Chapter 6 : Revolutionary San Diego and Tijuana
4. What happened in San Diego's Mexican community during the Mexican Revolution?
Mexican Americans in San Diego were influenced by the increased numbers of immigrants crossing the border and by the fears of the Anglo-Americans about Mexican radical revolutionaries.
Throughout Southern California there was a growing need for Mexican laborers who were hired at low wages to work in construction, light industry, and agriculture. San Diego, experienced a boom in population and the construction of new homes. Mexican immigrants were hired at the National City railroad freight terminal and in the lumber yards and new home construction sites thought out the city. They were needed in the waterfront district to work in the California Iron Works, the San Diego Marine Construction Company, and the new tuna-packing sheds that were being built. Needing to be close to their work many Mexican families moved into Logan Heights, previously a middle class suburb. This was the origin of the present-day Barrio Logan.
Between 1900 and 1920 the Mexican origin population of the city rose from 638 to 4,028. Compared to todays population this seems like a minuscule group, but for the time, it represented a huge relative increase in the Chicano population.
There was a large floating or temporary population as well. Many came to San Diego by boat, since travelers by rail were in constant danger of being attacked by Mexican revolutionists. Southern Pacific Rail Road sent labor contractors (enganchistas) to Mexico and brought 500 Mexican workers at a time to San Diego by boat. These laborers were then sent to the Imperial Valley to work in Mexico constructing the Mexicali-Sonora line. The downtown area between Eighth and Thirteenth Streets had hotels, pool halls, and bars where these transitory workers spent their leisure time.
Those Mexcianos who settled down with families and jobs in San Diego developed a community life. One of the main institutions, formed by Mexicano immigrants throughout the Southwest during this time, was the mutualista. This was a mutual aid society, where members gave weekly contributions and in return had the right to receive benefits in case of death. The mutualista was also a social, patriotic, and cultural institution including the families of the workers. In San Diego the Unión Patriótica Benéficia Mexicana Independiente was one such mutualista. The families who were members sponsored periodic fiestas to celebrate Mexican cultural events, such as Cinco de Mayo and Día de la Revolution (November 20th). Other groups such as La Junta Patriotica Mexicana became binational in celebrating both American and Mexican holidays.
By 1930 the Mexican population of San Diego and Imperial Valley had grown due to the changes in the economy and the demand for workers. The construction of the San Diego and Arizona Railway opened up trade and travel between San Diego and the Imperial Valley, as well as with northern Baja California. Mexicano workers helped build this binational railroad and then continued to work its maintenance up to the 1950s. The railroad was a symbol of the interconnectedness of the people of the border, a fact that would become more and more important in the lives of average Mexican Americans.