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It has been a well-established fact that the long-lived dictatorship of General Porfirio Díaz (1876 — 1911) ushered in an era of significant Mexican immigration. During the Porfiriato, the Mexican government sponsored the influx of foreign capital and immigrants as an essential ingredient to its nation building strategy.

The Díaz Administration aggressively advertised Mexico as a land of unlimited opportunities for immigrants in the hope that the immigrants would play an important role in the building and modernizing of Mexico’s infrastructure. Because much of the Mexican north was underpopulated and far removed from its capital in Mexico City, it was also hoped that new residents would buffer the existing northern populations to protect that region from the annexation and economic control of the United States.

Foreign Language Speakers in the 1910 Census

The last census taken during the reign of Porfirio Díaz was the 1910 census. In that census, 56,691 persons were registered as speaking a foreign language, of which 42,457 were males (74.9%), suggesting that most foreigners probably came into the country without their wives. The primary foreign languages spoken in Mexico in 1910 are illustrated in the following table:

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German Speakers

Although there was a heavy concentration of German speakers in the Federal District, there were also 1,110 German speakers in the six northern states of Mexico, most likely providing expertise in mining or railroad operations.

While the largest number of English speakers lived in the Federal District (where Mexico City is located), they were also present in several northern states bordering the U.S., especially Chihuahua (3,686 individuals) and Sonora (3,325 individuals).

Chinese Speakers

Chinese speakers had a heavier concentration in the north, such as Sonora (4,446 individuals), Chihuahua (1,325 individuals) and Coahuila (1,145), but also had a strong presence in the Federal District (2,205 individuals). In total, 12,819 speakers of the Chinese language were male, representing an extraordinary 98.8% all Chinese speakers and likely evidence that many Chinese men probably left their wives and families behind to work in Mexico.

Like the Chinese, Japanese speakers tended to be concentrated in the northern states, like Sonora (573 individuals) and Chihuahua (205 speakers).

Other Languages

French speakers were scattered around the Mexican Republic. Some of them may have been elderly veterans from Maximilian’s army (from the 1860s) or the children of soldiers, such as the 485 individuals in Veracruz.

Of the 3,545 Arab speakers in Mexico, the largest number of them lived in the State of Yucatán (613 individuals or 17.3% of all Arab speakers).

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)

After President Díaz declared himself the winner of an eighth term in office in 1910, Francisco I. Madero and other opponents called for an armed rebellion against Díaz, leading to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution. After his Federal Army suffered several military defeats, Díaz resigned in May 1911 and went into exile in France, where he died four years later.

The Mexican Revolution radically transformed Mexican culture and government but also had a great cost. However, it is believed that as many as 1.5 million people died and nearly 200,000 refugees fled abroad (primarily to the U.S.). The total Mexican population in the 1910 census was 15,160,369. By 1921, the Mexican population had dropped to 14,334,780, representing 825,589 fewer people (5.4%) in eleven years.

Foreign Language Speakers in the 1921 Census

In spite of the Mexican Revolution, foreign language speakers increased between the 1910 census and the 1921 census. However, fewer European languages were spoken in 1921. As in the 1910 census, males made up the largest proportion of foreign language speakers (76.4%). The 1910 and 1921 censuses relating to speakers of foreign languages (extranjeros) are shown in the table on the following page:

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As noted in the preceding table, English speakers numbered 30,558 and represented 63.7% of all foreign language speakers and increased their numbers from 1910 by almost one-quarter.  Although the Chinese had begun experiencing great persecution by this time, Chinese language speakers represented 30.2% of all foreign language speakers and also saw an increase from 1910 (11.9%).

Germans in Mexico

According to the historian Professor Jürgen Buchenau, a small Germany community started in Mexico City in the 1820s with about fifty individuals. By 1939, this community had grown to 3,000 and included many merchant families.

President Álvaro Obregón Salido, who served in office from 1920 to 1924, invited a group of German-speaking Mennonites from Canada to settle in an isolated region of Chihuahua. By the late 1920s, almost 10,000 Mennonites had arrived in Chihuahua. However, the influx of the Mennonites may have been offset by the exit of German professionals during the earlier Mexican Revolution.

