- Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands by Timothy Paul Bowman
Within the last twenty years, scholars examining Chicanas/os in the U.S. Southwest have moved away from using the theory of internal colonialism; however, historian Tim Bowman contends that the theory is still relevant for the study of particular regional experiences in Texas. Bowman argues that it is through this lens that we can better understand the transformation of the Rio Grande Valley from the early twentieth century to the activism the region witnessed during the 1960s and 1970s. While readers must wait until the latter part of the book to read about Mexican-origin community activism, Bowman deserves credit for other things that his book does quite well. Blood Oranges makes a major contribution to the field as it disentangles the complexities of the racial thought of and racism by Euro Americans—read white—mainly newcomers from the American Midwest. Their racist outlook and practices were rooted, and further encouraged, by their participation as colonizers. In other words, it was white settlers' experiences rooted in colonialism that exacerbated feelings of racial superiority. These newcomers, in a short decade, became the founders of the Valley.
The citrus industry (grapefruits and oranges), alongside a productive cotton sector, served as the region's pride. By 1959, there were 5.5 million citrus trees in South Texas. Bowman points out that while cotton farms were larger in terms of productive acreage, by the eve of the Great Depression, those farmers who engaged in citriculture lived "more comfortably than their cotton-growing counterparts" (102). Yet the Great Depression drastically affected the entire Rio Grande Valley community regardless of a person's race, ethnicity, or class. However, Mexican Americans engaged in stoop labor experienced the worst results of the economic downfall. For the small farmers involved in citrus production, the Depression shaped their financial future in profound ways. For example, large corporate growers survived and thrived while many people of lower-economic status struggled, including small farmers. This narrative is an important chapter in Texas and American history because the citrus-Mexican labor complex was in many ways a model replicated in other parts of the country. Through meticulous research conducted in regional and state archives, Bowman illustrates that the labor from children, women, and men allowed growers to build a powerful citrus industry and live comfortable lifestyles. Citrus growers' plantation-style mansions stood in stark contrast to the severely impoverished colonias and barrios where workers resided, creating "many Valleys," the author contends.
Bowman asserts that Mexican American activism—whether in the [End Page 353] fields, bodegas, schools, or in formal politics—led to a strong feeling for and attachment to the idea of a Chicano homeland in the 1960s–70s. Thus, the South Texas Civil Rights Movement was a reclaiming of a Chicano homeland that school-sanctioned histories of the region had long ignored. It became extremely difficult for Mexican workers to organize because the powerful Texas Citrus Association had the support of the state and its agents. The Texas Rangers, an organization that had instilled fear in and perpetrated violence on communities of color, served as quasi-company guards that kept Mexican labor in check for major growers. Ultimately, droughts, freezes, and a new political economy run by large agri-business, not Mexican American activism, weakened the citrus industry. However, one thing remained clear: the reclaiming of a Mexican, Chicano homeland and its history had begun. In short, Blood Oranges is a welcome addition to studies on Texas, the borderlands, labor, and U.S. agriculture because it weaves together the history of some of the region's most powerful citrus growers with the often-forgotten history of the Mexican-origin workers and their quest to improve their socioeconomic status.