restricted access 5. Bittersweet Memories: Oral History, Mexican Americans, and the Power of Place - José M. Alamillo
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82 5 Bittersweet Memories Oral History, Mexican Americans, and the Power of Place josé m. alamillo Historian José Alamillo uses oral history to better understand the experiences of Mexican Americans in the lemon groves of southern California. Through interviews, he learned that in spite of the constraints of living and working in a single agricultural industry town, Mexican immigrant workers used leisure and cultural activities to build community solidarity and forge relations with employers, city officials, and Anglo residents to achieve greater political power. He also learned that leisure activities were highly gendered. Oral history allows these Mexican Americans to focus on what is most important in their lives rather than what the historian planned to research. on april 20, 1998, I arrived at the home of Natividad “Tito” Cortez , prepared to interview him about his working experiences in Corona’s citrus industry. Before we began, he wanted to show me his old scrapbook. His scrapbook included photographs and newspaper clippings of his baseball career. Cortez began pitching for a company baseball team, the Foothill Lemoneers, then for a city amateur team, Corona Athletics, and later for the Tucson Cowboys , a farm team of the Cleveland Indians. One sports news head- Bittersweet Memories 83 line declared him “Tucson’s No. 1 pitcher” because of his reliable curveball and effective relief pitching. His promising career was cut short, however, when he was accidently hit in the left eye with a ball. As he reflected on his short-lived professional baseball career, I noticed his trophies and framed pictures carefully placed around his living room. Despite the unfortunate incident, Cortez continued to talk about his athletic achievements and his love for baseball. Why was he more interested in discussing baseball rather than agricultural work? According to Cortez, “Baseball was the only recreation we had since there was no television. We worked hard every day of the week except Sunday when we could relax and play baseball.”1 Baseball was a main form of recreation for Mexican American men in the citrus town of Corona. For Mexican American women who worked inside the citrus packing houses, their leisure experiences were more limited. They looked forward to church-related events and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. On May 5, they participated in the parade, staffed the food booths, and attended the street dances. If they sold enough tickets, they could earn the Cinco de Mayo Queen title. This was one of the few times that parents allowed young girls to attend a dance without a chaperone. Aurora Delgado, former queen candidate, admitted, “I could use [the queen contest] as an excuse to get out of the house. I’d rather sell tickets than do housework.”2 To win the title, each candidate had to sell five-cent raffle tickets at the street dance. When I visited the home of Gloria Granado, she was excited to show me her photographs of her coronation as the Cinco de Mayo Queen of 1945. She admitted that as young, shy girl, being a queen candidate forced her “come out of her shell” by meeting new people and gaining more confidence.3 Like Cortez’s pride in his athletic achievements, Granado’s pride in her crown resonated years later. Oral histories of Mexican Americans convinced me that I needed to expand my research beyond the workplace and explore different forms of leisure and cultural activities that gave their lives meaning. In this chapter I examine how oral history transformed my original focus on labor history toward greater emphasis on leisure and gender . Many of these memories were rooted in physical spaces and places in town where they created a sense of community. These spaces were not the same for men and women, however, but repro- 84 josÉ m. alamillo duced existing gender inequalities. Oral histories produced invaluable new information not found in company archives and newspapers about the Mexican American experience in this southern California town. Oral history interviews conducted in the city of Corona, California, between 1996 and 1999 forced me to reconsider the original focus of my dissertation and later incorporated these changes in my book, Making Lemonade out of Lemons.4 Additionally , visiting the places of leisure (bakery, veteran legion hall, baseball diamond, park, and recreation center) was important for my informants’ recollections. Their physical presence in these places triggered new memories and unexpected emotions that made me more reflective about contextualizing and interpreting oral history narratives. The Circle City When I first visited Corona in 1996...


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Subject Headings

  • West (U.S.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • West (U.S.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Interviews -- West (U.S.).
  • Oral history -- West (U.S.).
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