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Excavating Asian America in the Sacramento Delta  

Kelly N. Fong

The Sacramento Delta is an agricultural region in northern California with deep historic significance for Asian Americans. Asian American laborers were instrumental to the development of Sacramento Delta, transforming the swampy peat bog into one of the richest agricultural areas in California. Beginning in the mid-19th century, Chinese laborers constructed levees, dikes, and ditches along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers before breaking the fertile soil to grow fruit and vegetables including pears and asparagus. Asian Americans continued a permanent and transient presence in the Sacramento Delta on farms as migrant farm laborers, permanent farmworkers, and overseers, and in the small delta towns such as Isleton that emerged as merchants, restaurant operators, boardinghouse operators, and other business owners catering to the local community.

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San Jose and “Silicon Valley”  

Glenna Matthews

Since 1988, San Jose has billed itself as the Capital of Silicon Valley. Thirty-five years later, it is the wealthiest city in the country. Despite San Jose’s size and its self-proclaimed title, however, the city remains far less known than its Bay Area sister cities—San Francisco and Oakland—both of which were smaller in population after 1980. Yet the history of San Jose and the metropolitan region deserves to be better known for a multiplicity of reasons. First, in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, San Jose was the first secular pueblo established by the Spanish in Alta California, in 1777, hence is California’s oldest city. Second, with its Native Californian population, its Hispanic Catholic first settlers, and the diversity of immigrants after the discovery of gold in 1848, San Jose has never been a place of Protestant hegemony. Despite the existence of racism and ethnocentrism, newcomers there encountered a playing field different from much of the country. That the Silicon Valley workforce has had so strong an immigrant profile is perhaps related to the fact that San Jose was born diverse. Finally, San Jose’s political and economic history are important. A small market center for the vast fruit-growing and processing industry in the Valley—as of 1930, there were at least a hundred thousand acres in orchards and dozens of canneries—San Jose began a transformative period of explosive growth during World War II that saw the city’s local economy dramatically change while increasing tenfold in geographical size and twice that in population. Local boosters, in fact, hoped and planned for it to become “the Los Angeles of the North.” Whether that goal was desirable or not, their vision, along with developments at Stanford University and enormous amounts of federal spending on defense, paved the way for the Santa Clara Valley to evolve into “Silicon Valley.”

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Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement  

Matt Garcia

In September 1962, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) held its first convention in Fresno, California, initiating a multiracial movement that would result in the creation of United Farm Workers (UFW) and the first contracts for farm workers in the state of California. Led by Cesar Chavez, the union contributed a number of innovations to the art of social protest, including the most successful consumer boycott in the history of the United States. Chavez welcomed contributions from numerous ethnic and racial groups, men and women, young and old. For a time, the UFW was the realization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s beloved community—people from different backgrounds coming together to create a socially just world. During the 1970s, Chavez struggled to maintain the momentum created by the boycott as the state of California became more involved in adjudicating labor disputes under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA). Although Chavez and the UFW ultimately failed to establish a permanent, national union, their successes and strategies continue to influence movements for farm worker justice today.