Ernesto Galarza Mexican american labor activist, professor, researcher, writer

"The time has come for the creation of a joint international agency, composed of representatives of the United States and Mexico, to develop and carry out long- term program of resettlement, rehabilitation, and regulation of migration between the new republics" - Ernesto Galarza

The Life of Ernesto Galarza

Ernesto Galarza immigrated to the United States with his family escaping the Mexican Revolution. Galarza's birth place, Jalcocotan, was a small village located by the Sierra Madres that was taken over by the warfare of the revolution. After relocating to multiple cities such as Tepic and Mazatlan, his family decided to move to the United States when army patrols became their night watchmen and shootings would break out in their new neighborhood. "When Jose was absent, we feared that the shots we heard now and then had killed my uncle...a huge yellow bean often swung around to the back of our apartment" (Galarza, 1971). After leaving Mazatlan, Galarza and his family settled in Sacramento, California were his uncles worked in any jobs that were available such as agricultural, worked in the railroad, and in warehouses. Galarza and his three family members lived in an apartment building in the barrio. The barrio was the dirtiest and considered the lowest part of town since landlords never maintained their buildings. " We cut out the ends of tin cans to make collars and plates for the pipes and floor moldings where the rats had gnawed plug the drafts around the windows in winter, we cut strips of cardboard and wedged them into the frames" (Galarza, 1971). Once Galarza's family had settled in Sacramento, Galarza attended school where he was able to learn English and help translate for neighbors in the barrio. After Galarza's mother remarried and had three more children, the family decided to move out of the barrio and buy a house for their growing family. Due to the Spanish influenza, Galarza's uncle, Gustavo, and his mother, Henriqueta, died. After the death of his mother and uncle, Jose and Galarza moved out of the house and into a basement. Galarza had to time manage between school and work since all his personal and school expenses would not be covered by Jose. Galarza worked as a farmhand, clerk at a drug store, and a delivery boy. During the summer, Galarza worked picking fruit and bicycled to multiple cities finding jobs. Galarza lived in labor camps with barrio people from Los Angeles, Imperial Valley, Phoenix, and San Antonio. With his hard work, Galarza went to Occidental college and then received an M.A degree from Stanford University in 1929. Galarza later received a Ph.D. degree in education from Columbia University.

What influenced Galarza?

Galarza's priority was for agricultural workers to have better wages as well as better living conditions. Galarza was influenced to become a farm worker activist because of the firsthand experiences he witnessed when working in the labor camps. Galarza's interest in becoming an activist for farm workers was influenced by the experiences his uncles faced when working for contractors in Mexico and in the United States. In Mexico, Galarza's uncle, Jose, was attacked by the foreman of the contractor that hired him to work. Jose and his co-worker were shoot at because the contractor didn't want to pay them one peso for each day the workers worked for two weeks. "They started to walk back to Mazatlan to report to the employer and collect their wages... late in the afternoon of the first day they were shot at" (Galarza, 1971). Galarza describes the living condition that he faced when working in labor camps "our main street was usually an irrigation ditch, the water supply for cooking, drinking, laundering, and bathing. In better camps there was a faucet or a hydrant, from which water was carried in buckets, pails, and washtubs" (Galarza, 1971). Galarza asserts the questions that were never answered by the contractors "the important questions that were in my mind - the wages, whether the beds would have mattresses and blankets, the price of meals, how often would be paid - were never discussed, much less answered, beforehand" (Galarza, 1971). Galarza describes the abuses that the farm workers faced from the contractors when we worked in labor camps "the worst thing one could do was to ask for fresh water on the job, regardless of the heat of the day; instead of iced water, given freely, the crews were expected to buy sodas at twice the price in town, sold by the contractor himself" (Galarza, 1971). A few years later, Ernesto Galarza became active by helping farm workers near Folsom, California. "In a camp near Folsom, it was not wages but death that pulled people together. Several children in the camp were sick with diarrhea; one had been taken to the hospital in town and the word came back that he had died. It was the women who guessed that the cause of the epidemic was the water. For cooking and drinking and washing it came from a ditch that went by the ranch stables upstream" (Galarza, 1971). After the death of the boy that lived in the camp, Ernesto Galarza was appointed by the camp committee to have a meeting with Mr. Lubin to sent an inspector to the camp. Mr. Lubin advised Galarza that if the workers want to decent place to live they must organize which was the beginning of Galarza's many works as a farm worker activist.

Leadership Characteristics

The characteristics that Ernesto Galarza had that helped him become a catalyst for change for the Mexican American community was his dedication and his determination to fight and organize farm workers. Galarza's determination to organize farm workers is seen when he would go into labor camps trying to organize braceros. "I lost track of the number of times I was thrown out of camps talking with braceros...when I got to this camp I had to walk clear around the camp to find the gate in the barbed wire fence. I waited till evening and walked in, contracted some of the men and told them the strike was coming and please don't pick cotton. That was about all the time I had till the camp director, the cop, came and told me to leave" (Galarza, 1977). The dedication Galarza had helped him become a catalyst for change since Galarza didn't give up investigating the DiGiorgio report and bracero program that lasted ten years. " It was a long campaign. The whole strategy of our union was based upon three concepts. One, we had to bring about the termination of the bracero program. We figured it would take us ten years, and it did" (Galarza, 1977).

