POLITICS

California passes bill urging schools to teach 1930s mass deportation of Mexicans

This 1932 photo from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library shows hundreds of Mexicans at a Los Angeles train station awaiting deportation to Mexico. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for mass deportation of millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, as well as their American-born children, bears similarities to a large-scale removal that actually happened to many Mexican-American families 85 years ago. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library via AP)

This 1932 photo from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library shows hundreds of Mexicans at a Los Angeles train station awaiting deportation to Mexico. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for mass deportation of millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, as well as their American-born children, bears similarities to a large-scale removal that actually happened to many Mexican-American families 85 years ago. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library via AP)

A measure is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature that calls for history textbooks and courses in California schools to include the “Mexican Repatriation,” the sweeping deportation of nearly 1 million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans during the 1930s.

The California Senate and Assembly have passed the measure, which was inspired by fifth-grade students at Bell Gardens Elementary School, with overwhelming majorities – 28-6 in the Senate, and 56-6 in the Assembly.

During the Great Depression, counties and cities in the American Southwest and Midwest forced Mexican immigrants and their families to leave the U.S. over concerns they were taking jobs away from whites despite their legal right to stay.

During that time, immigrants were rounded up and sent to Mexico, sometimes in public places and often without formal proceedings. Others, scared under the threat of violence, left voluntarily.

“With our State being the home to so many successful Mexican Americans, our children and all Californians, should be aware of the injustices that took place so long ago,” said state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat, in a statement.

About 60 percent of those who left were American citizens, according to various studies on the 1930s repatriation. Later testimonies show families lost most of their possessions and some family members died trying to return. Neighborhoods in cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles became empty.

The measure, called Assembly Bill 146, does not mandate that the mass expulsion be taught, but strongly encourages it.

In an interview with Fox News Latino, Garcia said she hopes the governor, who she said signs bills rather quickly after they reach him, will sign AB 146 soon.

“I didn’t learn about this in school,” Garcia said. “It was bad for the human rights, our basic principles as Americans, and it was bad for the economy. American businesses didn’t have enough workers, then we brought Mexicans back” through the Bracero program.

The Bracero program, which ran from 1942 through 1964, allowed Mexicans to come to the United States to work in temporary jobs. More than 4 million Mexicans participated in the program.

The California measure has passed at a time when GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a mass deportation of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“I firmly believe that this is a lesson worth teaching,” Garcia said. “In fact, a certain Republican Presidential front-runner, with his unworkable and reckless plan for mass deportation, could learn a lesson from the minds and the hearts of our young school children.”

Immigration advocacy group lauded the passage of the message, and said the forced removal of Mexicans is no less important than the inhumane and unjust actions against other groups that have become an integral part of the curriculum at many U.S. schools.

“History cannot be erased,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera Jr., the communications director for Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, to Fox News Latino. “What took place, whether glorious or reprehensible, is part of our common thread as Americans and we must acknowledge it.”

“What happened to over 1 million U.S. citizens and lawful residents of Mexican descent, just like what happened to Japanese Americans later, cannot be ignored and the relentless flag of memory must be raised every time someone even dares think of doing this again to any one group," Cabrera said. 

But, Cabrera added, that part of history should be taught all over the country – not just California.

"We should include these lessons,” he said,” early on so that our future leaders, young students now, will be less likely to repeat our past mistakes."

Garcia’s office said that the idea for the study of the Mexican expulsion arose from a fifth-grade class at Bell Gardens Elementary School, which is in the assemblywoman’s district. During a visit by Garcia to the classroom last year, the students prepared skits and power point presentations about the Mexican Repatriation Act.

“The students spoke about how difficult it was for them to find historic information on the Repatriation, but as they dug and learned more, the impacts of this tragic period affected them on a very personal level.” Garcia said. “I encouraged them to dream big and submit their idea to my district wide contest and today their bill has passed the California State Legislature.”

The Mexican Repatriation Act was implemented under President Herbert Hoover and led to the round-up of U.S. citizens of Mexican descent, and Mexican immigrants, “from dance halls, markets, theaters, hospitals and homes," as Garcia's statement put it.

The deportees were loaded into trucks and trains and deported to Mexico.

Garcia denounced it as “a gross violation of human rights and to date, no apology has been offered by the federal government.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.