Organizing La Raza Farm Workers
MEXICAN CONSULAR AGENTS in the United States had intervened in labor disputes from the time that large numbers of Mexican immigrants had begun arriving in the United States at the turn of the century.1 During the Depression the Los Angeles consuls actively aided the unionization of la raza farm workers, but the relationship was not always harmonious. Differences in philosophy and strategy strained tempers and hampered cooperation. Nonetheless, sentiments of Mexican patriotism and cultural heritage led workers to look to the consuls for assistance, and sometimes leadership, just as they had during the repatriation crisis and the school segregation controversy. In responding, the Los Angeles consuls tried to devise strategies that reflected the general guidelines and specific instructions issued by their superiors in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City. These strategies also reflected a consul’s own perception of duty and personal political ideology.
The sometimes uneasy relationship between the Los Angeles consulate and organized labor during the Depression became evident at the outset in the experiences of the Confederación Uniones Obreras Mexicanas (CUOM). In 1928 Consul Alfonso Pesqueira had lent his support to the drive to create CUOM, a union which was to include all la raza laborers in southern California, rural as well as urban. The leaders of southern California’s colonia societies believed that only such unity could produce improvement in wages and working conditions. Former members believe that the interest expressed by the consuls played a large part in attracting “workers from throughout southern California to the union” and swelling membership to between two and three thousand in the first year.2
CUOM welcomed the consulate’s assistance but the consular-union alliance was far from harmonious. At the organizing convention in May 1928 the consuls were disappointed when CUOM leaders endorsed anarchist-syndicalist principles calling for labor union control of industry and government and the use of strikes and sabotage to achieve those ends. The union’s constitution advocated the “complete freedom [of the proletariat] from capitalistic tyranny.”3 The Los Angeles consuls had long opposed such ideas and on occasion had even spied on those Mexicans and Mexican Americans whom they suspected of advocating radical tactics. On August 23, 1907, for example, Los Angeles Consul Antonio Lozano had aided U.S. authorities in the arrest of Ricardo Flores Magón, the leading advocate of anarchist-syndicalist principles in the colonia mexicana during the early twentieth century. Magón and his followers had organized the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) in 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri, to overthrow Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz.4 By the late 1920s, however, Los Angeles consuls were no longer battling the PLM for influence over la raza. Nor was the PLM any longer the staunch defender of the working class. Union organizers and other colonia residents now criticized PLM members for confining themselves to giving colorful “speeches at the placita” in Sonora Town and at testimonial dinners.5 The society’s decline was dramatically underscored when Adolfo Moncada Villarreal, who had once spied on PLM for the Mexican government, was the organization’s president during the 1920s.6
The PLM heritage was reflected in the newly created CUOM, which voiced anarchist-syndicalist principles but mainly as a ritualistic bow to the past by a union now pledged to observe the “laws of this country.”7 The consuls recognized that CUOM’s espousal of radical methods was largely rhetoric they would have preferred not to hear. As it turned out, the alliance between CUOM and the consuls was short-lived; the union declined in influence and ceased operations in 1933. The collapse carne as no surprise to those who had accused the union leaders of spending more time and energy proclaiming support for working-class solidarity and rights than bettering members’ working conditions and wages.8 Contributing to the union’s demise was the lack of financial resources. Only some two hundred members, less than 20 percent of the entire membership, paid their dues.9 Some felt they had no reason to pay but most simply could not afford to do so. Mexicanos generally “never had enough money to...pay for food and housing” much less union dues, according to union organizers.10
The Berry Pickers Strike
Differences among union activists and consuls over the proper strategy for helping la raza farm workers surfaced dramatically shortly after the disintegration of CUOM. The occasion was a wage dispute between la raza berry pickers and their Japanese employers, which erupted in May 1933. Hundreds of berry pickers harvested the crop from May to June for earnings varying from 9 cents to 20 cents an hour. To maximize their incomes, entire families, parents and children, labored in the fields.11
The berry pickers rallied for higher wages and attracted farm workers from throughout the San Gabriel Valley to the Zaragoza meeting hall in El Monte. There they drew up demands for the Japanese growers and organized a strike committee led by Armando Flores, a former CUOM organizer. The committee demanded 25 cents an hour or 50 cents for a crate of berries. The growers offered to go as high as 20 cents an hour or 45 cents a crate, but the farm workers remained firm in their demands. A strike was called which began on June 1.12
Despite their united resistance to the growers, the farm workers were battling among themselves for control of the strike committee. There were two major factions, one led by Flores and another by representatives of the Cannery and Agricultural Industrial Union (CAWIU). The Communist party in 1931 had organized CAWIU as an arm of the Trade Union Unity League, and the union had participated in a number of strikes until its leaders were arrested on criminal syndicalism charges in 1934.13 Some scholars have identified the CAWIU as Anglo and Communist, and the Flores opposition as Mexican and non-Communist.14 But union activists and colonia residents remember only a philosophical difference over who was to be the sole bargaining agent for the strikers. CAWIU, “composed largely of Communists and anarchists,” opposed Flores and his more moderate supporters. There was no clear-cut division along ethnic lines, for Mexicans and Mexican Americans were members of both groups.15
