- The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl by Sarah D. Wald
Blending literary history and environmental cultural scholarship, Sarah D. Wald's The Nature of California examines an extraordinarily broad range of literary and artistic works focused on California's multiethnic agricultural experiences from the Great Depression to the twenty-first century (1929–2014). Wald's interdisciplinary study provides a fascinating examination of the interconnectedness among representations of citizenship (national belonging), race (whiteness and racial otherness), and the environment (land ownership and agricultural labor).
Wald returns to Thomas Jefferson's "Query XIX" in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) and J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer (1782) to identify two dominant discourses about American national belonging. Jefferson imagined American citizenship as belonging to the farmer (white, male, free, and landowning). This citizen farmer, however, is constructed through the negation of its racial other—the African slave. Crèvecoeur imagined American national belonging through the language of nature—European immigrants as plants to be "replanted" in the United States, a process of "naturalization" resulting in a "new race of man" (8). Wald deftly explores how California's literature and art have focused on agricultural experiences that reinforce, contest, or reimagine the racialized and gendered discourses of national belonging articulated by Jeffersonian agrarianism and Crèvecoeur's "politics of the natural."
Wald examines representations of Dust Bowl migrant workers in various texts of the Great Depression—Carey McWilliams's Factories in the Field (1939), Ruth Comfort Mitchell's Of Human Kindness (1940), John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and Sanora Babb's Whose Names Are Unknown (written in 1939 and published in 2004). These texts dramatize the displacement of landless Dust Bowl migrants as "a crisis of white citizenship" (74). In response to this crisis, McWilliams, Mitchell, and Steinbeck reinforce white land ownership (Jeffersonian agrarianism) at the expense of racialized [End Page 350] others—Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipinos, and Mexican Americans. Babb, however, dramatizes the ability of Dust Bowl migrants to form solidarity with working-class African American and Filipino characters, thereby denaturalizing the racial hierarchy inherent in Jeffersonian agrarianism.
Hiroshi Nakamura's posthumously published Treadmill (1996), a novel about Japanese American internment written during internment, functions as a critique of Jeffersonian racial scripts in representing Japanese American life. Treadmill envisions antiracist activism and international solidarity between oppressed peoples as keys to addressing the crisis of racism and citizenship within the United States. Read in relation to the Catholic Worker movement, Hisaye Yamamoto's short stories—"Seventeen Syllables" (1949) and "Yoneko's Earthquake" (1951)—reveal how interracial working-class solidarity is central to denaturalizing race, citizenship, and patriarchy.
Representations of Filipinos and Mexicans laboring as abject aliens are examined in works by Carlos Bulosan and Ernesto Galarza. Wald reads the American landscape in Bulosan's America Is in the Heart (1946) within the context of his anticolonial literary imagination—his "desire for democracy and land in the Philippines" (144). Ernesto Galarza's Strangers in Our Fields (1956) critiques the Bracero Program as a process of denationalization. For Bulosan and Galarza interracial working-class solidarity is key to addressing the exploitation and denationalization of Filipinos and Mexicans as a colonized labor force. Wald reminds us that working-class solidarity between Filipinos and Mexicans launched the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s.
Wald examines the cultural texts of the UFW (the work of El Teatro Campesino and images from the UFW newspaper El Malcriado) within the context of 1960s and 1970s environmentalism in a way that historicizes and engages contradictions within the contemporary alternative food movement. While a consumer-focused approach privileges twenty-first-century notions of neoliberal citizenship (individual consumption), a worker-focused approach provides a systemic understanding of health and wellness within society. The latter approach is central to Helena María Viramontes's Under the Feet of Jesus (1995) and the cultural production of artists [End Page 351] involved in the contemporary migrant...