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Farm Workers and the Churches

The Movement in California and Texas

By Alan J. Watt

Publication Year: 2010

In the mid-1960s, the charismatic César Chávez led members of California's La Causa movement in boycotting the grape harvest, and melon pickers in South Texas called a strike against growers, contesting unfair labor and wage practices in both states. In Farm Workers and the Churches, Alan J. Watt shows how the religious and social contexts of the farm workers, their leaders, and the larger society helped or hindered these two pivotal actions. Watt explores the ways in which liberal expressions of Northern Protestantism, transplanted to California and combined with the pro-labor wing of the Catholic Church and the heritage of Mexican popular piety, provided a fertile field for the growth of broad support for Chávez and his organizing efforts. Eventually, La Causa was able to achieve collective bargaining victories, including a historic labor contract between California agribusiness and farm workers. The movement did not fare as well in Texas, where the combination of a locally weak union leadership, a more conservative Southern Protestant ethos, and the strikebreaking measures of the Texas Rangers all boded ill. However, a general Chicano/a movement ultimately took permanent root in the state, because of the workers' struggle. Watt offers a careful examination of the complex interactions among religious traditions, social heritage, and ethnicity as these factors affected the course and outcomes of these two pioneering campaigns undertaken by La Causa.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Fronteras Series, sponsored by Texas A&M International University


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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This work was successfully completed due to many persons who helped me at various stages. My thanks to Mary Lenn Dixon and others at the Texas A&M University Press for many editorial labors and to Dawn Hall for copyediting. Thanks, too, to my academic mentors at Vanderbilt University, namely, John Fitzmier, Dale Johnson, the late Howard Harrod...

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

On 1 April 1994, nearly 750 people assembled in the vineyards of Delano, California, about thirty miles north of Bakersfield. Before beginning a 330-mile march to the state capital in Sacramento, they celebrated a morning mass. During this service of worship, farm workers laid offerings on an altar adorned by a statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe, patroness saint...

Part 1: California

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Chapter 2. The Church, Home Missions, and Farm Labor in California, 1920-40

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pp. 17-47

In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 Mexico ceded most of the present-day states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California to the United States, officially opening California to further Anglo-American immigration. The following year miners discovered gold near Sacramento, and one of the greatest mixtures of humanity in world history...

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Chapter 3. From Service to Advocacy, 1940-64

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pp. 48-66

As a result of World War II, a number of Mexican Americans realized significant economic gains in the 1940s and 1950s. The enrollment of minorities in the armed forces helped to weaken racial obstacles and open up new opportunities for them. A few Mexican Americans also took advantage of the G.I. Bill and attended college. Others worked as civil employees...

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Chapter 4. Religion and La Causa in California, 1962-70

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pp. 67-106

Several factors led to the 1970 contract between the United Farm Workers and the table grape growers of California. Chief among them was the growing self-awareness of Mexican Americans as a political force. President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty stimulated some of this awakening. Newly established government programs, many of which aggressively...

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pp. 107-112

Part 2: Texas

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Chapter 5. Churches, Mexicans, and Farm Labor in Texas, 1930-60

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pp. 115-136

Unlike California, Texas did not suddenly become populated by men seeking fortunes in gold. Nor did large groups of midwesterners pour into Texas in response to real-estate promotions. Instead, the Lone Star State received a steady stream of immigrants over the course of an entire century. Small Anglo-American colonies were first established in the 1820s...

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Chapter 6. The Church and the Farm Worker Movement in South Texas, 1966-69

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pp. 137-162

As in California, the lives of some Mexican Americans in Texas improved in the 1940s and 1950s. A number of them found work at the state's military bases and in manufacturing. Although often employed in unskilled jobs, they at least escaped dependence on part-time and exploitative farm labor. On the political front, the League of United Latin American...

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pp. 163-167

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Chapter 7. Conclusion

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pp. 168-171

This work has explored the roles played by and the interactions among several Christian traditions in the farm worker movement, culminating in events of the 1960s. In seeking to shed greater light on religious beliefs and practices in the context of this phenomenon, I have employed the interpretive lens of the (now Old) New Western History. This lens was...


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pp. 173-221


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pp. 223-242


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pp. 243-252

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443395
E-ISBN-10: 1603443398
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603441742
Print-ISBN-10: 1603441743

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Fronteras Series, sponsored by Texas A&M International University
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OCLC Number: 715188350
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Farm Workers and the Churches

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Subject Headings

  • California -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Texas -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Chavez, Cesar, 1927-1993.
  • Church work with migrant labor -- California -- History -- 20th century.
  • Church work with migrant labor -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Solidarity -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Church and social problems -- California -- History -- 20th century.
  • National Farm Workers Association -- History.
  • Mexican American migrant agricultural laborers -- California -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexican American migrant agricultural laborers -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • United Farm Workers -- History.
  • United Farm Workers Organizing Committee -- History.
  • Church and social problems -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
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