Flores attempted to win control of the strike committee with the support of Consul Alejandro V. Martínez. He persuaded Martínez to speak on his behalf on June 7 before the striking farm workers at the Zaragoza hall. Martínez drew a large audience; there were “so many people there,” recalls Alejandro Castro, a former Hicks Camp resident, “you could hardly get into the hall.” Martínez condemned the CAWIU leaders as “reds,” but his charge failed to sway most of the strikers, many of whom accused him of selling out to the growers; a few even “threatened his life.”16 The CAWIU remained a strong force on the strike committee until eight of its organizers were arrested and jailed on June 10. The absence of CAWIU leadership gave the Flores faction and the consuls victory by default.17
While the strikers argued among themselves, the strike continued and gradually spread from the San Gabriel Valley to elsewhere in Los Angeles and Orange counties. At first the consulate remained uninvolved despite occasional appeals for help from individuals and small delegations. One such delegation, led by Torrance residents Nicolás Avila and Guillermo Velarde, helped lead to a change in policy. Avila, fired from his job for reading a strike leaflet, had persuaded several fellow workers, including his friend Velarde, a grocery store owner with anarchist-syndicalist sympathies, to accompany him to the consulate.18
The delegation found Martínez reluctant to help during the second week of the strike, even though he claimed to sympathize with them. “We were turned down very politely, Mexican style,” Guillermo’s sister Evelyn Velarde Benson recalls.19 Martínez’s hostile reception at the Zaragoza hall may have accounted for his reluctance. Almost immediately, however, the delegation’s spirits lifted when they heard Vice Consul Ricardo Hill rebuke his superior and pledge “one hundred percent support for his paisanos.”20 Hill’s reaction was not surprising, for he later explained in an interview after his tenure in Los Angeles had ended that he interpreted his “duty as a consular officer of Mexico...to protect the interests of my nationals in any way and all controversies in which their human and constitutional rights are at stake.”21 He was motivated by more than his personal conception of consular duty, however, for he regarded capitalism as an “outmoded profit system,” though this was a view he shared only with dose friends in the southern California community.22 Hill also cared little if his outspoken behavior angered Martínez. Son of revolutionary General Benjamín Hill, he was independently wealthy and had influential political connections. He had already become popular in the colonia because of his work during the repatriation crisis, and his stature increased when word got out that he had criticized Martínez for his refusal to provide assistance to the farm workers.23
Though Martínez had no enthusiasm for helping the striking farm workers, he soon changed his mind when his Mexico City superiors demanded consular intervention. On June 9 Foreign Minister José M. Puig Casauranc instructed the Los Angeles consulate and other California offices to “render all assistance” so the berry strike might be a “success [in] securing an increase in the insignificant, unjust salaries paid our compatriots.”24 On the same day, Puig discussed the strike with U.S. Ambassador Josephus Daniels who requested an “unofficial and personal memorandum” from the Mexican government summarizing its concern.25
The ministry’s interest reflected more than the views of Puig Casauranc. Former President Plutarco Elías Calles, who remained a powerful figure in Mexico although living in Baja California, personally contributed some $4,500 to the striking farm workers. He also contacted Mexican ministers and labor and political leaders, urging their support for the strikers. In addition, Calles asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt “to exert every effort toward bringing about a prompt resolution” of the strike.26 Some scholars suspect Calles was using the strike as a ploy to strengthen relations between his country’s official political party, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario, and labor in Mexico.27 Whatever his motives, he helped encourage the Ministry of Foreign Relations to take a strong stand in support of the striking workers.
Pressure from home and his own vice consul prompted Martínez to appeal to federal and state officials for the appointment of an arbitration team that might help end the dispute. On July 7 a settlement was reached after talks were held among representatives of the strike committee, the State Division of Labor Statistics, the growers, and the consulates of Mexico and Japan. Farm workers wanted more than the 20 cents per hour or $1.50 for a nine-hour day they were receiving, but the settlement was enough to end the strike.28
The strike had secured higher wages but the season was ending and the demand for pickers was slackening. Financial help from Mexico also ended because General Calles and Puig Casauranc regarded the signing of the contract as a complete victory: “Our compatriots in a foreign land...may count upon the support of their brothers in Mexico,” General Calles declared.29 Actually Mexican assistance was needed because officials found that many Mexicans and Mexican Americans remained unemployed and “starvation” for some appeared imminent.30 Los Angeles consuls Martínez and Hill responded by cooperating with the local chamber of commerce in helping workers secure employment in the San Joaquin Valley or repatriation to Mexico.31
Though chamber and consular officials worked together to help destitute farm workers, their relations were strained because of the role Martínez and Hill played in ending the berry strike. “The Mexican consular office is being used to put over a labor organization and to foment labor troubles throughout the state,” declared George P. Clements, head of the chamber’s agricultural department.32 Clements’s complaint reached the departments of Labor and State in Washington, D.C., where it was quietly shelved. Herschel V. Johnson, head of the State Department’s Mexican Affairs desk, found no “conclusive evidence of a character which might be held either unlawful, unfriendly, or improper.”33 The chamber and many growers remained unconvinced, but the relative lack of unrest in the fields during the next two years calmed their anxieties.
A New Alliance
Shortly after the settlement of the berry strike, Hill was invited to attend a meeting of farm workers who wished to transform the loosely knit group of former strikers into a formal union. The meeting, held on July 15, 1933, produced a new organization, the Confederación de Union de Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos (CUCOM), and an alliance with the consulate.34 The union’s constitution stipulated that the Los Angeles consulate would have a representative on the governing board.