Chinese in Mexico

From 1895 to 1940, Sonora had more Chinese than any other Mexican state. However, as their population grew, the Chinese found themselves virtually defenseless in the face of the xenophobia that targeted them more than any other national group. Then, in 1931-32, both Sinaloa and Sonora expelled thousands of Chinese people and their Mexican families. In 1936, thousands of Chinese farmers were evicted from land in Baja California. The number of Chinese speakers in Mexico peaked at 19,973 in the 1940 census, but would drop to 5,262 by 1950.

Foreign Language Speakers in the 1950 Census

Between 1921 and 1950 the population of foreign language speakers more than doubled from 45,322 to 100,830. Fifty nine percent of the foreign language speakers were men, a strong contrast to the 1921 census when 76.4% of foreign language speakers were male. This trend seemed to indicate that more women were travelling to Mexico than in the past, perhaps with their spouses. The following table compares the foreign language speakers in the 1921 and 1950 censuses:

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Between 1921 and 1950, English speakers in Mexico had increased from 30,558 to 57,172, and men represented 57.1% of these people. By this time, English was spoken in many states, but the largest number of English-speaking individuals lived in Chihuahua, Baja California, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Distrito Federal.

By 1950, German had become the second-most spoken language in Mexico with 9,383 individuals, of which 54.5% were males, suggesting that more wives and daughters were probably living in German-speaking households. The largest populations of German speakers lived in the Federal District (3,520 or 37.5%) and Chihuahua (2,361 or 25.2%).

The third most spoken foreign language in Mexico in 1950 was French, spoken by 5,975 individuals. Three quarters of the French speakers (4,525) lived in the Federal District. The fourth most spoken foreign language was Chinese with only 5,262 individuals. By this time, the Chinese speaking population of Chihuahua had shrunk to 448 individuals, and largest number of Chinese speakers now lived in Baja California (1,163 individuals or 22.1%).

The fifth most spoken foreign language in Mexico was a new entry: Jidish (Yiddish). In 1950, 1,841 people spoke Yiddish in Mexico, and 73.7% of those individuals lived in Mexico’s Federal District (Mexico City). It is likely that many of the Yiddish speakers were World War II refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe.

Foreign Influences in Mexico

Throughout its post-colonial history, Mexico has gone through periods of welcoming immigrants with open arms but also closing the door on immigrants.  Many Mexican-Americans have traced their roots back to French soldiers that served under Emperor Maximilian (during the French invasion of 1862-1867). Historians like to point out that the Saint Patrick’s Battalion — consisting of Irish and other expatriates of European descent — fought as part of the Mexican Army against the United States in the Mexican–American War (1846-1848)

Two Mexican politicians, Jesús Porfirio González Schmal (born in Coahuila in 1942) and his brother Raul González Schmal (born in Chihuahua in 1940) are the grandsons of Fernando Schmal, a German immigrant from Berlin who came to Chihuahua in the early Twentieth Century to start a new life. In addition, from 2000 to 2006, the President of Mexico was Vicente Fox Quesada who was born in 1942 as the great-grandson of a German immigrant to the U.S., Louis Fuchs (the German word for Fox).

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, immigration from Europe to Mexico was small compared to the immigration of Europeans to the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. However, as Jürgen Buchenau has pointed out, “a quantitatively insignificant foreign immigration” to Mexico has had “an enormous impact in qualitative terms.”

Copyright © 2019, by John Schmal. All Rights Reserved.

Bibliography

Buchenau, Jürgen. “Small Numbers, Great Impact: Mexico and Its Immigrants, 1821-1973,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 20, No. 3, Migration and the Making of North America (Spring, 2001), pp. 23-49.

Change, Jason Oliver. Chino: Anti-Chinese Racism in Mexico: 1880-1940. University of Illinois Press, 2017.

Dambourges, Leo Jacques. The Anti-Chinese Campaigns in Sonora, Mexico, 1900-1931. PhD Dissertation, 1974.

Mexico Dirección General de Estadística. Tercer Censo de Población de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos 1910. Tabulados Básicos: Resumen General de Población, Según el Idioma o Lengua Hablado.

Mexico Dirección General de Estadística. Resumen del Censo General de Habitantes de 30 de Noviembre de 1921.

Mexico Dirección General de Estadística, Séptimo Censo General de Población 1950. Tabulados básicos: Poblacion Segun su Lengua Materna Extranjera.

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