Back to top

They Came to Toil

They Came to Toil
Newspaper Representations of Mexicans and Immigrants in the Great Depression

Recounting a forgotten episode in the Long Civil Rights Movement, this book analyzes how news reporting of forced deportations of Mexicans in the 1930s created representations of Mexican Americans that endure today.

February 2018
264 pages | 6 x 9 | 10 b&w photos, 2 b&w charts/graphs, 1 b&w table | Hardcover has a printed case, no dust jacket |

As the Great Depression gripped the United States in the early 1930s, the Hoover administration sought to preserve jobs for Anglo-Americans by targeting Mexicans, including long-time residents and even US citizens, for deportation. Mexicans comprised more than 46 percent of all people deported between 1930 and 1939, despite being only 1 percent of the US population. In all, about half a million people of Mexican descent were deported to Mexico, a “homeland” many of them had never seen, or returned voluntarily in fear of deportation.

They Came to Toil investigates how the news reporting of this episode in immigration history created frames for representing Mexicans and immigrants that persist to the present. Melita M. Garza sets the story in San Antonio, a city central to the formation of Mexican American identity, and contrasts how the city’s three daily newspapers covered the forced deportations of Mexicans. She shows that the Spanish-language La Prensa not surprisingly provided the fullest and most sympathetic coverage of immigration issues, while the locally owned San Antonio Express and the Hearst chain-owned San Antonio Light varied between supporting Mexican labor and demonizing it. Garza analyzes how these media narratives, particularly in the English-language press, contributed to the racial “othering” of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Adding an important new chapter to the history of the Long Civil Rights Movement, They Came to Toil brings needed historical context to immigration issues that dominate today’s headlines.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. The Crisis: They Came to Toil . . . but They Could Not Stay
  • 1. 1929: To Pave a Way through Hostile and Barren Lands
  • 2. 1930: A Thousand Times Better Off with Mexican Labor
  • 3. 1931: The Tragedy of the Repatriated
  • 4. 1932–1933: A New Deal for American Pioneers
  • 5. Conclusion and Epilogue
  • Appendix
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Fort Worth, Texas

A media historian and journalist, Garza is a Pulitzer Prize nominee who has received awards from the Chicago Headline Club and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. A former staff writer for Bloomberg news, the Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal, and Los Angeles Times, she is currently an assistant professor of journalism at Texas Christian University’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication.


“Timely...the culmination of years of research on representations of Latino Americans in Texas.”
American Journalism

“[A] captivating study…They Came to Toil painstakingly demonstrates the role of the press in creating depictions of communities and thus shaping public memory.”
Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“[Garza's] book is accessible, devoid of jargon, expertly organized, and amply sourced. The photographs are a powerful visual representation of repatriation.”
Journal of American History

“A well-researched microstudy that has as much to offer to students of history as it does to students of linguistics and journalism.”
Journal of Arizona History

“Garza unpacks the particularities of news framings, successfully connecting historical events with contemporary borderlands politics.”
Western Historical Quarterly

“An illuminating study of how media shapes American identity.”
Pacific Historical Review

“Garza's insightful and detailed analysis deconstructs and reveals several important angles of newspaper media representations of people of color and marginalized communities…They Came to Toil is an important contribution to Mexican-American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Media and Journalism Studies disciplines.”
Communication Booknotes Quarterly

“A wonderful book. While this is not the first study of La Prensa’s regional and national significance, Garza offers a beautiful portrait of how, more than any other newspaper at the time, it documented the experiences of peoples of Mexican descent in the United States. I found this book quite readable and compelling.”
Laura Hernández-Ehrisman, St. Edwards University, author of Inventing the Fiesta City: Heritage and Carnival in San Antonio