Recruitment of farm workers proved time consuming, and two years passed before CUCOM regarded its membership as large enough for a test of strength with the growers. The interregnum also coincided with the absence of Ricardo Hill, who had been ordered to a post in Marseilles, France, despite protests from la raza union leaders who regarded his transfer as “detrimental to the interests of Mexican workers.”35 Hill returned in the summer of 1935 following a struggle over control of the Mexican government between ex-President Calles and President Lázaro Cárdenas. The conflict had been won by Cárdenas who immediately set about putting his supporters into key positions.36 As part of the reshuffling, Hill was promoted to consul and reassigned to Los Angeles where he received a warm welcome from southern California colonia leaders when he arrived at Union Station on August 17, 1935.37
Immediately following his arrival, Hill publicly vowed to “intensify as far as possible the work of protection which our consular office has been imparting.”38 He did not specifically mention Mexican farm workers, but he privately assured la raza union leaders of his support for their work and told them that President Cárdenas and the secretary of foreign relations had directed him “to take care of labor problems.”39
Hill’s pledge to help CUCOM reinforced the consular-union alliance forged during the berry strike. Confident of consular support, CUCOM leaders placed a long list of demands before the vegetable growers—a minimum salary of 40 cents an hour for an eight-hour day, 60 cents an hour for overtime and holidays, picking equipment, housing for workers, and guarantees against harassment.40 The union threatened to strike on September 17 if these demands were not met. Though the growers refused to comply, the union was forced to back down when it could not muster enough workers to back the promised strike.41 Hill was disappointed with the strike’s collapse and infuriated with the growers’ refusal to bargain. “If the Mexican workers are not organized now, I’ll see that they are before winter is over.”42
Several weeks later Hill became personally involved in a labor dispute involving some 3,500 orange pickers. Almost all of them were Orange County residents who harvested crops during a seven-month season from March to November. They were usually paid five-and-a-half cents per box and were also promised an extra half-cent bonus per box, payable at the end of the season, which they often did not receive.43
Hill and Lucas Lucio, president of the city of Santa Ana’s Comisión Honorífica Mexicana, agreed to present CUCOM’s demands to the citrus growers. The union wanted recognition, a $2.25 minimum wage, abolition of transportation charges, and discontinuance of the bonus system. The growers rejected the demands and threatened to bring in Filipino workers if the Mexican pickers went on strike. CUCOM called a strike, but once again turnout was small and the walk out ineffective. Hill repeated the pledge he had given the vegetable workers: to help organize a stronger union for the 1936 harvest. CUCOM leaders readily accepted the offer.44
Hill’s efforts on behalf of the union provoked the local Orange County press to admonish him to “adopt the established methods of...recognized diplomacy.”45 The Orange County Farm Bureau promised to work “for the dismissal of any foreign representative who attempts to incite trouble among workers in the United States.”46 Such criticism only caused Hill to redouble his efforts. He attended CUCOM membership rallies in El Monte, Whittier, and elsewhere in southern California urging compatriots to join the union.47
CUCOM sought not only to recruit new members but also to affiliate with other agricultural unions to apply greater pressure on the growers. In January 1936 CUCOM allied itself with the Agricultural Industrial Workers Labor Union (AIWLU) and the Filipino Labor Union (FLU) by joining with them in the new Federation of Agricultural Workers Union of America (FAWUA).48 Hill was not “directly involved in these negotiations,” recalls former CUCOM Secretary Nicolás Avila and other union leaders, but “he did approve and support” the move to affiliate with other organizations.49 Affiliation with the Federation helped restore CUCOM’s confidence to the point that leaders presented growers with new demands in the springofl936. CUCOM first approached the Japanese vegetable growers and insisted the growers pay a 35-cent hourly wage.50
Although supporting CUCOM’s demands, Hill’s union involvement was interrupted when he was suddenly called to Mexico City as a result of the labor activities of Consul Juan Richer of Laredo, Texas. Richer shared Hill’s sympathies with mexicano workers: In a speech made on March 13 at a recruitment meeting of a local union, Richer expressed strong support of the unionization effort and explained that his views were shared by the Mexican government and President Cárdenas who was battling the “inroads and encroachments of capitalism against the working class.”51 The Knights of Columbus, the Laredo Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service immediately protested to the U .S. State Department about Richer’s presence at the meeting and his remarks.52 Concern had been expressed even across the border where U.S. Consul Romeyn Wormuth of Nuevo Laredo warned his superiors to “puta stop to the apparent intention of these consular officers to organize laborers in the United States.”53 The protests brought an immediate apology from Mexican Ambassador Francisco Castillo Nájera, who explained to the state department that Richer was “inexperienced and unfamiliar with the proper limitations of his office.”54 The ambassador agreed to order Richer home to avoid repetition of the incident and to sidetrack the Texas congressional delegation’s demand for a formal protest to Mexico.55
To further “satisfy the Texas congressional delegation,” Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations ordered all consuls to “cease the social-political activities which some of them had been carrying on” and to avoid “lectures, meetings, or acts of any kind alien to consular functions.” Significantly, however, the directive did not identify consular participation in the unionization of la raza farm workers as one of the alien activities.56
The recall of Ricardo Hill and his vice consul, Alejandro Gómez Maganda, to Mexico City was announced in the same press release that urged the consuls to exercise discretion. Hill was joined by his older brother, Consul Benjamín Hill of San Antonio, who had also been accused by local businessmen of “organizing Mexican labor and bringing in union organizers from Mexico City.”57 The Mexican ministry knew about the work of both Benjamín and Ricardo Hill; indeed, as noted earlier, it had instructed the Los Angeles consul to deal with “labor problems.”58
La Opinión and the Los Angeles Times suspected Hill’s activities with the union were responsible for his recall, but he never admitted this was the reason for his departure. He defended his involvement with labor as entirely proper and stressed his cooperation with “local police and federal officials” in assisting his nationals.59 Nor did Hill change his position when he returned to Los Angeles on April 16. The trip’s purpose, Hill told the local press, had been to confer with Foreign Minister Eduardo Hay about the “false charges” against a Mexican consul accused of spreading “Communist propaganda.” He had also met with President Cárdenas, who “instructed him to proceed as before in helping Mexican workers and protecting their rights under American law.”60 The conference in Mexico City was at most probably a warning to Hill to use discretion rather than a ban on activities in support of union organizing efforts.
