910, p. 1.
Ibid.; La Vanguardia (Mexicali), June 16, 1918, p. 11.
Unsigned report to C-M stockholders, Feb. 22, 1915, Sherman Library, Corona del Mar, Calif, (hereafter SL), Colorado River Land Company, file 68.
Calexico Chronicle, Sept. 12, 1913, p. 1.
Lawrence Cardoso, Mexican Emigration to the United States, 1897/-1931 (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1980), 52, Kerig, “Yankee Enclave,” 154-55.
Part of the original Alamo canal agreement stipulated that up to half the diverted river flow could serve Mexican lands. Since the ranches of the Colorado River Land Company depended on irrigation, they became ardent advocates of Mexico’s water rights. Not until 1944 was a treaty signed that resolved the issue of access. See Kerig, “Yankee Enclave,” 46-55. 182.
Joseph R. Werne, “Esteban Cantú y la soberanía mexicana,” Historia Mexicana 30 (July-Sept. 1980), 26-28; Eugene Keith Chamberlin, “Mexican Colonization versus American Interests in Lower California,” Pacific Historical Review 20 (Feb. 1951), 51-52; George F. Sparks, ed., A Many-Colored Toga: The Diary of Henry Fountain Ashurst (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1962), 91-92.
Calexico Chronicle, Mar. 7, 16, 22, 1916, p. 1; May 10, 20, 1916, p. 1; June 30, 1916, p. 1; Sept. 1, 1916, p. 3; Sept. 9, 1916, p. 1; Oct. 7, 1916, p. 1; Oct. 28, 1916, p. 1; Nov. 23, 1916, p. 2.
Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, Aug. 25, 1920, National Archives, RG 59, microcopy 274, Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Mexico, 1910-1929 (hereafter Internal Affairs), file 812.00/24495.
Calexico Chronicle, June 25, 1918, p. 1; July 5, 1918, p. 1. The Chronicle reported that picker Chan Chen killed rancher Chan Fat when the latter refused to pay three hundred pesos in back wages. Oct. 29, 1924, p. 1. Violence of this kind challenges Hu-DeHarťs assessment that “the Chinese lessee-planters supervised this docile, diligent labor force made up of their own countrymen, who never presented any labor trouble of any kind.” “Chinese of Baja California,” 10.
For a full account of the Flores Magón brothers and their revolution, see Lowell L. Blaisdell, The Desert Revolution: Baja California, 1911 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1962).
The worst physical attack came on May 13, 1911, when an angry mob rioted in Torreón, Coahuila, leaving 303 Chinese and 5 Japanese residents dead. Less violent persecution included discriminatory legislation, such as greatly increased taxes on Chinese merchants and restrictions on the number of employees a store could have. Sonoran officials prevented the Chinese from leasing agricultural land, limited their travel, allowed contracts with them to be broken at will, and even mandated them to take public baths in front of town officials. Although often left unenforced, these regulations reveal the broad extent of anti- Chinese feeling in nearby states. See Leo M. D. Jacques, “The Chinese Massacre in Torreón (Coahuila) in 1911,” Arizona and the West 16 (Autumn 1974), 233-46; Wilfley to William Howard Taft, Mexico City, July 11, 1911, National Archives, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State (hereafter General Records), 312.93/9; Simpich to State Department, Nogales, June 24, 1913, 312.93/32; Apr. 7, 1916, 312.93/144; Apr. 11, 1916, 312.93/145.
State Department to Guyant, Washington, Feb. 3, 1914, 312.93/59; Unsigned to State Department, Peking, Apr. 25, 1914, 312.93/70; (reply) Bryan to U.S. Legation, Washington, May 1, 1914, 312.93/70; Edwards to State Department, El Paso, Nov. 9, 1916, 312.93/158; Lansing to Mexico City Embassy, Washington, Oct. 1, 1919, 312.93/182; Dyer to State Department, Nogales, Apr. 20, 1920, 312.93/189, all General Records.
Nancy Farrar, The Chinese in El Paso, Southwestern Studies Monograph no. 33 (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1972), 33; Hu-DeHart, “Immigrants to a Developing Society,” 284, 298; Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 33.
Guyant to State Department, Ensenada, June 5, 1915, Internal Affairs, 812.00/15187.
