Americans All: The Good Neighbor Policy in the US Southwest during World War II

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 11:10 AM
Continental B (Hilton Chicago)
Natalie Mendoza, University of Colorado Boulder
During World War II, the US government created the Spanish Speaking Minority Project (SSMP) to bring federal funds to programs across the US Southwest that facilitated the assimilation of Mexican-descent communities into “the American way of life” and full participation in the war effort. The SSMP reflected a concern about Mexican American loyalty to the US and how fascist ideology might affect a population long-relegated to second-class citizenship. Federal officials also established the SSMP as part of its domestic plan to promote the Good Neighbor Policy (GNP), the US’s policy of non-intervention in Latin America. The SSMP marks a departure in how the state viewed the Mexican-descent population in US society--it was only in the previous decade during the Great Depression that private agencies worked with the state to deport and repatriate both Mexicans and Mexican Americans. What prompted this reversal? How did the federal government come to change its view of the Mexican-descent population? This paper draws upon government records and correspondence to show how Mexican American leaders across the US Southwest used the GNP and the war to change the government’s perception of the Mexican-descent population. Mexican American leaders argued that the population had failed to assimilate because it had endured a century of neglect from the US government. Federal officials elaborated upon these arguments to justify creating the SSMP, describing the project as essential to winning the war and promoting the GNP. The existing scholarship focuses on the influence of the war and the GNP on Mexican American leaders in local contexts, most notably in Texas and California. My paper redirects our attention to how local leaders, across the US Southwest and not just in Texas and California, used these global events and geopolitics to advance civil rights for the Mexican-descent population on a national scale.
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