Social Issues

During the 1940s and the 1950s, many neighborhoods and communities segregated Mexicans from public areas. " There are still schools for Mexican children separate from those maintained for "white" children " (Galarza, 1977). The Mexican community faced many educational problems such as the extension of education for the young children and the creation of adult educational programs. The majority of the Mexican community lived in colonies. The colonies were patchwork neighborhoods for Mexican workers. The colonies were unsanitary and considered the lowest way of living. "colony of Mexican Agricultural workers the stench from backyard toilets in summer is intolerable.....young children play barefoot in sewer water backed up by the winter rain.... tuberculosis maps and black dots are heaviest in the Mexican colony" (Galarza, 1977).

Political Issues

The Bracero Program (1942- 1964) was an agreement between the U.S and Mexican government to allow Mexican citizens to temporary work in the agricultural industry in the United States. The Bracero Program was created because growers believed that World War II would create labor shortages in the agricultural industry. The Bracero Program was under the War Food Administration that failed to provide the required wages that the Mexican government demanded for their citizens. At the end of World War II, the Department of Labor took over the Bracero Program which negotiated the continuation of the Bracero Program. With the continuation of the Bracero Program under the Department of Labor, the U.S government acted as a contractor that allowed braceros to enter the United States without any rights. Finally, on 1964 the Bracero Program was repelled due to Galarza's report Merchants of Labor describes the abuses of the bracero system.

With the Bracero Program under the Department of Labor, by 1951 there is growth of braceros entering the United States known as "operation wetback". Under the Department of Labor, Corporations similar to the DiGiorgio Corporation were easily able to get permits for braceros.

Why did Galarza want to repeal the Bracero Program?

Ernesto Galarza wanted to repeal the bracero program because it affected their pickets since contractors preferred to hire braceros since they were considered cheap labor. The braceros arrived before, during, and after the strikes which affected the union to help workers fight for better wages, living conditions, and seniority rights. In an interview, Galarza asserts " so everywhere we went during those years there was more than enough manpower to do the work, particularly during those strikes" (Galarza, 1977). Galarza wanted to involve the braceros to their pickets, but the braceros were isolated and afraid to talk to union officers. "The men were afraid to talk to you. If they were seen talking with you in town they were spotted and changed either to another part of the state or sent home to Mexico" (Galarza, 1977). With insufficient communication with braceros, Galarza wasn't able to organize braceros.

DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation

The DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation was considered one of the major agricultural business that mistreated their workers. In 1947, Mexican American farm workers tried to unionize the DiGiorgio Corporation by picketing for better wages, seniority rights, and recognition of their union. As the result of pickets, Mr. DiGiorgio sent police to attack the picketers, hired strike breakers, and spread rumors about the National Farm Workers Association.

The DiGiorgio Strike

The DiGiorgio Strike started in 1947 and the efforts to organize continued until 1959. Mexican American farm workers picketed the DiGiorgio Corporation for better wages, seniority rights, and recognition of their union, Local 218. Joseph DiGiorgio, company founder, refused the request of the workers and attacked the picketers. In 1949, the House of Representatives held a hearing in Bakersfield to investigate the DiGiorgio Strike. The DiGiorgio Corporation wanted the committee's report, that effect the union and the union officers. In 1950, Congressman Werdel received permission from the House of Representatives to publish the report. The report was published in the Congressional Record and made an official report by Nixon, Steed, and Morton. The statement affected the union since the report asserted " officers were a bunch of crooks, that they had embezzled thousands of dollars, that they had published this libelous film" (Galarza, 1977). The report published affect the National Farm Workers Association since the president, Mr. Mitchell, decide to cut off financial support and called off the pickets. Many of the farm workers that were involved in the pickets were fired by the DiGiorgio Corporation. Galarza decided to investigate the report by tracking down the history of the report. Eventually Galarza discovered that the report had been typed in the offices of the DiGiorgio Corporation in San Francisco.

City of Alviso

Galarza dedicated many of his years organizing Mexican American workers. In 1966, Galarza turned his concerns to the city of Alviso. Alviso is a small predominantly Mexican community north of San Jose that became threatened by nearby cities. The growing cities such as Hayward, San Jose, and Santa Clara began affecting Alviso. Alviso became appealing to business interests with the support of the City of San Jose to relocate residents, build tourist facilities, and apartment complexes. Many Alviso residents had received false information causing them to let the City of San Jose to take over Alviso. Galarza created the Alviso Study Team that researched strategies to fight against the City of San Jose. Even though the team was unsuccessful, the City of San Jose was forced to honor their promise to the residents of Alviso.

Involvement in Education

After his community work with Alviso, Galarza became involved in writing books for young Spanish speaking and bilingual readers called Colleccion Mini Libros and in improving education. Galarza decided to write Spanish speaking and bilingual books because during that time the children's book industry ignored Mexican Americans. Galarza created the studio laboratory that focused to develop alternative educations needs for students, worked with teachers to develop a new curricula, and encourage parent involvement. Galarza was able to organize parents to demand quality for bilingual materials.

"With patient work over several decades, Galarza had built a union and a national network that connected labor and scholar activists with farm workers and other allies. If not for these organizing efforts, the United Farm Workers of America and its leader, Cesar E. Chavez, would have countered an even more difficult organizing environment in 1960s and 1970s" - Armando Ibarra & Rodolfo Torres

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