A Growing Community
Mexican immigration in the 20th century came
in three great surges of growth. The first surge began in the
1900s. Revolution in Mexico and a strong U.S. economy brought
a tremendous increase in Mexican immigration rates. Between 1910
and 1930, the number of Mexican immigrants counted by the U.S.
census tripled from 200,000 to 600,000. The actual number was
probably far greater. El Paso, Texas, served as the Mexican Ellis
Island--a gateway to a different life for Mexican immigrants
and a powerful symbol of change and survival for their children
For many Mexican immigrants, moving to the
U.S. was not necessarily a one-time journey of permanent relocation.
Since the distance was so short, Mexican citizens could return
home relatively easily, and many did so--because of improved
conditions in Mexico, because of family concerns, or because
they had earned enough money to live more comfortably. In the
1910s and 1920s, it is estimated that more than 1 million Mexican
immigrants returned to Mexico.
In the end, though, we can't know for certain
exactly how much immigration from Mexico occurred during this
period. Because of the length and openness of the U.S.-Mexican
border, a great deal of immigration took place outside of legal
channels. Undocumented immigrants tended to live on the margins
of society and were especially vulnerable to exploitation by
unscrupulous employers, or by the coyotes, or guides, who smuggled
them across the border. The lack of documentation also makes
it impossible for us to know exactly how great this surge of
immigration really was.