DEFINING THE WHITE CITIZEN-WORKER
As the Great Depression descended on south-central Arizona in June 1930, the Arizona State Federation of Labor (ASFL) called for new restrictions on Mexican immigration to protect “white citizen-workers of Arizona and other Southwestern states.”1 Such explicitly racial calls for shutting the border were nothing new, dating back to the early part of the century. Arizona's trade unions had long conflated national identity with race, using white and American citizen interchangeably. From the time Arizona became a state, many native Anglo, Irish, and Cornish Americans fought to restrict full citizenship rights to white Americans and English speakers. They lobbied for the 1909 English Literacy Law and the 1914 Alien Labor Law in order to protect the boundaries of the white citizen-worker and to ensure their own inclusion within those boundaries.
Still, the definition of white citizen-worker remained permeable as employers, politicians, Mexican nationals, Mexican Americans, European immigrants, and Anglos negotiated and struggled over the cultural and racial meaning of citizenship. In the years leading up to World War I, Italian, Spanish, and Slavic immigrants fought to ensure that they would be counted as industrious white citizens. They did so, in part, by joining Euro-Americans in fighting to define Mexican immigrants—and not themselves—as nonwhite aliens. However, when ethnic Mexican workers actively challenged their own subordinate status by organizing and striking, European immigrants and Euro-Americans were forced to reassess their own racial exclusionism.2
The boundaries of whiteness remained somewhat permeable, although less so, into the 1930s. The Depression amplified fear that Mexican work-