The monthly head tax led to protests from the Chinese residents of Mexicali to Washington until they understood that all residents, native and foreign, had to pay it. Chinese Commercial Society/Chinese Mexican Mercantile Company to Chinese Legation, Mexicali, Jan. 28, 1915, 312.93/82 and enclosures; Lansing to Kai Fu Shah, Washington, Feb. 19, 1915, 312.93/83, all General Records.
Baja Norte became a center for many activities unavailable in the Prohibition-era United States. Tijuana had a large hippodrome and casino; the bar at Mexicali’s Owl Cafe was said to seat three thousand. By the 1930s, the repeal of Prohibition and Mexico’s ban on gambling ended much of the attraction. Peter Watry, “The Economic Development of Baja California, Mexico” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Missouri, Columbia, 1970), 34-36, 41.
Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, Aug. 25, 1920, Internal Affairs, 812.00/24495; Kerig, “Yankee Enclave,” 157-58, 162; Héctor González, “The Northern District of Lower California,” 298, in Finis C. Farr, The History of Imperial County, California (Berkeley: Elms and Frank, 1918).
Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, Aug. 12, 1919, 812.5593/1, Sept. 5, 1919, 812.00/23063, Sept. 8, 1919, 812.00/23041/42, H. C. Abbott to William Kettner, telegram, Calexico, Oct. 25, 1919, enc. to Nov. 1, 1919, 812.5593/2, all Internal Affairs; Calexico Chronicle, Nov. 3, 1919, p. 1.
Peters to State Department, Washington, Oct. 13, 1916, Internal Affairs, 812.114 Narcotics/12; Evans to Secretary of Treasury, Tijuana, Oct. 12 and 30, 1916, 812.114 Narcotics/13; Evans to Peters, Tijuana, Oct. 30, 1916, enc. to 812.114 Narcotics/15; enc. to Elliot to State Department, Los Angeles, Dec. 11, 1917, 812.114 Narcotics/21; Simpich to State Department, Mexicali, Apr. 16, 1917, 812.113/6580; Von Struve to State Department, Mexicali, June 29, 1923, enc. to 812.114 Narcotics/76. For a description of a U.S. consul’s visit to a Mexicali opium den, see Bohr to State Department, Mexicali, Mar. 14, 1927, 812.114 Narcotics/113.
Calexico Chronicle, July 13, 1913, p. 1, Oct. 3, 1913, p. 1; La Vanguardia, June 18, 1918, p. 40.
La Vanguardia, June 16, 1918, p. 43; Quate to Elliot, Calexico, Jan. 15, 1918, enc. to Elliot to State Department, Los Angeles, Jan. 19, 1918, Internal Affairs, 812.114 Narcotics/22.
Guyant to State Department, Ensenada, Nov. 15, 1915, Internal Affairs, 812.00/16837.
In 1920, the U.S. consul estimated that Americans had invested 40 million dollars in the lands of the Colorado River Land Company; another $10 million in two railroads; $10 million in irrigation works; $5 million in various land parcels; $3 million in saloons, racetracks, and casinos; and $1 million in cotton gins. Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, May 18, 1920, Internal Affairs, 812.503/27.
Guyant to State Department, Ensenada, Dec. 29, 1913, 312.93/59; Apr. 22, 1914, 812.00/11634; and Nov. 15. 1915, 812.00/16837, all Internal Affairs.
By 1924, the Chinese annually were importing $250,000 of goods directly from China, such as herbs and dried fish. Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 33, 306; Maurilio Magallón, Breve apuntes sobre Mexicali y sus comerciales (Calexico, Calif.; “El Monitor,” 1922), 11.
Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, May 18, 1920, 812.503/27, Aug. 25, 1920, 812.00/24495, Feb. 20, 1921, 812.50/79, all Internal Affairs; Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 311.
Departamento de la Estadística Nacional, Censo general de habitantes, 30 de noviembre de 1921: Baja California, Distritos Norte y Sur (Mexico City: Talleres Gráficas de la Nación, 1926), 22, 35–54.
Quoted by Rosario Cardiel Marín, “Los chinos en Baja California Norte: el caso de Mexicali,” in La comunidad del Distrito Norte de Baja California (1910–1934) (Mexicali: Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas del Estado de Baja California, 1990), 76.
Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 293, 304. Estimates of northern Baja’s Chinese population vary greatly, with larger figures often coming from the memories of longtime residents. Recently, Ramón Wong asserted that 20,000 Chinese lived in Mexicali alone by the 1920s. While the census surely undercounted the Chinese, these imaginative estimates are unlikely. See San Diego Union, Feb. 18, 1986, part B, p. 1.
Kerig, “Yankee Enclave,” 201-2, 208–9.
Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, Sept. 28, 1921, Internal Affairs, 812.504/322. Cantó had refused to recognize the revolt of Agua Prieta and the interim presidency of Adolfo de la Huerta. The standoff threatened to lead to civil war until Cantú resigned in September 1920. See Werne, “Esteban Cantó,” 19–24.
By one estimate, the cámara relocated 24,000 Mexican workers into the northern district by the early 1920s. Three out of ten board members were Chinese: Lew Chun, Wong Jim Peters, and Pablo Chee. Aurelio Vivanco y Villegas, Baja California al día: dístritos norte y sur de la península (Mexico City: Wolfer, 1924), 359-60. Although an informal request by the Mexican ambassador to the U. S. State Department stopped the transshipment of Chinese in bond, the cotton growers managed, through the cámara, to get the State Department to revoke the ban. Calexico Chronicle, June 5, 1920, p. 1.
The amendment had little effect on Mexico because only five Mexican citizens lived in China as late as 1927. Mayer to State Department, Peking, Nov. 18, 1927, National Archives, RG 59, microcopy 314, Records of the Department of State Relating to the Political Relations Between the U.S. and Mexico, 1910-1929 (hereafter Political Relations), file 712.932/7. See also Moisés Gonzalez Navarro, Población y sociedad en México (T900-1970), vol. 2 (Mexico City: UNAM, 1974), 37.
For the text of the 1921 amendment, see the Diario oficial 19:69, Nov. 25, 1921. See also Sheffield to State Department, Mexico City, Political Relations, Feb. 17, 1926, 712.932/4, Sept. 27, 1927, 712.932/6. Mexico signed a new treaty of amity and commerce in 1946. Valdés Ladkowsky, “México y China,” 19.
Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Memoria de labores, agosto de 1925 a julio de 1926 (Mexico City, 1926), 158, Memoria … de agosto de 1926 a julio de 1927 (Mexico City, 1927), 512, Memoria … de agosto de 1927 a julio de 1928 (Mexico City, 1928), 825. See also González Navarro, Población y sociedad, 44.
See Abelardo L. Rodríguez, Memoria administrativa, 1924–1927 (Mexicali: Gobierno del Distrito Norte de la Baja California, 1928), 178-79; Calexico Chronicle, May 21, 1924, p. 1.
Historian Guillermo Durante de Cabarga, like many of his contemporaries, attributes the Chinese competitive edge to wretched living standards and the ability (or willingness) to work 10 or 12 hours a day under “the tremendous sun” of northern Baja. Durante de Cabarga, Abelardo L. Rodríguez, el hombre de la hora (Mexico City: Botas, 1933), 38.
Rodríguez, Memoria administrativa, 180–82. Durante de Cabarga, however, believes that the ruling exceeded the 50 percent goal, given that it was implemented not by force but by “persuasion” with small concessions to those who complied. Hombre de la hora, 39.
Rodríguez, Memoria administrativa, 20, 67. Years later, Rodríguez recalled how territorial integrity became one of his “principal preoccupations.” Rodríguez, Autobiografía (Mexico City: Novaro Editores, 1962), 127-28.
Unsigned report to C-M stockholders, Feb. 22, 1915. See also C. T. Wardlaw to O. F. Brant, Dec. 29, 1915, SL, general archives, box 291, Letters 1915. Trade Commissioner Bell maintained that the Chinese had not proved “very successful at heavy agricultural work” because the most headway was made with “large American cotton growing syndicates employing native Mexicans under American supervision.” Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 34, 312.
Calexico Chronicle, May 3, 1916, p. 4; Magallón, Breve apuntes, 12.
C. L. Gómez to H. H. Clark, General Manager, May 4, 1925, SL, file 17.
J. C. Allison to C. L. Gómez, re Corilaco leases for years 1924-1926, SL, general archives, box 292; Kerig, “Yankee Enclave,” 217, 409.
Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 305—7.
Boyle to State Department, Mexicali, June 11, 1921, Internal Affairs, 812.50/88; Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 306; Calexico Chronicle, May 8, 1924, p. 1; July 16, 1924, p. 1.
