A New Home in Michigan The Mexican-American Experience in Muskegon
by Daniel J. Yakes Ph.D. and Connie Navarro
This book started as an oral history project conducted in 2007 and 2008 that was intended to document the relocations of the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who lived in or near the Ryerson Heights Housing Project during World War II and the years immediately following. They knew it as La Colonia, their little colony, located in a strange, new place called Muskegon, Michigan. The interviews revealed the poignancy of real people trying to achieve the American dream in a hard-edge industrial town.
During the years since those interviews were conducted, the scope and design of the project have been greatly expanded. We are now attempting to tell the story of the Mexican and Mexican-American people in the Muskegon area from the early twentieth century until the present.
In the spring of 2010 a few of the original group of interviewees gathered together in one of the parlors at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Muskegon to talk about old times. They were all compadres, having known one another since they lived together at La Colonia nearly seventy years earlier.
The group that gathered together that morning had seen a great deal of change over the previous sixty years.
They remembered back to the days when their families had made their livings as migrant workers, eking out an existence hoeing onions and picking cherries and blueberries in the fields and orchards of Western Michigan.
Their families came to Muskegon from Texas at the onset of World War II, when Muskegon was one of many Arsenals of Democracy, and the local factories and foundries were gearing up for World War II. They were children at the time, but their fathers and older siblings worked in the foundries and factories and made good lives for their families. They appreciated the better wages and working conditions in the factories and foundries during the War years and the years that followed, and were glad that their parents had had the foresight to come to Michigan in the first place. But they also remembered that their fathers and older brothers had worked long hours at some of the hardest, dirtiest jobs available.
Now they were all retired and living comfortable lives, but they looked forward to a bright future for their children and grandchildren who were making lives for themselves in their New Home in Michigan.
Daniel J. Yakes, Ph.D