In any event, shortly after Hill’s return CUCOM called a strike and the consul immediately endorsed it. The walk out began in the Venice celery fields when the growers’ association refused wage demands for 40 cents an hour instead of the prevailing 22 cents. The strike spread to other vegetable-growing areas in Compton, Watts, Palos Verdes, El Monte, and Norwalk with the number of striking farm workers increasing from three hundred to some two thousand within a few weeks.61 The growers refused to consider the workers’ demands until the strike leadership had been purged of “Communists and radical agitators.” Especially upsetting to the growers was the presence of Lillian Monroe, a former Communist party member who had participated in other California agricultural strikes.
Hill intervened and insisted that CUCOM was free of Communists. He persuaded the union to demonstrate the truth of his assertion by asking Monroe to leave the area. Some celery pickers and union officials opposed the request, but most agreed to disassociate themselves from Monroe.62 Her removal was not enough; the growers then refused to negotiate until the pickers returned to work. Hill adamantly refused to endorse this request and, instead, toured the picket lines to show his “moral support for the strikers.”63
The failure to bring about negotiations was followed by the outbreak of violence in Venice when vigilantes tried to prevent striking farm workers from forming picket lines. Los Angeles Police Captain John Hynes and his infamous “Red squad,” labor organizers observed, contributed to the violence by “provoking and intimidating strikers and sympathizers” even though Hynes was operating outside the city limits and his proper jurisdiction.64 The police began a melee when they resorted to riot clubs and tear gas—leaving some ten people injured. CUCOM President Guillermo Velarde attempted to stop the violence and end the strike by asking for 35 cents an hour instead of the 40 cents originally demanded, but the Japanese growers refused the offer and the strike continued, marked daily by violence. The violence and the strike finally ended in late May when the growers agreed to negotiate because they feared losing their crops. The consulate obtained a 27-cent wage for the farm workers but failed to gain union recognition. Even though Velarde and other union members wanted to hold out for union recognition, they accepted the consulate’s settlement.65
The slight wage gains obtained in the celery workers’ strike encouraged orange pickers to request CUCOM and the consulate to assist them in a struggle for higher wages and better working conditions. In March they presented Orange County packing house managers and growers with a demand for 40 cents an hour for a nine-hour day, discontinuance of the bonus system, free transportation to the fields, and recognition of the union. The growers rejected the demands and countered with an offer of 26 cents a box and a half-cent bonus per box payable at the end of the season.66
Though a strike appeared imminent, Hill attempted to prevent a walk out by offering to serve as a mediator. Claiming that CUCOM was a “radically led and controlled organization,” the growers refused the offer and chastized Hill for “encouraging unionization, especially among American citizens of Mexican descent.”67 They urged him “to use his influence to avoid an unjustified strike.” The refusal of the growers to negotiate resulted in some 1,500 farm workers going on strike June 19. The strike successfully stopped the orange harvest.68
As he had done during the celery strike, Hill attempted to bring the growers to negotiations by disassociating the CUCOM and farm workers from any radical involvement. The Orange County Strike Committee also shared Hill’s desire to present a nonradical image to the public. To demonstrate this resolve, the strike committee refused membership to local Communist Elías Espinoza and Lillian Monroe, though they were permitted to address the strikers.69
Hill’s disclaimers about radical involvement in the strike movement failed to convince the growers, who campaigned through the Associated Farmers organization for his removal. Congressman Sam Collins and Senator Hiram W. Johnson passed the protests on to the U.S. State Department, which forwarded them to Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations.70 News of a State Department investigation to determine the propriety of Hill’s actions did not cause Hill to change his tactics. He informed La Opinión that he was “more determined than ever to continue working on the same road for the benefit of my compatriots.”71 Colonia civic organizations, such as the Comité Revolucionario Mexicano, Partido Liberal Mexicano, and Sociedad Cultural Mexicano, joined CUCOM in applauding Hill’s decision to carry on in spite of the protests. They asked the Ministry of Foreign Relations to keep Hill in Los Angeles where, according to CUCOM’s Velarde, he “always protects workers from inhuman exploitation.” The Partido Juárez also predicted serious consequences if Hill were removed: a precedent might be established which “would incapacitate consuls in helping their nationals.”72
As colonia organizations rallied around Hill, he personally defended his actions before grower representative Stuart Strathman and federal labor negotiator Edward H. Fitzgerald at a meeting called to settle the strike. The meeting made no headway in ending the strike but instead served as a forum for Strathman to indict Hill and the consular staff for “fomenting violence.” The charges, Strathman explained, were “drawn from reports by paid undercover agents who attended strike meetings.”73 Hill readily admitted to attending the meetings and encouraging his compatriots but said he was also present to “warn his nationals to respect the law.” CUCOM members Nicolás Avila, Emilio Martínez, and Pascual Rivas confirmed Hill’s explanation and recall that the Mexican consul advised them “to obey the law” and “to avoid violence.”74
A few days later, on July 6, Hill again intervened to prevent violence when the orange groves were transformed into battlefields as strikers clashed with strikebreakers arriving from outlying areas. The police once again demonstrated that their sympathies were with the growers by arresting and jailing some two hundred strikers. Emilio Martínez and others recall sharing an “open pen” at the Santa Ana city jail.75 But arresting the strikers did not stop the violence; it broke out again the next day when pickers burned a bus. Orange County Sheriff Logan Jackson heightened tensions further by issuing a “shoot to kill” order against labor agitators. On the ninth, strikers again learned they faced not only fierce opposition from police but also vigilantes. Some forty vigilantes disrupted union meetings with clubs, guns, and tear gas.76 These incidents brought Hill to Orange County to personally demand police protection for his nationals.
