Food, Water, and Labor in Central Valley: Farmworkers and the Westlands

corn growing in a field

Monday, October 30, 2017

This talk will focus on the history of water insecurity in the farm worker communities of western Fresno County and the exploitative practices of growers and their allies during drought conditions. Despite claims that water provides jobs for farmworkers there is little evidence to suggest that when growers get their allotment of water that improving conditions for farm workers followed. On the contrary, farmworker communities continued to suffer even while growers in western Fresno County expanded their acreage and amassed record profits all while receiving federally subsidized water. Farmworkers resisted these exploitative practices in the 60s and 70s not through unionization (the UFW showed little interest in the efforts) but through efforts to enforce federal reclamation law and the 160-acre limitation. In addition to those efforts farmworkers also challenged their conditions through cooperative sustainable farming. Nevertheless, the voices of farmworker communities have been absent from these discussions. Through these and other means farmworkers struggled to create their own narratives of water rights and water use.

Dr. Mario Sifuentez is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Merced. He received his BA, as well as his MA, from the University of Oregon in Ethnic Studies, and History. He completed his Ph.D. at Brown University in American Studies with a focus on immigration and labor. His book Of Forests and Fields: Mexican Labor in the Pacific Northwest (Rutgers University Press, 2016) analyzes the factors that brought ethnic Mexican immigrants to the Pacific Northwest and the ways in which immigrants responded to the labor conditions by demanding both labor rights and citizenship rights. He is also the co-author of “The Foundations of Modern Farm Worker Unionism: From UFW to PCUN” in Labor's New World: Essays on the Future of Working-Class America. He is currently at work on his second project on water, food, and farmworkers in the California’s Central Valley.