As late as 1922, most of Calexico’s and Mexicali’s fresh produce was shipped by train from Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Calexico Chronicle, Jan. 28, 1922, p. 1. Governor Rodríguez tried to diversify Baja’s agriculture by introducing grapes, olives, sesame, and agave, but with limited success. Rodríguez, Autobiografía, 136.
Calexico Chronicle, Mar. 25, 1926, p. 1. Lee Wing arrived in 1913 and in ten years had 15,000 acres of leased land planted in cotton. Vivanco y Villegas, Baja California, 213.
Overseas Chinese were direct agricultural producers only in some areas of Malaysia, Singapore, Java, Cambodia, and the Sacramento delta in northern California. Sucheng Chan has argued that the “industrial” nature of California agriculture made Chinese farmers “entrepreneurial” and therefore “unique” among Chinese immigrants. Chan, This Bittersweet Soil: The Chinese in California Agriculture, l860-1910 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1986), 6, 404. Clearly, this entrepreneurial spirit was also present in northern Baja’s agriculture.
Calexico Chronicle, Mar. 16, 1920, p. 1, Aug. 15, 1921, p. 1, Aug. 19, 1921, p. 1, Apr. 4, 1924, p. 1, July 18, 1924, p. 1; Eduardo Auyón Gerardo, El dragón en el desierto: los pioneros chinos en Mexicali (Mexicali: Instituto de Cultura de Baja California, 1991), 56.
Pedro F. Pérez y Ramírez, “Panorama de Mexicali, 1915-1930,” in Piñera Ramírez, Panorama histórico, 411; Bell and Mackenzie, Mexican West Coast, 331-32.
The secretary of the Mexicali Chamber of Commerce, Maurilío Magallón, blamed Mexican laws for making northern Baja a virtual dependency of the United States. Mexican businesses could not compete effectively with shops across the border because customs duties made importing goods prohibitively expensive. The high turnover in Mexican businesses would continue, Magallón believed, until a free trade zone was erected. Breve apuntes, 8, 12.
In 1922-23, the Chinese accounted for almost half of all naturalizations in Mexico (282 of 568). See Jacques, “Anti-Chinese Campaigns,” table B.6, p. 283.
Vivanco y Villegas, Baja California, 193; Quate to Elliot, Calexico, Jan. 15, 1918, enc. to Elliot to State Department, Los Angeles, Internal Affairs, 812.114 Narcotics/22.
Magallón, Breve apuntes, 13.
Vivanco y Villegas, Baja California, 199.
Magallón, Breve apuntes, 11-12.
Roselia Bonifaz de Hernández, “Ensenada en los años treintas,” in Piñera Ramírez, Panorama histórico, 522-23; Hu-DeHart, “Immigrants, 299-300.
A notable exception occurred in the 1920s, when tong wars erupted between the rival political factions of the Masonic Chee Kung Tong and the republican Kuomintang. Murders, gun battles, and at least one “drive-by shooting” filled the pages of the Calexico Chronicle in 1921, 1924, and 1927 as the political struggles of revolutionary China were fought out on the streets of Mexicali. Between May and August of 1924, 11 tong members were killed and several more were deported by the governor. Calexico Chronicle, Aug. 22, 1924, p. 1.
La Vanguardia, June 16, 1918, pp. 24, 29; Rodríguez, Memoria administrativa, 229; Calexico Chronicle, June 13, 1919, p. i; Auyón Gerardo, El dragón, 92.
Pérez y Ramírez, “Panorama de Mexicali,” 411; Calexico Chronicle, Nov. 15, 1924, p. 1; Rodríguez, Memoria administrativa, 136-38.
Burdett to State Department, Ensenada, July 10, 1921, Internal Affairs, 812.50/91.
Ibid.; Clark to State Department, Mexico City, June 5, 1928, Internal Affairs, 812.5593/missing file number; Eugenia Bonifaz de Novelo, “Ensenada en la decada de los veintes,” in Piñera Ramírez, Panorama histórico, 464-65.
The U.S. consul general, however, believed “the Chinese population of Baja California is considerably in excess of the Government’s figures.” Clark to State Department, Mexico City, June 5, 1928, Internal Affairs, 812.5593/missing file number.
