- Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement by Lori A. Flores
By Lori A. Flores. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. 304pp. isbn 978-0300196962
Eating fresh, local, and organic produce remains a top priority for people in today’s society, yet what might escape individuals’ minds is the labor that goes into the harvesting and production of fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States. In Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, Lori A. Flores reminds readers of the hardships fieldworkers have faced and continue to face in order for consumers to enjoy a fresh salad. Flores focuses on the Salinas Valley on California’s central coast—popularly known as “Steinbeck Country” for John Steinbeck, a native of Salinas and author of Tortilla Flats, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath—a region long “praised as a center of national food production and called the ‘Salad Bowl of the World’” (2). But the Salinas Valley also has a long history of farmworker mistreatment and anti-union suppression by California growers. Therefore, Grounds for Dreaming presents “A turbulent history of worker exploitation, racial segregation and discrimination, violence, and transnational suffering” (3).
Flores examines the history of Mexican Americans, braceros, and undocumented Mexican immigrants within the Salinas Valley agricultural fields, and the tensions that arose between these three groups. The Bracero Program, a bilateral agreement between Mexico and the U.S., instituted as a temporary guest worker program during World War II to alleviate the labor shortages experienced during the war, brought millions of Mexican men to work under labor contracts throughout the U.S., including the Salinas Valley. The program ran from 1942 to 1964, but Flores shows that California growers continued to hire braceros as late as 1968, thereby adding to ongoing tensions between Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals. According to Flores, some Mexican Americans blamed Mexican nationals “for stealing jobs, impeding union organization, and exacerbating the public perceptions of all Mexican-origin people as foreign, undesirable, and criminal” (5). Tensions between what Flores calls the “Mexican American-bracero-‘wetback’ triad” and the efforts to end the Bracero Program, constitute the bulk of chapters two, three, and five.
Arranged in chronological order, Chapter One explores race-making in California following the Mexican-American War and the Gold Rush. Furthermore, Flores shows the racialization of Asian and Mexican workers in the Salinas Valley, both groups seen as “naturally suited” for the stoop labor of the fields. The chapter also discusses the strikes conducted in the 1930s by Okies and Filipino agricultural workers, provoking a violent response by the growers and law enforcement. The violent response and anti-union sentiments of the growers during the 1930s would be seen again in the 1970s when Mexican-origin workers tried to unionize agricultural workers in Salinas. Chapter Two focuses on the World War II years and the conflicts that arose, not just between whites and Mexican Americans, but also between Mexican Americans and braceros. Chapter Three explores the “wetback era” of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the sentiment of betrayal that Mexican American agricultural workers felt towards the state of California, “which created the Bracero Program and [the] immigration system that did not protect them as worker-citizens, but instead served at the pleasure of agribusiness” (8). Chapter Four analyzes the formation and lifespan of the Community Service Organization (CSO) in Salinas in 1954. The CSO was founded by a group of friends who mobilized a fight for a fair trial for a Mexican American youth accused of murdering an Italian peer. Flores examines the successes and failures of the CSO in Salinas and maintains that the CSO dissolved in the 1960s because it failed to create interracial alliances that involved the larger Mexican-origin community and because it did not want to risk “its cultivated image of respectability” (9).
Chapter Five examines the death of more than two-dozen braceros at Chualar in 1963 after a train struck a bus transporting braceros...