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Reviewed by:
  • Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement by Lori A. Flores
  • Mary E. Mendoza (bio)
Lori A. Flores. Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016. 304 pp. Cloth, $45.00.

Environmental historians and scholars of environmental studies more broadly will benefit from reading Lori A. Flores’s Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement. Although not explicitly pitched as environmental history, Flores’s work demonstrates the ways in which agricultural workscapes and rural landscapes—specifically that of the Salinas Valley in California—have profoundly influenced relationships within and between racial groups. The book skillfully shows how Latinos “negotiated their relationships with other racial groups—and with each other” and how “an agriculture-centered context [End Page 168] simultaneously produced racial meeting grounds and battlegrounds” (40). As workers literally transformed the grounds of the Salinas Valley into a highly productive agricultural empire, they also faced incredible obstacles as they worked to improve their lives. By studying racial tension and formation in the Salinas Valley, Flores shifts the focus from urban-centered studies of Mexican American politicization to one that illuminates how rural environments and their cultivation had, perhaps, even more profound effects on how people of Mexican descent understood each other and how they were (and continue to be) understood by others.

Flores’s book begins with an examination of how people of Mexican descent working in the fields related to a diverse body of laborers in the region. Early on, “Okie” and Filipino labor fought discriminatory working practices by organizing, but those efforts quickly broke down as first Chinese and then Japanese labor moved in to replace them. After Asian exclusion laws, Mexican labor quickly replaced Asian labor as the agricultural workforce. All these groups, though, found themselves working in less-than-desirable environments, rendering their bodies vulnerable to disease, exhaustion, and injury. By the 1940s, Flores argues, union busting in the early twentieth century prevented people of Mexican origin from organizing, even as they found themselves to be the “new agricultural proletariat” (6). From there, Flores recounts how the bracero program—a bilateral agreement between Mexico and the United States that brought Mexican labor to the United States from 1942 to 1964—dramatically shaped intraethnic relations between people of Mexican descent. Because the program was limited to young, healthy, landless men, not all people who applied to be in the program qualified; and as many other scholars have noted, the program ultimately created two streams of migrants: those who qualified for the program and came as braceros and those who did not qualify or who chose to migrate into the United States without documentation. These streams of migration from south to north complicated relationships between Mexican Americans and Anglos and thus complicated the relationships between Mexicans Americans and Mexican nationals. And because of a difference in wage between braceros and unsanctioned migrants, the relationship between braceros and other Mexican nationals also became fraught.

Mexican American agricultural workers faced their own discriminatory [End Page 169] challenges in agribusiness as Mexican nationals on temporary work visas flooded into the fields in the 1940s and 1950s. With the new, eager working population, working conditions deteriorated for all ethnic Mexican agricultural workers. One worker complained that with the arrival of the new working population, he was no longer allowed a regular break: “They don’t have to [give us breaks]. The braceros never ask for a break” (49). Not only were many Mexican Americans forced to compete with Mexican nationals who could be paid lower wages, but as working conditions worsened, there were also real, environmental realities on the job that produced physical symptoms that created and reinforced long-standing notions of Mexicans as diseased. In short, ideas about Mexicans as inferior—people whom employers quite literally saw as work mules—justified placing their fragile bodies in working environments that produced disease, further reinforcing narratives north of the border that Mexicans presented a threat to American society. The increasing population of Mexican nationals, in conjunction with these reinforced conceptions of Mexican people as inferior, made life more difficult for...


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pp. 168-172
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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