California History: A Topical Approach

By Gordon Morris Bakken | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Educational Housekeepers:
Female Reformers
and the California
Americanization Program,
1900–1927

Danelle Moon

Immigration long has been and remains a dominant issue in California. The large influx of new immigrants, primarily from Mexico, over the course of the last several decades combined with diminishing public resources, particularly in education and public assistance, has renewed political, legal, and social hostilities toward these new arrivals. The 1990s witnessed the revival of xenophobic anti-immigration sentiments with the enactment of Proposition 227, which abolished bilingual instruction in public schools, and Proposition 187, a host of measures designed to slow immigration by denying public assistance and education and health-care services to illegal aliens. Once enacted, both of these controversial laws faced a series of legal battles; 227 remains in effect, while 187 may well come before the U.S. Supreme Court.1

For students of California history, this conflicted issue is not a new one. During times of recession and unemployment, immigrants, who like all other residents consume resources, become easy targets for blame and racial hatred. The past holds numerous examples including the Chinese Exclusion Acts, racial covenants limiting housing and property ownership opportunities, segregation, labor strikes, and race riots. Yet, history can serve as a guidepost for the present if we can grasp its important lessons. By taking a step back in time, perhaps we can better understand, and hope to meet, today's economic, social, political, and legal challenges.

Between 1890 and 1920, the United States experienced cyclical economic downturns and massive immigration problems not unlike those we face today. These turbulent times saw the formation of “third” parties to challenge the political status quo and a wave of “progressive” reformism undertaken by politicians and private citizens alike. During what historians now refer to as the Progressive Era, a variety of different groups, sometimes singly, sometimes in alliance, set out to remedy the political and social ills of American society. In California, progressives shaped public opinion and played a central role in advancing educational reform through the

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