Labor and Conflict

As I approach the end of the major processing of Garcia’s collection, I am reminded of one of the occupational hazards of archiving. Especially having received training as a historian, there are so many compelling primary source documents here that, at times, I find myself pouring over correspondence and articles absorbing information and momentarily forgetting that I have a job to do. Whether it be the courageous and inspiring stories of Socorro Gomez-Potter and Yolanda Almaraz Esquivel, or the eerie transcripts of “The Game” at UFW headquarters, the path to distraction is wide open. 
And yet, part of my job is to write this blog and fill you all in on what I find challenging and interesting about the collection. I suppose then, that my digressions are warranted. This week I came across materials Garcia compiled regarding violence that occurred during UFW strikes. On several occasions, workers were beaten for picketing by Teamsters or the police. One farm worker picketing at Giumarra Vineyards, Juan De La Cruz, was murdered by a Teamster. He was standing next to his wife when he was shot. Word of the murder spread as far as England, where the Sunday Times wrote a piece on his murder and on the efforts of the Teamsters to “smash the farmworkers’ union” (UFW). There is an outline of the event, including news of other violent clashes, present as well. Though unlabeled, the writing style leads me to believe it is a UFW release. 
The collection is filled with the history of the conflict between the UFW and Teamsters, from correspondence between the two organizations, to articles covering their interactions from a wide range of publications. It’s been very interesting to read a few of them and learn more about the labor movement in California history. If I meet my goal of completing the last box by the end of next week, perhaps I’ll go back and read a few of Cesar Chavez’s letters. But only a few, I promise.  

The Game

History is filled with violence and trauma. As a result, historians must grapple with difficult questions from time to time. What makes the study of history significant, therefore, is the ability to reevaluate existing narratives in order to shed light on new perspectives and increase our understanding of the past, even if that past is difficult or controversial. For Garcia, this task took the form of a study of the farm labor movement, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farm Workers union.  

While processing the research materials Garcia compiled, I came across a few different terms I was unfamiliar with. In correspondence and memos from the UFW, I noticed the term “Synanon” and “The Game” come up fairly often. You may remember from an earlier post that I mentioned Synanon. I chose not to address it then, but I’d like to briefly detail this bizarre story now. 

Synanon was a drug rehabilitation program founded in the 1950s. Their approach to rehabilitation was not traditional and they did not use medication. Among their various forms of treatment, the most popular, and the most peculiar, was a sort of counseling session referred to as “The Game.” In this “game,” participants would berate other participants and hurl insults at one another at will. Social filters were momentarily turned off, and anything and everything was “fair game.” Once the session ended, everyone would come together and embrace. This cathartic release of negative energy was intended to bring everyone closer together. Quite a unique team building exercise to be sure. 

Well, Chavez believed this team building would be useful for his union and he invited Synanon representatives to teach them the game, and they played it at UFW headquarters for over a year. The transcripts of some of these games, and written responses to the exercise by members, are present in this collection. A word of warning, there is explicit language throughout. I do not want to risk making this post too long, so I will not go into much more detail, other than to say that Synanon was eventually disbanded and classified as a cult.

Garcia’s investigation into this matter garnered some negative reviews of his manuscript. One reviewer even claimed his book was too concerned with the “salacious and lurid” details of Chavez and the UFW and did not merit publication as true scholarship. This is just one difficulty of writing history. At times, difficult questions spawn difficult answers that are not always well received by the reader.  

“Missing Voices”

Last week, I wrote briefly about two Chicana teachers, Socorro Gomez-Potter and Yolanda Almaraz Esquivel. This week, as I read through these oral history interviews conducted by Garcia, I thought about the nature of archives and their historic lack of representation for women and especially women of color. These “missing voices” are problematic in archives, and Garcia’s collection serves as a partial remedy to this issue. 
Both women attended California State University San Bernardino to receive advanced degrees in education and were two of just 21 ethnic Mexican students on campus.  They returned to the Coachella Valley area to become teachers. They were advocates for bilingual education and student rights. This advocacy was often met with discrimination and even physical assault. When Yolanda witnessed a white teacher assault a student on several occasions, she confronted the teacher and was then physically assaulted herself. Unfortunately, the district chose to cover up this incident so Yolanda, Socorro, and their allies organized protests, encouraged parents to boycott the school, and participated in a student walkout on April 8, 1976. 
Ultimately, they were reassigned to non-teaching roles. Their devotion made an impact, however, as the Coachella Valley District implemented bilingual education soon after, and the teacher accused of assault was “encouraged to retire.” Through Garcia’s research and oral history interviews, the stories of these brave Chicana women can now be heard and made available to researchers. The “missing voices” are no longer missing in this case. But, of course, there is still much work to be done.  

Chicanx History in the Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley has a rich history, filled with the experience of Chicanx students and workers organizing and advocating for their rights to education and fair labor. The Coachella Valley played host to numerous union conflicts regarding labor and education in the 1970s, long before the name of this desert landscape became linked to an overrated music festival.  
Garcia’s research details Chicanx student walkouts in the Coachella Valley and the participation of several teachers and administrators. Two teachers, Socorro Gomez-Potter and Yolanda Almaraz Esquivel lead the charge in advocating for bilingual education and the rights of Chicanx students. Garcia created profiles for these two based off interviews he conducted, and once posted online on Brown University’s website, a response he held onto demonstrated how contentious the issues were for those who lived through the movement.  
Garica kept an email from someone who claimed there was incorrect information on Brown’s website regarding the details of student abuse by a certain teacher, which sparked the decision for the students to engage in walkouts. The email comes off as hastily written, claiming they were an “Anglo teacher” in the district during the time of the walkouts. They write, “You need to tell both sides of the story, before others do.” Significantly, and perhaps ironically, the underrepresented and marginalized experience of Chicanx students and teachers is exactly what Garcia was researching for his book. Unknown to the individual who wrote the email, the second side of the story was on its way in the form of his next book.   
I’d like to include details of these profiles, the walkouts, and the oral histories next week. I’ll also write regarding details of oral history research Garcia conducted on UFW members as well.