Sheriff Jackson refused to cooperate with Hill until an anonymous farm worker threatened to use dynamite if strikers did not receive immediate police protection. This threat led Jackson to revoke his “shoot to kill” order, and Hill toured the colonias to convince strikers to remain home during a cooling-off period. The local Orange County press joined Labor Commissioner Edward Fitzgerald in praising the consul for “ending the violence.”77
The dynamite threat not only brought peace but also fostered a more cooperative attitude among the growers. They still refused to deal directly with the union but agreed to negotiate with the strikers through representatives appointed by Consul General Adolfo de la Huerta, a former president of Mexico and now a visiting inspector of Mexican consulates in the U.S. If de la Huerta found the growers’ offer acceptable, he would then recommend it to the strikers. Anglo and la raza residents, as well as the English and Spanish language press, predicted that de la Huerta’s prestige would guarantee the ratification of any agreement that he endorsed.78
With Hill’s advice and consent, de la Huerta presented the union with a proposal for 20 cents an hour for a nine-hour day, abolition of the bonus system, free transportation to the fields, and free picking equipment. There was no provision for union recognition, which angered Velarde. Although he had earlier accepted contracts which did not provide for union recognition, he now became adamant because of his confidence that a longer strike would result in union recognition. Velarde condemned the consular proposal and accused de la Huerta and Hill of tricking their compatriots into accepting a “sell out” offer.79 This was a sharp turnaround from his earlier support and approval of the Mexican consul.
The split between the Los Angeles consulate and CUCOM president divided the strikers and brought negotiations to a standstill. While Hill and Velarde lobbied for support among the local colonias, the growers threatened to rescind their offer. Pressure for a settlement was also developing within the strikers’ rank and file, for some four hundred families were without “food and near starvation.” Hill and his supporters emphasized the desperate situation of many compatriots and persuaded the strike committee to ban Velarde from a general meeting staged to gain approval of the offer. Velarde was further handicapped because he was also sought by police for failing to appear for a traffic violation.80 The bench warrant and strike committee banishment kept Velarde from mounting effective opposition to the offer, which union members approved on July 24.
The official end of the strike did not end consular involvement with the Orange County pickers, for 116 of them were arraigned a short time later in superior court on charges of rioting. Colonia residents who attended the arraignment vividly recall the presence of consuls Adolfo de la Huerta, Ricardo Hill, and Ernesto Romero who persuaded the judge to drop the charges and release the farm workers because they were innocent victims of mass arrests.81
Hill’s intervention in behalf of Mexican and Mexican American farm workers provoked quite a different reaction from the Associated Farmers. That organization continued to denounce the Mexican consul for interfering in American “internal affairs.” The State Department launched an investigation and concluded on August 17 that “there does not exist a single com plaint of the American Government against Hill.”82 Though officially innocent of any wrongdoing, Hill’s activities on behalf of CUCOM had seriously undermined his relationship with local authorities. Police Chief James Davis and Lieutenant Peter Delgado had frowned upon Hill’s involvement in the celery and orange strikes and had even “threatened [him] with removal...on account of [his] labor activities.”83
Consul Hill’s Transfer
Hill’s tenure in Los Angeles ended when a dispute erupted between him and Lieutenant Delgado. Ironically, the controversy resulted over a project to further good relations between Mexico and the United States—a concert tour by the Mexico City Police Department Orchestra. The band arrived while Hill and his staff were busy negotiating a settlement of the Orange County strike, and he allowed the Los Angeles Police Department to assume responsibility for arranging the tour. The police scheduled performances for which half the admission returns would pay band expenses and half would go to needy Mexicans in southern California and Mexico. Hill objected to the charges because he believed they were incompatible “with the intention of my government to further good relations.”84
Hill’s objections over arrangements for the Mexico City orchestra angered Lieutenant Delgado and led him to cancel a free performance that Hill had arranged for the colonia mexicana at Lincoln Park on August 8. Delgado informed the band leader that “there would be no concert at Lincoln Park because [Hill] had not secured said Park and did not have the $80.00 with which to pay for transportation.”85 On the contrary, Hill had reserved Lincoln and the police department had assured him it would pay transportation costs as had been done throughout the orchestra tour. Hill successfully rounded up the orchestra at the last moment. On the way to Lincoln Park, he encountered Delgado and a public argument ensued. The scene produced headlines describing Hill and Delgado “at the point of exchanging blows.”86 What actually occurred remains unclear. Hill claimed in a report prepared by the California Division of Criminal Identification and Investigation that Delgado called him a “son of a bitch” and attempted to strike him until he was restrained by a fellow officer. Delgado denied this account and alleged that Hill insulted him by declaring: “The expenses of this orchestra were paid by the Mexican government and the orchestra carne here to play for Mexicans and not for any American sons of bitches.”87
