Friday, March 14, 2008

(Chicana/o) History Matters

Image: Rodolfo Acuña©2008, Harry Gamboa Jr.

On the evening of March 11, R.F. Acuña lectured on his new book Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933. A timely monograph in relation to the current debate on immigration from Mexico, the argument of Corridors attests that since the 17th century Mexicans existed within a tierra natal (homeland), if you will, in the current US Southwest. Indeed, migrant Mexican families from Chihuahua and Sonora in northern Mexico hop scotched from one industrial region to another, and in the process recreated tierra natals in places such as Los Angeles and Arvin in the San Joaquin Valley and monikered their adopted communities Chihuahuitas after the state from which they came. In short, R.F. Acuña historically demonstrated that Mexicans of the past and present are anything but uninvited, immigrant aliens. In fact, their current presence is part of long tradition of labor recruitment and migration in what is today the United States.

As part of his W.P. Whitsett lecture at CSU Northridge, R.F. Acuña began his talk by crediting Carey McWilliams—the prodigious and prescient author of many books, one being North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States—and his longtime CSU Northridge colleague historian Leonard Pitt—author of the California history classic Decline of the California’s: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890—for modeling the intrinsic force of cogent writing. And during an academic craze for cultural studies and all that is post-modern, R.F. Acuña emphasized the historian’s importance in creating new narratives on the foundation of extant primary evidence. In this regard, he stated that he never read an endnote he didn’t love.

In the process of his story telling, R.F. Acuña integrated descriptions of his methodology, humor (that expressed an affinity for British historians with their catchy abbreviated names such as E.P. Thompson, E.J. Hobsbawm, and A.J.P. Taylor), and answering questions from a captivated audience of 100.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Salud Carbajal is No Santa Barbara Fantasy

Oxnard’s adopted native son, Salud Carbajal, will have an easy time in his reelection to the prodigiously affluent 1st District seat of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. The Santa Barbara Independent attributed Carbajal’s talent to politically fund raise over $395,000 by the January filling period coupled with an affable disposition as central reasons in staving off a challenge to his seat.

BTW: Salud is an Oxnard High School alum of the class of 1983 and my compadre. His determination to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara out of high school inspired many of his classmates (me included) to enroll in college preparatory courses in the ultimate pursuit of baccalaureate degrees. This is particularly significant when one considers that over 50% of our peers dropped out of school, some as early as the ninth grade.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Smithsonian Institution Bracero History Project Town Hall

Last Tuesday evening, on March 26, approximately 150 persons answered the call of the Smithsonian Institution, in partnership with California State University Channel Islands, to participate in the Bracero History Project that seeks to preserve the memories and artifacts of former braceros who worked the farm factories of the United States from 1942 to 1964. Indeed, daughters, sons, and grandchildren accompanied braceros to Oxnard’s cultural center of Chicana/o art and community, the Café on A, to document their narratives to the nation’s history. In all, forty braceros volunteered their names to CSUCI students to participate in this important oral history project.

The stories of former braceros, and those who lived and worked with them, are of particular significance today as national leaders of the United States and Mexico reference the Bracero Program as a template to formulate a comprehensive immigration reform policy. The shortcomings of the Bracero Program of the past must be given special attention, however, as to protect the interests of workers and their families on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Documented by Ernesto Galarza as early as the late 1940s and Cesar Chavez the following decade, endemic problems with the Bracero Program entailed braceros working under the continuous threat of deportation if they complained about working conditions, the depression of the existing wage rate of resident agricultural workers, and collusion between state and federal agencies with agricultural associations in the subsidized acquisition and control of braceros. In fact, Carey McWilliams characterized the government’s transfer of the supervision of the Bracero Program from the diligent Farm Security Administration to the War Food Administration in 1943 as “tantamount to turning the whole program over to the farm associations.” Furthermore, the industry's leaders steadily employed braceros in an expanding array of jobs displacing resident workers.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Bracero History Project, in partnership with students throughout the nation like those at California State University Channel Islands, will surely promote a more complete appreciation of this labor program.

For interesting images visit:
The one above is titled: Bracero workers being fumigated (with DDT)