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  • Farm Worker Futurism: Speculative Technologies of Resistance by Curtis Marez
  • Theodora Dryer (bio)
Farm Worker Futurism: Speculative Technologies of Resistance. By Curtis Marez. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2016. Pp. 232. Paperback $25.00.

Farm Worker Futurism sits at the scholarly intersection of race, gender, technology, envirotech, and labor history. Historians of technology have identified interwar agriculture as a critical moment of technological transformation under industrialization, automation, and mass production—a moment fueled by promises of social-technological progress. Farm Worker Futurism (FWF), by ethnic studies scholar Curtis Marez, disrupts linear histories of agricultural industrialism and takes apart the agribusiness machine that has diminished and ended the lives of Mexican farm workers. This book features farm workers, activists, and labor unions whose political work, speculative technologies, and farm worker futurisms give visibility to contradictions, exclusions, and violence in U.S. agriculture.

The story roots in the interwar period, when agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley created "a system for controlling production and reproduction that significantly relied on media technologies" (p. 52). Agribusiness controlled movie theaters, advertisements, and film distribution, and denounced critical, "communist" works such as John Steinbeck's 1939 The Grapes of Wrath. Marez reads corporate agribusiness through textual analysis of popular white science fiction authors: Robert Heinlein, Phillip K. Dick, and George Lucas. Their stories project an agribusiness futurism that displaces migrant farm workers in the media image of a white farm society. Heinlein's 1950 Farmer in the Sky, for example, poses the speculative question, "What if an exemplary white U.S. American boy was forced to become a lowly farm worker?" (p. 47). Against this media monopoly, Marez chronicles union world-building in three episodes.

The first episode, "To the disinherited belongs the future," centers on [End Page 924] the 1948–50 National Farm Labor Union (NFLU) strike against the Di-Giorgio Fruit Company, which is emblematic of the clashes between the agribusiness mediascape and farm worker resistance. Media projections of company head Joseph DiGiorgio depict a towering industrial giant, gridded agricultural fields, and bowed, subjugated workers as "an extension of his technological dominance" (p. 58). Agribusiness media erased farm workers as people, but also as unions, as corporate heads suppressed union materials, one representative example being the 1948 AFL film, Poverty in the Valley of Plenty. This erasure of history is countered in the archives of union tech researcher Ernesto Galarza, where Marez unearths a farm worker mediascape in "music, radio, magazines, newspapers, and especially documentary photo essays" (p. 65). Farm worker cameras and film subvert mass industrialism by giving exposure to the conditions of agribusiness, in their eyes.

The second episode, From Third Cinema to National Video, situates the rising United Farm Workers (UFW) on the world stage as part of third world cinema, linking California farm workers to revolutions in Latin America, Vietnam, and the Middle East. The union used new media technologies of the late 1970s and 1980s—video cameras, videotapes, and VCRs—as a "medium of radical transformation" (p. 84). Cameras were key technologies in "reversing the gaze" (p. 100) of agribusiness, which had since the 1960s been policing strikers and using corporate technologies, such as chemical spraying, to violently suppress them. The 1974 film Fighting for our Lives, covering the UFW grape strikes, turned camera film "on the plantation masters of agribusiness" (p. 99), which would become a powerful collective bargaining tool in the mid-1970s.

While women are not centrally featured in the first two episodes, the final episode, Farm Worker Futurisms in Speculative Culture, unfolds the technological visions of Chicana activist and visual artist Ester Hernández, read against California native George Lucas's Star Wars. Hernández's artwork, part of the Chicano/a movement in graphic, print, and electronic media, pierced through the white anti-immigrant nativism of 1980s and 90s neoliberal agricultural policy. Her bright red silk-screen print Sun Mad, depicts a calavera or skeleton over the prolific digital-corporate raisin-box print, "Sun Maid." Foregrounding the calavera as a symbol of corporate greed, Sun Mad displays "the consequences for women of color of the alliance between white nativism and agribusiness" (p. 149) and recalls the decades of violence against workers during the...


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