Police Chief Davis expressed his “sincere regrets for this occurrence” and offered his “fullest excuses [apologies]” and promised to “discipline those responsible.”88 Hill and the secretary of foreign relations regarded this apology as “adequate amends,” but it was clear to many that Hill had outlived his usefulness in Los Angeles.89 On October 30 he was transferred to San Antonio, Texas. The official explanation from Chargé d’Affaires Luis Quintanilla was that “the position of a Mexican consular representative in a locality where he encounters the manifest hostility and antipathy of the police authorities is from all perspectives insupportable.”90
Some colonia organizations protested Hill’s removal. The Comisión Honorífica Mexicana of Irwindale and the Legion Aeronáutica Mexicana “demanded a new term [for Hill] to finish the work he had begun.”91 But most members of the southern California colonia mexicana were reconciled to Hill’s transfer, especially those who had dealt with the consul during the strikes. They regarded the transfer to San Antonio as a reprimand for Hill’s activities on behalf of labor.92
Hill’s departure did not mean the end of consular efforts on behalf of laborers, but, in the words of union organizer Nicolás Avila, there was never again to be “such intensive concern.”93 The new attitude was revealed in a conversation among Vice Consul José Couttolenc, George P. Clements of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and Arnold Clark of the Associated Farmers. Clements had arranged the meeting in order “to get to Mr. Renato Cantú Lara, the new consul of Mexico [Hill’s immediate successor], the critical situation of Mexican labor.” This was especially necessary because “not only the [Mexican] national but the American Mexican took his troubles to the Mexican consul.” Vice Consul Couttolenc, who attended the meeting on behalf of Cantú Lara, assured those present that the consulate planned to restrict itself to the “care of nationals as individuals” rather than “collectively.” The new consul, he told them, can be expected “to adhere strictly to his consular work and join [them] in every way to bring a correct understanding between his nationals and the employees.”94
Consul Cantú Lara ended the consular involvement that had begun with the creation of CUOM and continued through the strikes in El Monte, Venice, and Orange County. That involvement had been slow to develop. Consul Alejandro V Martínez and Vice Consul Ricardo Hill had intervened only after the 1933 El Monte strike was well underway and the strike committee chairman had requested their help. In 1935, following Hill’s appointment as consul, a more aggressive policy in support of Mexican laborers was pursued. There were setbacks, but there were also higher wages and better working conditions for many workers. Hill’s efforts won him wide acclaim in the colonia, and he is still remembered fondly by older residents. “This man was a real consul,” one of them recalls. “There was never another consul like Hill.”95
NOTES TO CHAPTER SIX
1. Scholars have examined the strikes and recognized consular participation, but they have refrained from analyzing the consuls as more than a secondary issue: Abraham Hoffman. “The El Monte Berry Pickers’ Strike, 1933: International Involvement in a Local Labor Dispute,” Journal of the West, XII (January 1973), 71–84; Ronald W. López, “The El Monte Berry Strike of 1933,” Aztlán, I (Spring 1970), 101–114; Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California (Boston 1931); Louis Reccow, “The Orange County Citrus Strikes of 1935–1936: The ‘Forgotten People’ in Revolt” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1972); Charles B. Spaulding, “The Mexican Strike at El Monte,” Sociology and Social Research (July-August 1934), 571–580; Devra Anne Weber, “The Organizing of Mexicano Agricultural Workers: The Imperial Valley and Los Angeles, 1928–1934—An Oral History Approach,” Aztlán, III (Fall 1972), 301–347; Charles Wollenberg, “Huelga: 1928 Style,” Pacific Historical Review, XXVIII (February 1969), 45–68; “Race and Class in Rural California: The El Monte Berry Strike,” California Historical Society Quarterly, LIX (Summer 1972), 155–164.
2. California, Department of Industrial Relations, Mexicans in California: Report of Governor C.C. Young’s Mexican Fact-Finding Committee (San Francisco, 1930), 123–130.
3. Ibid., 123–124; also, interviews with Catarino Cruz, Orange, California, 23 March 1976; Pablo Alcántara, Yorba Linda, California, 25 March 1976; and Nicolás Licero, Tustin, California, 30 March 1976.
4. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Ricardo Flores Magón y El Partido Liberal Mexicano: A Eulogy and Critique (Los Angeles, 1973), 47. For primary evidence see Archivo de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Asunto Flores Magón, LE 918–954, 36 Volumes (Hereafter cited as ASRE).
5. La Opinión, 26 May 1935, 1 April 1935; interview with Nicolás Avila, Los Angeles, California, 8 April 1976; Alcántara and Cruz interviews.
6. Adolfo Moncada Villarreal to Consul José María Carpio, 21 May 1917, in ASRE, 1/131/3859. Moncada Villarreal also served as secretary at the consulate during the 1920s. See F. A. Pesqueira to Secretary of Foreign Relations, September 1929, in ASRE, 1/131/3859.
7. Young’s Mexican Fact-Finding Committee. 123–124. Weber attributes CUOM’s contradictory strategy to the influence of the Mexican Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana, CROM. Weber’s interpretation is based upon the analysis of the CROM by Frederick C. Turner, The Dynamic of Mexican Nationalism (Chapel Hill, 1968), 193; Frank Tanenbaum, Peace By Revolution: Mexico Since 1910 (New York, 1933), 246–247.
8. Interview with Evelyn Velarde Benson, Los Angeles, California, 8 April 1976; Avila interview.
9. Young’s Mexican Fact-Finding Committee, 123.
10. Avila and Velarde Benson interviews.
11. Edward Fitzgerald to Hugh L. Kerwin, 22 July 1933, in National Archives, Department of Labor, Record Group 280, 170–803 (Hereafter cited as Nat. Arch., RG 280); interviews with Alejandro Castro, El Monte, California, 21 December 1976; Plutarco Núñez, El Monte, California, 21 December 1976; Jesús Corona, El Monte, California, 21 December 1976; and Alfonso Jiménez, El Monte, California, 21 December 1976.
