Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lori A. Flores's "Grounds for Dreaming"

Lori Flores is assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Grounds for Dreaming begins with a picture, actually, of a group of Mexican agricultural guestworkers—known as braceros—lining up in front of a movie theater in Salinas, California in 1956. After their backbreaking workweeks harvesting fruits, nuts, grains, or vegetables, braceros all over the United States often used weekends for leisure activities such as watching movies, eating at restaurants, shopping for “American” things such as cowboy boots and radios, dancing at nightclubs, or going to church. The Plaza Theater in Salinas, which was established by a Mexican immigrant to California named Jose Enrique Friedrich, sought to provide braceros with Spanish-language entertainment that would make them feel more at home amidst their harsh work schedules and often lonely living conditions in segregated labor camps.

Unlike Friedrich, many California residents were loathe to embrace braceros’ presence, and this included some U.S.-born Mexican Americans who sought to distance themselves from braceros for fear of losing their own tenuous social status and respectability. One of the major points of Grounds for Dreaming is that the lives of Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals have always been intertwined. Circuits of labor and migration brought Mexican and Mexican American farmworkers together—either in cooperation or in conflict—in the fields, while social interactions between Mexican men and Mexican American women produced romantic relationships and families that transcended the borders of nationality. Popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s like “El Bracero y La Pachuca” described these controversial yet very common romances.

Ironically, in the very male-dominated world of agriculture, it was Mexican American women who served as important bridges between U.S.-born and immigrant Mexican communities. By the same token, they tended to suffer the most when these connections were shattered. For instance, when the INS ramped up its deportation efforts with “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s and apprehended countless undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Southwest, many Mexican American women experienced the sudden loss of their romantic partners and fathers of their children.

Page 99 captures some of the main characters and communities in the book’s story, but there are many more. From prominent agribusinessmen to the FBI to Cesar Chavez to the Catholic Church, several people and institutions had a part to play in the long drama of the U.S. farmworker rights movement—and it’s a drama that continues to unfold today.
Learn more about the book and author at Lori A. Flores's website.

--Marshal Zeringue