Discrimination Against Mexican Americans in War Industries
Digital History ID 603
Carlos E. Castañeda
In the spring of 1941, after the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for 150,000 people to march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in defense industries, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in war industries and created the Fair Employment Practice Commission (FEPC) to investigate complaints. With a tiny staff, the FEPC lacked the resources to force contractors to end discriminatory practices. Here, Carlos E. Castañeda a special assistant on Latin-American Problems to the FEPC, testifies before a Senate committee on behalf of a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, or ancestry. The bill was defeated.
Our Spanish-speaking population in the Southwest...are ill-dressed, ill-fed, ill-cared for medically, and ill-educated...because of the low economic standard to which they have been relegated as the result of...restricting their employment...to the lowest paid, least desirable, and most exacting jobs.... Not only have they been restricted to the lowest bracket jobs, but even in these jobs they have been paid wages below the minimum...in all the...industries in which they have been employed....
...Out of the 315,000 persons of Mexican extraction, only 10,000 were being employed in the Southern California shipyards, 2,000 in the San Diego aircraft industry, and 7,500 in the Los Angeles aircraft industry, making a total of 19,500 employed in essential war industries in the area included between Los Angeles and San Diego. Much better utilization was being made of Mexican labor in the San Francisco area where, with a...population of ...30,000 persons of Mexican extraction, 8,000 were engaged in basic war industries.... 22% of the Mexican Americans were being employed in San Francisco, while only 6% had found employment in basic war industries in the Los Angeles and San Diego area....
Texas, with a population of 6,414,824, has approximately 1,000,000 Mexican Americans.... Less than 5%...are employed...in war...industries. Such industries...have restricted them to common or unskilled labor jobs...regardless of their ability, training, or qualifications. In the oil, aircraft and mining industries, in the numerous military installations, in the munitions factories and shipyards, and in the public utility corporations,...their employment has been limited and their opportunities for advancement restricted.
The prevalent...belief among employers for the various industries, personnel managers, officials of military installations, and...government agencies in the Southwest is that the Mexican-American is incapable of doing other than manual, physical labor; that he is unfit for the...skilled labor required by industry and the crafts....
Mexican-Americans have generously responded to their responsibility in the present world struggle for the victory of the democracies. They have unstintingly made the last sacrifice on a world-wide battle front in order that all peoples may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace. Equal economic opportunities, the right to work and earn a decent living on a par with all other persons regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry, is a basic principle of American democracy.
Source: Fair Employment Practices Act Hearings, Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. Senate, 79th Congress, 1st Session, March 12-14, 1945.
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