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Farmworkers, the National Land for People and the Westlands

Dr. Mario Sifuentez is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Merced. He received his BA, as well as his MA, from the University of Oregon in Ethnic Studies, and History. He completed his Ph.D. at Brown University in American Studies with a focus on immigration and labor. His book Of Forests and Fields: Mexican Labor in the Pacific Northwest (Rutgers University Press, 2016) analyzes the factors that brought ethnic Mexican immigrants to the Pacific Northwest and the ways in which immigrants responded to the labor conditions by demanding both labor rights and citizenship rights. It was named a CHOICE “Outstanding Academic Title.” He is currently at work on his second project on water, food, and farmworkers in the California’s Central Valley.

Abstract

Despite claims that water provides jobs for farm workers there is little evidence to suggest that when growers get their allotment of water that improving conditions for farm workers followed. On the contrary, farm worker communities continued to suffer even while Central Valley growers expanded their acreage and amassed record profits all while receiving federally subsidized water. Farm workers resisted these exploitative practices in the 60s and 70s not through unionization (the UFW showed little interest in the efforts) but through efforts to enforce federal reclamation law and the 160-acre limitation. In addition to those efforts farm workers also challenged their conditions through cooperative sustainable farming. Nevertheless, the voices of farm worker communities have been absent from these discussions. Through these and other means farm workers struggled to create their own narratives of water rights and water use.

Sponsors

UCHRI Humanities Centers Collaborative Grant: UC Junior Faculty Lecture Series, UCR Center for Ideas and Society, Department of History, Latin American Studies Program, and Labor Studies