Category Archives: Latino/a Studies

Excerpt: Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West

This National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we wanted to share a selection from Erasmo Gamboa’s book Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West, for a close-up look at the contributions of Hispanic and Latina/o Americans to the United States. The bracero program is better known for its contributions to agriculture, but there was another industry that benefited from bracero labor—the railroad. Over three hundred thousand Mexican laborers did unskilled “pick and shovel” work in isolated places to maintain the railroad tracks during World War II. While the men, who came to the United States as braceros, dealt with onerous regulations, indifferent or racist supervisors, unsuitable living conditions, and an unfamiliar culture and environment, the women they left behind also had their share of struggles. These women—wives, mothers, and sisters—had to navigate bureaucracies in the railroad companies and in both the Mexican and U.S. governments to advocate for themselves and the braceros.

Most historians have overlooked the manner in which women in México acted on behalf of their loved ones working temporarily in the United States. Unlike the case of Bahamian and Newfoundlander women and children who were permitted to accompany contracted workers to the U.S., the War Manpower Commission (WMC) never considered allowing Mexican spouses or female members to accompany the braceros.[1] Brothers and sons, however, did serve as braceros, and in some instances they were assigned to work together.[2] The role of women in México in support of the braceros and the war deserves to be highlighted.

From the start of the bracero railroad program in México City, the WMC made note of the scores of women eagerly volunteering with the hope of joining the labor force soon leaving for the United States.[3] They were not attempting to take advantage of the opportunity for employment, as that opportunity rested with men, but they stepped forward wanting to do their part in the war effort. This level of gender consciousness prevailed in México stretching back before the Revolution of 1910, the Cristero Wars, and through the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the Depression, women organized the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer to represent the economic and political concerns of working-, middle-, and upper-class women in México. With the outbreak of World War II, the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer became the Coordinating Committee of Women in Defense of the Fatherland (Comité Coordinador Femenino para la Defensa de la Patria).[4] The role of women in national defense stretched far beyond this one organization. The Central Committee for the Civil Defense of México City and the Defense League of Women organized women to come to the defense of the city during the war. Nurses volunteered to act as first responders in case of Japanese or German attacks, while other women trained to enforce emergency blackouts, manning search lights in case of aerial attacks. Women, as they did in the United States during the way, prepared to respond to any wartime emergency and do their part in the overall national war effort.[5] Continue reading

Exhibitions on View: ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’

Acme Photo Diego and Frida in NYC 1933 gelatin silver print 22.9 x 17.8 cm Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc ***This image may only be used in conjunction with editorial coverage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun-9 Oct 2016, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This image may not be cropped or overwritten. Prior approval in writing required for use as a cover. Caption details must accompany reproduction of the image. *** Media contact: Hannah.McKissock-Davis@ag.nsw.go.au *** Local Caption *** ***This image may only be used in conjunction with editorial coverage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun-9 Oct 2016, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This image may not be cropped or overwritten. Prior approval in writing required for use as a cover. Caption details must accompany reproduction of the image. *** Media contact: Hannah.McKissock-Davis@ag.nsw.go.au

Acme Photo
Diego and Frida in NYC 1933
gelatin silver print
22.9 x 17.8 cm
Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc

We are delighted to distribute the catalog to accompany the exhibition, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: From the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The exhibition is now on view at AGNSW and has been extended until October 23, 2016 due to popular demand.

After the exhibition closes in Sydney, it will travel to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona from April 9 – August 20, 2017.

Leading twentieth-century Mexican artists Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957) were internationally acclaimed in their lifetime, and their art and lives have continued to provoke and captivate audiences.

Continue reading

Welcome to Seattle…

…the best literary, outdoorsy, artsy, techy, coffee-loving, dog-friendly, mountain-viewing, whale watching, ferry-riding, Sasquatch-sighting, beer-drinking, farmers market-strolling, rainy/misting/drizzling (but wow the summers and the green!), reading city in the world!

My favorite thing to do when I arrive in a new city is to find the closest local bookstore. Not only are they great spaces for relaxing or meeting people, but they often lead to the discovery of local authors and events and provide a sense of the histories, nuances, and people of the city.

Whether you’re new to Seattle, just passing through, or a local looking for new adventures, the University of Washington Press has an expansive array of books to help you discover our city. They cover everything from Seattle’s intertwined urban and Native histories, the evolution of Seattle’s gay communities, growing up Japanese American during World War II, local activism and civil rights, the plight and reclamation of our river, the history of music in Seattle, of animalstopography, food, art and architecture, and weather! We hope you’ll consider stopping by your indie bookstore and checking for our W logo in the stacks of books.

GiveBIG-book-heart

And once you’re ready, here are some fun places to read while exploring your new city!

Read: The Deepest Roots

Where: On the ferry heading over for a day trip to Bainbridge Island.

Read: Too High and Too Steep

Where: What used to be Denny Hill in South Lake Union.

Read: Classical Seattle

Where: At Benaroya or McCaw Hall during intermission.

Read: Once and Future River

Where: Before or after a kayak trip on the Duwamish.

Read: The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag

Where: Beneath the shadow of the industrial landmark at Gas Works Park.

Read: Shaping Seattle Architecture

Where: On a bench in historic Pioneer Square.

Read: Walking Washington’s History

Where: On the water taxi on route to an Alki walk.

Read: Birds of the Pacific Northwest

Where: Discovery Park, the largest city park in Seattle.

Read: Northwest Coast Indian Art

Where: wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House on the University of Washington campus.

Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West

In Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West, historian Erasmo Gamboa shows us just how important Mexican workers were to the U.S. war effort during World War II. While most people associate braceros with farm work, Gamboa reveals a parallel story of Mexican workers being lured to grueling railroad work by major railroad companies and both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

With the majority of the U.S. labor force off fighting the war, Mexican workers were needed to quickly build railroad lines so that key supplies could be transported across the country for shipping to the frontlines. Though the bracero railroad program was sold to these workers as a noble cause—and they were promised suitable housing and fair pay—it quickly became clear that they were being exploited by all sides. If it wasn’t the railroad companies cheating them out of pay or making them live in inhumane conditions, it was the Mexican banks denying them access to the accounts that held their earnings; and of course there were always corrupt government officials on both sides who turned a blind eye to the workers’ complaints.

This particular excerpt details the squalor many braceros railroaders were forced to live in: pest-ridden boxcars in the middle of nowhere often without running water or electricity. The work was grueling and thankless but nonetheless crucial. This Cinco de Mayo, as we sip margaritas and eat endless baskets of chips and salsa, let us also not forget how Mexican workers helped us during one of our nation’s darkest hours, and how their hard work not only aided that war effort but also left us with an infrastructure that enabled our nation to develop as rapidly as it did throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

—Ranjit Arab, Senior Acquisitions Editor

Box cars represented the most degraded type of housing. Originally constructed to haul freight or passengers, but now well beyond their useful life, these wooden cars were converted by the railroads into makeshift living quarters. During the summer, when temperatures reached 90 degrees or more in many areas of the West, the old steel freight cars became unbearably hot. In the winter, when temperatures plummeted, the cars were excruciatingly cold. Being mobile, however, the box cars were practical. Companies could easily move the laborers from work site to work site or situate the cars somewhere as semipermanent quarters. Inside, a single wooden partition often divided the interior to lodge separate groups of workers or two or more nonbracero families per unit. Continue reading

Earth Day 2016: Events, Excerpts, and Books for Your TBR Pile

This Earth Day, we’re featuring a number of events, excerpts, and recent and forthcoming titles that span the University of Washington Press’s leading lists in environmental science and history, including books in the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books and Culture, Place, and Nature series.

Through mid-May we are partnering on a few big book launch events and hope you will join us! Looking for more in the meantime? The University of Washington is celebrating Earth Day 2016 across Seattle, Tacoma, Bothell, and beyond. Check out the UW Earth Day events page for more information. Follow #EarthDay and #EarthDay2016 for other events and activities near you!


reese-jacketOnce and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish
Photographs by Tom Reese
Essay by Eric Wagner
Afterword by James Rasmussen
Northwest Writers Fund

Join us for the launch event presented by Town Hall and University Book Store, as part of the Science series and Town Green:

Tuesday, May 3, 7:30 p.m. // Great Hall, 1119 Eighth Avenue (enter on Eighth Avenue), Seattle, WA 98101 // Panelists include James Rasmussen, Duwamish Tribal member and director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and moderator Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times environmental reporter. // BUY TICKETS

The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl
By Sarah D. Wald

Join for the book release celebration in Portland, Oregon hosted by Bark:

Sunday, May 15, 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. // Bark, 351 NE 18th Ave., Portland, OR 97232 // Light refreshments provided

Pre-order books at 30% off using discount code WSH2275

Read an excerpt from the book about the history of the United Farm Workers and the modern environmental movement Continue reading

The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl

In 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day in the United States—a celebration of the life and legacy of the important Chicano civil rights and labor leader. With the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) and Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conferences also in full swing this Cesar Chavez Day, it’s only fitting that we are sharing a preview of Sarah D. Wald‘s forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl (May 2016). Analyzing fiction, nonfiction, news coverage, activist literature, memoirs, and more from the Great Depression through the present, Wald’s book looks at how California farmlands have served as a popular symbol of American opportunity and natural abundance, and addresses what such cultural works tell us about who belongs in America, and in what ways they are allowed to belong. By bringing together ecocriticism and critical race theory, the book addresses an important gap in how we understand questions of citizenship, immigration, and environmental justice.

The excerpt below focuses on what Wald calls “the often-overlooked points of intersection between the UFW [United Farm Workers] and environmentalism.”

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl, by Sarah D. Wald:

Most environmental historians cite Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) as the modern environmental movement’s birth announcement. They distinguish mid-twentieth-century environmentalism from the conservationism and preservationism of the Progressive Era in large part through its concern for toxins and other forms of pollution. Many participants in the environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s expressed concern that human use of technology fundamentally threatened the circle of ecological life and imperiled humanity’s ability to sustain itself. Carson echoed these themes, linking the death of songbirds to the potential loss of human life. The popular concern for such issues congealed with the first Earth Day in April 1970. Organizers billed Earth Day as a national teach-in that included events at fifteen hundred colleges and ten thousand schools. As historian Adam Rome wrote, “The teach-ins collectively involved more people than the biggest civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s.” Millions participated.

Join for the launch event in Portland, Oregon hosted by Bark:

Sunday, May 15, 5:00-9:00 p.m. //
Bark, 351 NE 18th Ave., Portland, OR 97232

Pre-order books at 30% off using discount code WSH2275

The history of modern environmentalism is entangled with the remarkable story of the United Farm Workers, the first successful unionization effort for farmworkers. In 1962, the same year Carson published Silent Spring, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta resigned from the Community Service Organization to focus on organizing farmworkers, and Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). In 1965, the largely Filipino farmworkers union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), began the famous grape strike, with Chavez’s organization voting to strike in solidarity. In 1966, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and AWOC merged into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). On July 29, 1970, just three months after the first Earth Day, the United Farm Workers (UFW) achieved a major victory, signing 150 contracts with the major Delano grape growers, covering thirty thousand workers. The success was short-lived, as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters began undermining the UFW by signing “sweetheart” deals with the growers. This controversy led to a renewal of the strike and boycott throughout the 1970s. The UFW never again had as many unionized workers. Continue reading