Past presence 

New light will be shed on a sorrowful piece of Detroit history Sunday when the documentary film Repatriados: Exiles From the Promised Land debuts.

Community activist Elena Herrada, who learned of the events that inspired the film from her immigrant grandfather and directed the project that resulted in the documentary, offers this synopsis:

“The Mexican community arrived in Detroit during the early 1920s to work at Ford Motor Company, as well as on the railroads and other related industries. The community thrived, built businesses, built Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, started organizations. Most planned to stay here in Detroit, far from economically ravaged and inarable Mexico. Thousands of children were born to the newcomers, first-generation Americans who could translate for their Spanish-speaking parents. Like so many other immigrant groups, Mexicans came to seize the opportunities provided by the automotive industries. The promise of $5 a day lured thousands to seek a better life.

“Then the Depression hit and the newcomers were invited to leave. The welfare department carried out a massive repatriation program in cooperation with the U.S. and Mexican governments. By the time it was over, the community was decimated. … The program started out as a voluntary return to Mexico, later to turn into a full-scale witch-hunt and deportation which targeted the unsuspecting Mexican community. Thousands [eventually] returned to Detroit, a place they had come to know as home. When they returned they did not talk about it, even to their own children, many of whom had made the difficult journey.”

The July 29 premiere, which is being presented as part of the Detroit 300 celebration, will take place at 2 p.m. at Saint Anne’s Hall, 1000 St. Anne, in Detroit. For more information call Herrada at 313-961-1042 or e-mail her at

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, the Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail

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