Unfortunately, the 1921 census does not list occupational breakdowns for northern Baja as does the census of 1930. See Secretaría de la Economía Nacional, Censo de población, 15 de mayo de 1930, Zona Norte (Mexico City: Talleres Gráficos de la Nación, 1936), 110-11, 118-19; idem, Quinto censo de población, 15 de mayo de 1930, resumen general (Mexico City; Talleres Gráficos de la Nación, 1934), 97.
For examples of virulent anti-Chinese propaganda from Sonora, see José Angel Espinoza’s racist tracts El problema chino en México (Mexico City: n.p., 1931) and El ejemplo de Sonora (Mexico City: n.p., 1932).
Actually, only 7 of the original 105 rancherías from 1921 remained. Secretaría de la Economía Nacional, Quinto censo de población, 15 de mayo de 1930, Baja California, Distrito Norte (Mexico City: Talleres Gráficos de la Nación, 1933), 46-59.
The U.S. consul estimated that 25 to 35 U.S. citizens lost their jobs to CROM members as a result of the ruling. Bohr to State Department, Mexicali, Aug. 7, 1929, Internal Affairs, 812. Lower California/29; Doherty to State Department, Mexicali, Aug. 21 and 26, 1929, Internal Affairs, 812.504/1042 and/1051. The Calexico Chronicle reported that two CROM leaders in Mexicali and one in Tijuana were later arrested on charges stemming from the boycott. Calexico Chronicle, Aug. 21, 1929, p. 1, Aug. 22, 1929, p. 1, Aug. 27, 1929, p. 1, Aug. 30, 1929, p. 1.
Secretaría de Gobernación, Memoria … del 1 de agosto de 1928 al 31 de julio de 1929 (Mexico City, 1929), 142-44, 171-73.
See Abraham Hoffman, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression: Repatriation Pressures, 1929—1939 (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1974), appendix D, 174.
Bonifaz de Hernández, “Ensenada en los años treintas,” 519; Calexico Chronicle, July 30, 1930, p. 1, Sept. 23, 1930, p. 1.
In Mexico as a whole, the Chinese population declined by more than 20 percent. The exodus of Chinese from Mexico prompted the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores to express concern over the fate of some four hundred Mexican women who returned to China with their husbands, only to be abandoned there. Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Memoria de agosto de 1932 a julio de ig 33 (Mexico City, 1933), 229.
General Moses H. Sherman to A. D. Haskell, June 17, 1930, SL, MHS, letter box 10.
Calexico Chronicle, Feb. 25, 1930, p. 1, Mar. 4, 1930, p. 1, Oct. 23, 1931, p. 1.
Hu-DeHart views this number as “suspiciously low.” “Chinese of Baja,” 30, n. 40. But the overall Chinese population in Mexico actually experienced a similar plunge, from 18,965 in 1930 to just 4,856 in 1940. These census figures are at extreme odds with Auyón Gerardo’s estimate of some 12,000 Chinese in 1937 just around Mexicali. El dragón, 59.
Durante de Cabarga, Hombre de la hora, 40.
In early 1931, when Baja’s governor began enforcing Mexico’s new “90 percent” labor law, Chinese merchants complied and were “getting along all right with the government.” Calexico Chronicle, Feb. 25, 1931, p. 1; Sept. 5, 1931, p. 1.
Hu-DeHart, “Chinese of Baja California Norte,” 21, 24; Bonifaz de Hernández, “Ensenada en los años treintas,” 522-23; Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23, 1934, p. 8.
Hu-DeHart, “Chinese of Baja California Norte,” 25-27; Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23. 1934. P· 8·
At an Ensenada Chamber of Commerce meeting, Manuel Careaga defended the Chinese and called the expulsion request “lacking in legal and moral force.” Bonifaz de Hernandez, “Ensenada en los años treintas,” 522-23.
Auyón Gerardo, El dragón, 62.
Cámara Nacional de Comercio de la Ciudad de México, Directorio y guia commercial, vol. 1 (Mexico City, 1951), 94-113; Roberto Cuevas Pimienta, Monografia del Estado de Baja California (Guadalajara: Instituto Tecnológica de la Univ. de Guadalajara, 1955), 153.
For a discussion of Chinese assimilation, see Maricela González Felix, “El proceso de aculturación de la población de orígen chino en la ciudad de Mexicali,” Cuadernos de Ciencias Sociales 7 (1990), 1-40.