12. Vice Consul Ricardo Hill to Secretary of Foreign Relations, June and July 1933, in ASRE, IV-626-2.
13. McWilliams, Factories in the Field, 228.
14. Spaulding, “The Mexican Strike at El Monte,” 573; López, “Berry Strike,” 104.
15. Avila, Castro, and Velarde Benson interviews.
16. Castro and Núñez interviews.
17. López, “The El Monte Strike of 1933,” 105.
18. Avila interview.
19. Velarde Benson interview.
20. Avila and Velarde Benson interviews.
21. Weber, “Organizing of Mexicano Agricultural Workers,” 331.
22. Interview with Stuart Strathman, Fullerton, California, 28 February 1976.
23. Interview with Rex Tomson, Rancho Bernardo, California, 8 March 1976; Medina, Avila, Velarde Benson, and Lucio interviews.
24. Secretary of Foreign Relations to the Los Angeles Consulate, 9 June 1933, in ASRE, 3465-2.
25. Secretary of Foreign Relations José M. Puig Casauranc to Ambassador Josephus Daniels, 10 June 1933, in ASRE 3465-2; in National Archives, Department of State, Record Group 59, 811.5045/128 (Hereafter cited as Nat. Arch., RG 59).
26. Plutarco Elías Calles to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 27 June 1933, in Nat. Arch. RG 59, 811.5045/133. For further information on Calles involvement see: Acciónes del ejecutivo por conducto de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores en El caso de la huelga de mexicanos in California, in Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Memoria de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de agosto de 1932 a julio de 1933 presentada al H. Congreso de la Unión por José Manuel Puig Casauranc, Secretario del Ramo. (México, D. F., 1933), 230–237, as well as La Opinión, 21, 22 June 1933.
27. Hoffman, “El Monte Strike,” 84; López, “Berry Strike of 1933,” 106.
28. Consul Alejandro V. Martínez to Governor James Rolph, 30 June 1933, in ASRE, 3465-2. Copies are also in RG 59, 811.5045/140. For further information on negotiations see Daniels to State Department, 23 June 1933, in Nat. Arch., 59, 811.5045/136; Fitzgerald and Marsh, “Preliminary Report,” 26 June 1933, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5045/136.
29. El Nacional, 7 July 1933.
30. Wollenberg, “Race and Class,” p. 162.
31. George P. Clements to Arthur G. Arnoll, 12, 13 July 1933, Clements Collection, Bundle 7, Box 62.
32. Clements to Ross H. Gast, 20, 21 July 1933; Clements to Arthur G. Arnoll, 20 July 1933; Clements to Gast, 27 July 1933, Clements Collection, Bundle 7, Box 62.
33. H. Bursley to Herschel V. Johnson, 28 July 1933, in RG, 811.5045/140.
34. Spaulding, “The Mexican Strike,” 575; Avila interview.
35. Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana to Dr. José Manuel Puig Casauranc, 3 October 1933, in ASRE 1/131/4977. Also see Comité Pro-México de Afuera to Secretary of Foreign Relations, 26 December 1933, in ASRE, 1/131/4977; La Opinión, 23 September 1933.
36. John W.F. Dulles, A Chronicle of the Revolution, 1919–1936 (Austin, 1967), 641–646. See La Opinión, 20, 21 July 1935 regarding Hill’s appointment in Los Angeles.
37. La Opinión, 17, 18 August 1935.
38. La Opinión, 15 September 1935.
39. Avila interview; Weber, “Organizing of Mexicano Agricultural Workers,” 332, 343.
40. CUCOM executive committee to Japanese Growers Association, 24 June 1935, in Nat. Arch., RG 280, 5460-10. Copy in Spanish is in ASRE, IV-704-5.
41. La Opinión, 7 June 1935, 30 June 1935, 21 July 1935, 4 August 1935, 18 August 1935, 24 August 1935, 1 September 1935, 8 September 1935, 11 September 1935, 14 September 1935.
42. “Ricardo G. Hill, Mexican Consul, Activities in Labor Unionizing and Strikes,” 17 August 1936, in ASRE, IV-131-155. Also see various documents in ASRE, 1/131/4977.
43. Louis Reccow, “Citrus Strikes of 1935–1936,” 69–70; Alcántara, Medina, and Lucio interviews.
44. Anaheim Bulletin, 11 October 1935; 12 October 1935; Santa Ana Register, 12 October 1935; Orange Daily News, 12 October 1935; Lucio interview.
45. Orange Daily News, 31 October 1935. Also see Brea Progress, 15 November 1935; Santa Ana Journal, 2 November 1935.
46. Santa Ana Journal, 8 November 1935.
47. Western Worker, 11 June 1936.
48. Stuart Jamieson, “Labor Unionism in American Agriculture,” in United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Bulletin, No. 836, 124; United States Senate, Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Violations of Free Speech and Rights of Labor Hearing, 76th Congress, Third Session, Part 70, 25855.
49. Avila and Velarde Benson interviews.
50. La Opinión, 24 March 1936, 25 March 1936; McWilliams, Factories in the Field, 243–249.
51. Laredo Times, 15 March 1936, 27 March 1936; South Texas Citizen, 20 March 1936, 27 March 1936; San Antonio Express, 26 March 1936.
52. State Deputy of Knights of Columbus William P. Galligan to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 16 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/37; Laredo Chamber of Commerce President H. L. Jackson to Congressman West, 13 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/35; American Legion Executive Committee to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, 23 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/54; Lieutenant Colonel F. B. Mellon to the Assistant Chief of Staff, War Department, Washington, D.C., 18 March 1936, Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/56; Inspector Frank Crockett to Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service, Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/44.
