Chapter 7: La Lucha: The Beginnings of the Struggle, 1920-1930s

Key Questions

  1. What were the Imperial Valley Strikes?
  2. What was the Lemon Grove School Desegregation Case all about?
  3. What was the Neighborhood House?
  4. When were the first Mexican American murals painted?
  5. What happened during the repatriation of Mexicans from San Diego?


During the period 1920-1930 Mexicano immigrants in San Diego and Imperial Counties contributed the sweat of their brow, their blood, and life spirit to building the economic infrastructure of a modern society.

Infrastructure Built with Mexicano and Chicano laborers

  • Construction of San Diego and Arizona Railroad
  • Agricultural ranches and irrigation canals in the Imperial Valley
  • The trolley car system
  • New housing developments in eastern San Diego
  • The growth of the fish canning industry


The challenge of the new immigrants was to first survive economically, given the low wages and hard living conditions. Segregated in Mexican colonias and barrios they relied on their families, compadres, and neighbors to make it from day to day. They experienced racism, discrimination, and hostility from teachers, employers, and officials. Sometimes they benefited from the sympathetic efforts of groups like those working with the Neighborhood House. But ultimately they were expected to give up their language and customs to become Americans in order to receive the basic rights entitled to all residents regardless of citizenship status, skin color, or language.


Mexicanos not only endured but they also organized to improve their children's lives, during the labor strikes in the Imperial Valley and in the Lemon Grove struggle. These actions were the beginnings of Chicano activism in San Diego and Imperial Valley. Later generations would draw from these traditions in community and labor organizing.


The depression of the 1930s increased the hardships they had to endure and resulted in a campaign to repatriate Mexican immigrants and their children back to Mexico. The Mexicano community declined in these years but those that remained or returned during World War II continued to struggle for a justice and equality. Unfortunately it would take the cataclysm of the World War to truly begin to change these conditions.