Legion Hall 266
Through out the Great Depression, this structure, now currently the home of the salvation army, was the American Legion hall 266. During the Great Depression, the legionaries that worked here played a central role in the efforts to repatriate Mexicans living in East Chicago. This historical event would reflect the deep mistrust that was felt towards the Mexican population during the era.
Backstory and Context
Times of great crisis can often be times when the weaknesses and prejudices of the common people are abused by populist to scapegoat a specific sect of the population. The Great Depression is, unsurprisingly, not an exception forms this rule. Throughout this time of crisis in the nation, the Mexican communities of America were targeted and scapegoated. Mexicans in the country were seen as “unwelcome aliens who were a burden on the community.” Across the country repatriation efforts were made, under the false hope that eliminating the Mexican presence would resolve the unemployment crisis, at least on a local level.
In these repatriation efforts the American Legion from its halls, like hall 266, play a central role. While, as the depression worsened, coercion would become part of this effort to send Mexicans back to Mexico; the majority of Mexicans who returned to Mexico seemed to do so willingly. Most Mexicans by the 1930’s still did not have citizenship, many still viewing their time in Indiana Harbor as temporary, and as work dried up in the Steel mills (with Mexican workers often being the first fired) they had little incentive to remain in the United States with one Mexican laborer telling a researcher “I like the United States better than Mexico if I have work, but if no work it is better in Mexico.”
While these moves might have been, for the most part, voluntary, the presence of a racist motivation is still present. Articles in local newspapers ran comics that disparaged the presence of Mexicans in the workplace. Efforts were made in relief organizations to discourage Mexicans from getting relief. Ultimately the repatriation efforts left the Mexican communities of Indiana Harbor depopulated with businesses, community organizations, and homes totally abandoned. Something that these communities would not recover from till the arrival of Puerto Rican immigrants later.
James B. Lane, E. J. (n.d.). Forging a community The latino experience in nj.
Mendieta, E. (2012). Celebrating Mexican Culture and Lending a Helping Hand: Indiana Harbor's Sociedad Mutualista Benito Juarez, 1924-1957. Indiana Magazine of History.
Rosales, F. &. (1981). Mexican Immigrant Experience in the Ubran Midwest: East Chicago, Indiana, 1919-1945. Indiana Magazine of History.