Labor Movements and Chicana/o Literature
- Marcial GonzálezMarcial GonzálezDepartment of English, University of California, Berkeley
Chicano/a literature may not excel in representing labor movements, but the literature itself has been influenced by, and is often a response to, various labor struggles. Of the labor movements that have had an impact on Chicano/a literature, the farmworkers movement has been the most significant. Even though Mexican American farmworkers throughout the 20th century played a significant role in building an agricultural empire in the United States, they have not been properly credited with this accomplishment, nor have they prospered equitably from the economic gains of agribusiness. Historically, Chicano/a farmworkers have been physically visible in the workplace but not socially recognized—needed for their labor, but not always wanted as participatory citizens. The farmworkers movement led by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) during the 1960s and early 1970s contributed to the emergence of the Chicano movement during those same years. The movement in turn served as a catalyst for the emergence of Chicano/a literature. The farmworker has been a central figure in Chicano/a literature since its inception, but representations of farmworkers in the literature have changed over time—from Tomás Rivera’s groundbreaking novel . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra in 1971 to Salvador Plascencia’s fantasy novel The People of Paper in 2005. One of the reasons for these changes has been the rise of neoliberalism, a politico-economic system that has debilitated, and in some cases destroyed, labor unions. Neoliberalism has also contributed to the deterioration of living and working conditions for the working class, especially for those at the bottom of the economic chain, such as farmworkers. Thus, contemporary Chicano/a farmworker literature tends to oscillate between nostalgia for a time when the farmworkers movement was powerful and cautious optimism that a strong movement can once again be built.