53. Nuevo Laredo Consul Romeyn Wormuth to the Secretary of State, 16 March 1936, in RG 59, 811.5043/39.
54. Division of Mexican Affairs to Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles, 19 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/39.
55. Ambassador Francisco Castillo Nájera to Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles, 30 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/57.
56. Ambassador Josephus Daniels to Secretary of State, 31 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 811.5043/55; copy of the directive appeared in El Universal, 29 March 1936.
57. Galligan to Roosevelt, 16 March 1936.
58. Various reports are in ASRE, IV-626-2.
59. Los Angeles Times, 28 March 1936; La Opinión, 28 March 1936, 29 March 1936.
60. Los Angeles Examiner, 16 April 1936.
61. William [Guillermo] Velarde to Southern California Farm Federation, 16 March 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 280, 182–1279.
62. Avila and Medina interviews.
63. Subcommittee on Violations, Part 70, 25856-25857; E. H. Fitzgerald to H. L. Kerwin, 27 April 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 280, 182-1279.
64. Workers and Unemployed Union to the President of the United States, 30 April 1936, in Nat. Arch., 280, 182-1279.
65. La Opinión, 1 May to 27 May 1936.
66. Subcommittee on Violations, Part 70, 25858.
67. Consul Ricardo Hill to Orange Growers of Orange County, 6 June 1936, and Orange Growers to Hill, 9 June 1936, in ASRE, 1/131/4977.
68. Interviews with Pascual Rivas, Tustin, California, 30 March 1976; Eduardo Negrete, Fullerton, California, 26 March 1976; Emilio Martínez, Stanton, California, 23 March 1976; Alcántara, Cruz, and Medina interviews.
69. Alcántara and Medina interviews.
70. Representative Sam L. Collins to Chargé d’Affaires Luis Quintanilla, 17 June 1936; Quintanilla to Collins, 18 June 1936; Quintanilla to Edward L. Reed, chief of Mexican Affairs, U.S. State Department, 25 June 1936, in ASRE, 1/131/4977.
71. La Opinión, 19 June 1936.
72. La Opinión, 21 June 1936.
73. Santa Ana Register, 25 June 1936; Orange Daily News, 25 June 1936; Santa Ana Journal, 25 June 1936; La Opinión, 28 June 1936.
74. Alcántara, Avila, Martínez, Medina, and Rivas interviews.
75. Santa Ana Register, 6 July 1936; La Opinión, 7 July 1936; Anaheim Bulletin, 7 July 1936; Martínez interview.
76. Santa Ana Register, 6 July 1936; Anaheim Bulletin, 10 July 1936; Orange City Daily News, 10 July 1936; Los Angeles Times, 10 July 1936; Western Worker, 30 July 1936; Lucio interview.
77. Santa Ana Register, 13 July 1936. 14 July 1936; Anaheim Bulletin, 14 July 1936.
78. Anaheim Bulletin, 15 July 1936, 16 July 1936, Santa Ana Register, 15 July 1936; Alcántara, Lucio, Medina, and Negrete interviews. Adolfo de la Huerta’s appointment as consul general is described in La Opinión, 14 May 1936.
79. Santa Ana Register, 17 July 1936, 18 July 1936; Anaheim Bulletin, 17 July 1936, 18 July 1936; Orange Daily News, 17 July 1936; Alcántara, Lucio, and Medina interviews.
80. Santa Ana Register, 23 July 1936; Anaheim Bulletin, 23 July 1936; Orange City Daily News, 23 July 1936; Velarde Benson interviews.
81. Santa Ana Register, 29 July 1936; La Opinión, 29 July 1936; Alcántara, Lucio, Negrete, Martínez, and Rivas interviews; interview with David Marcus, Los Angeles, California, 17 November 1976.
82. Chargé d’Affaires Luis Quintanilla to the Secretary of Foreign Relations, 17 August 1936, in ASRE, 1/131/4977. Hill also received letters of support: Edward Fitzgerald to H.L. Kerwin in Nat. Arch., RG 280, 182-1279 and William Maxwell Burke to Edward Fitzgerald, 26 June 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 280, 182-1279.
83. Governor Frank T. Merriam to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, 1 September 1936, and “Alleged insult of Mexican Consul Mr. Ricardo Hill at Los Angeles,” 28 August 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 702.1211/2632; Consul Ricardo Hill to General Vicente González, Chief of Mexico, D.F., Police Department, 29 July 1936, in ASRE, 1/131/4977; La Opinión, 23 July 1936, 27 July 1936.
84. Hill to Ambassador of Mexico, 11 August 1936, in ASRE, 1/131/4977.
86. La Opinión, 8 August 1936, 10 August 1936.
87. “Alleged insult of Mexican Consul,” in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 702.1211/2632.
89. Ambassador Francisco Castillo Nájera to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, 11 September 1936, in Nat. Arch., RG 59, 702.1211/2635.
90. Chargé d’Affaires Luis Quintanilla to the Secretary of Foreign Relations, 17 August 1936, in ASRE, 1/131/4977.
91. Irwindale Comisión Honorífica Mexicana to the Secretary of Foreign Relations, 6 October 1936, and Legion Aeronáutica Mexicana to the Secretary of Foreign Relations, 30 September 1936 in ASRE, 1/131/4977.
92. Avila, Alcántara, Medina, Lucio, and Velarde Benson interviews.
93. Avila interview.
94. George P. Clements, “Mexican Consul and Agricultural Labor,” 27 November 1936, in Clements Collection, Box 9, Bundle 62.
95. Avila, Alcántara, Licero, Lucio, Martínez, Medina, Rivas, and Velarde Benson interviews.