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Daughters and Granddaughters of Farmworkers

Emerging from the Long Shadow of Farm Labor

Barbara Wells

Publication Year: 2013

In Daughters and Granddaughters of Farmworkers, Barbara Wells examines the work and family lives of Mexican American women in a community near the U.S.-Mexican border in California’s Imperial County. Decades earlier, their Mexican parents and grandparents had made the momentous decision to migrate to the United States as farmworkers. This book explores how that decision has worked out for these second- and third-generation Mexican Americans.Wells provides stories of the struggles, triumphs, and everyday experiences of these women. She analyzes their narratives on a broad canvas that includes the social structures that create the barriers, constraints, and opportunities that have shaped their lives. The women have constructed far more settled lives than the immigrant generation that followed the crops, but many struggle to provide adequately for their families.These women aspire to achieve the middle-class lives of the American Dream. But upward mobility is an elusive goal. The realities of life in a rural, agricultural border community strictly limit social mobility for these descendants of immigrant farm laborers. Reliance on family networks is a vital strategy for meeting the economic challenges they encounter. Wells illustrates clearly the ways in which the “long shadow” of farm work continues to permeate the lives and prospects of these women and their families.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Families in Focus

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

As an Anglo graduate student in sociology, I was honored and privileged to work with a leading Latina family sociologist, Maxine Baca Zinn. I learned from her that to be a successful scholar, one must ask the right questions and be committed to the virtue of hard work. In working with Maxine, I became convinced...

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pp. 1-18

Rosa Navarra is a thirty-eight- year- old mother of two who grew up in a farmworker household. Rosa has reason to celebrate. She has achieved her long-term goals of completing an associate’s degree and getting a good job in border security. She hopes her sons will find an easier path than hers to financial stability...

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1. The Structure of Agriculture and the Organization of Farm Labor

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pp. 19-28

The work and family experience of the Imperial County women cannot be understood without taking into account their farmworker origins. An essential thread woven into the interviews was the centrality of farm work to the women’s lives. Family immigration stories were framed in terms of farm labor. Two-thirds...

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2. Farmworker Origins

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pp. 29-45

A farmworker past is a deeply held aspect of the identity of the women who participated in this research. For most, the past is very much present in their lives. This chapter considers the family stories and prior experiences that have shaped the sense of who these women are and where they came from, as well as their...

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3. Life in a Border Community

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pp. 46-66

The questions I asked about work and family frequently brought my research participants to talk about the border. The economic struggles experienced by most presented real challenges to supporting their families adequately. Many attributed the difficulty of finding stable jobs at decent wages to the community’s...

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4. Negotiating Work and Family

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pp. 67-93

Negotiating work and family is a central concern for most women with children in U.S. society. Women are increasingly mothers and workers. How do the mothers in this study experience their work and family roles and responsibilities? Having explored the personal context—farmworker origins—and the community...

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5. The Legacy of Farm Labor

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pp. 94-111

The Imperial County farmworkers’ daughters and granddaughters want to leave farm work behind. For them, the essence of upward mobility is exiting farm labor and all that it means. But they live in a place where upward mobility is difficult. While they ultimately want more than merely moving...

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6. Surviving Now and Building a Better Life for Later

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pp. 112-137

This chapter considers the microlevel strategies used by the families represented in this research as they respond to macrolevel constraints and strive to achieve personal and family goals. The chapter has two major concerns. The first is to examine how these daughters and granddaughters of farmworkers (and their...

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7. Why Do They Stay?

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pp. 138-152

The conventional wisdom is that farm labor provides Mexican immigrants their entree into the United States, but that the children of immigrants quickly see that the way forward for them is to leave rural areas and migrate to cities where employment opportunities are better. The fact that Mexican Americans are predominantly...

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pp. 153-164

The women I interviewed sometimes wondered why in the world I had chosen to come to do research in Brawley, California, and what could possibly explain my interest in interviewing them. Brawley was personally significant to them because they had grown up there or they had family in the area, but they did not...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 165-168

The general goals of qualitative research are to gain a comprehensive overview of the research setting and to come to understand how people explain and manage their everyday activities (Greenstein 2001). My overarching goal in this research was to understand how Mexican American women made sense of their work and...


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pp. 169-180


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pp. 181-192


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pp. 193-204

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813562865
E-ISBN-10: 0813562864
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813562858

Page Count: 220
Illustrations: 10 photographs, 1 map, 1 table
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Families in Focus
Series Editor Byline: Anita Ilta Garey, Naomi R. Gerstel, Karen V. Hansen, Rosanna Hertz, Margaret K. Nelson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 871258288
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Daughters and Granddaughters of Farmworkers

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican American women agricultural laborers -- California.
  • Mexican American women -- Social life and customs.
  • Mexican American women -- Social conditions -- California.
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