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The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape

Don Mitchell
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
  • Book Info
    The Lie of the Land
    Book Description:

    The beauty of the California landscape is integral to its place in the imagination of generations of people around the world. In The Lie of the Land, geographer Don Mitchell looks at the human costs associated with this famous scenery. Through an account of the labor history of the state, Mitchell examines the material and ideological struggles over living and working conditions that played a large part in the construction of the contemporary California landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8688-9
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction Migratory Workers and the California Landscape, 1913-1942
    (pp. 1-12)

    “Discovering California,” Carey McWilliams beginsCalifornia: The Great Exception, “has been an ongoing, somewhat erratic exercise of the imagination.” It has also been a great deal of work, for California has not so much been discovered asmade—and not only in the imagination. The construction of the California landscape has been the work of steelworkers, pavers, chip assemblers, dam builders, drywall nailers, textile workers, and, quite importantly, army upon army of migratory workers planting crops, repairing railroads and highways, chopping down trees, mixing cement, and harvesting cantaloupes. While writers, newscasters, filmmakers and songwriters have discovered a rather fascinating California...

  5. 1 California: The Beautiful and the Damned
    (pp. 13-35)

    After abandoning their farm in Oklahoma and joining the exodus across the desert to California, after seeing their family torn apart by the forced mobility of modernity, the Joads reach the top of Tehachapi Pass and gaze out over California’s San Joaquin Valley. All of a sudden, the power and promise of the California landscape reveal themselves in a startling vista of color and pattern, instantly erasing the disillusionment that had accompanied the family all along their journey. InThe Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck reduces this view to a list of characteristics, as if describing a painting: “The vineyard,...

  6. 2 Labor and Landscape: The Wheatland Riot and Progressive State Intervention
    (pp. 36-57)

    Both the form of the California agricultural landscape and the form of the struggles over that landscape in the first half of the twentieth century can be traced to the summer of 1913. Early that summer, the Durst Brothers Hops Ranch of Wheatland, California, distributed notices throughout California, southern Oregon, and Nevada, proclaiming that “all white pickers who make application before August 1st will be given work” picking hops. The flier promised that “the going price” would be paid for “clean picking.” Moreover, a bonus often cents per hundred pounds harvested would be paid to those pickers who worked until...

  7. 3 Subversive Mobility and the Re-formation of Landscape
    (pp. 58-82)

    Its public pronouncements to the contrary, the California Commission of Immigration and Housing (CCIH) did not put all its faith in the “spatial fix” of environmental change. Rather, it sought also to rationalize the very mobility of labor that made California agriculture possible. The Commission understood—indeed, like numerous government agencies after it, took for granted—that a highly mobile labor force was essential to the rural industries of the state (not just agriculture, but also mining, lumbering, and construction). But Wheatland had shown that the migratory system had grown irrational, that the huge number of migratory workers was becoming...

  8. 4 Marked Bodies: Patriotism, Race, and Landscape
    (pp. 83-109)

    With the Industrial Workers of the World (iww) all but destroyed, growers were able once again to reinvest in images of the California rural landscape as a place of beauty, tranquillity, and neighborly civility. They quickly revived old ideologies of the rural idyll that they had promoted during the shift to intensive farming at the end of the nineteenth century, but now their representations had a clear purpose: they were part of an effort to increase labor supplies in the face of a dwindling supply of male migrant workers. Urban and suburban families, they claimed in articles and advertisements, could...

  9. 5 The Political Economy of Landscape and the Return of Radicalism
    (pp. 110-129)

    For some growers in California during the 1920s profits were enormous; but numerous other growers found profit making, like much of the landscape, to be something of a mirage during this period. Beginning in 1921, agriculture in California suffered a debilitating deflationary crisis as the World War I boom finally came to an end. With deflation came a brutal process of capital centralization. This deflation was particularly threatening to smaller farmers; to larger agricultural concerns, deflationary restructuring provided even greater opportunities to consolidate their control over agricultural labor. For farming industries, the land itself is a fixed investment; it is...

  10. 6 The Disintegration of Landscape: The Workers’ Revolt of 1933
    (pp. 130-155)

    Though they never would have put it this way, growers in the Imperial Valley and elsewhere in the state at the dawn of the Depression were trying to create and maintain the rural spaces of the stateasa landscape in the traditional, historical sense of the term. Their goal was to assure that workers remained complete objects, that they were subjects not unto themselves, but only of the paternalistic gaze of landowners and industrialists. Growers wanted to assure that rural California remainedsimplya picturesque view, one composed at once of the ordinary—a peaceful, prosperous everyday life—and...

  11. 7 Reclaiming the Landscape: Learning to Control the Spaces of Revolt
    (pp. 156-175)

    If the cotton growing areas of the southern San Joaquin Valley can be eerily beautiful, then the reclaimed desert of the Imperial Valley presents a much more rough-hewn visage. From a desert rise, the fields look raggedy, fringed by greasewood and ocotillo. To the east of the Imperial Valley, vast fields of sand dunes, bisected by the All-American canal suggest just how tenuous the hold on this land may be. But as we saw in Chapter 4, no matter how rough or tenuous, carving farmland out of the scorching desert was seen by many as a “heroic,” patriotic endeavor—the “master...

  12. 8 Workers as Objects/Workers as Subjects: Re-making Landscape
    (pp. 176-197)

    Jean Baudrillard was right about one thing. Mobility is everything to the state of California. Without migrant labor, the agricultural economy of the state would be impossible as it now exists. Nor would the agricultural valleys of the state look anything like they do. From Carleton Parker through Carey McWilliams when he became chief of the Division of Immigration and Housing in 1939, even the most progressive critics of California agriculture conceded the necessity of migratory labor. Any other system was simply unthinkable. “Throughout the foreseeable future,” argued Harry Drobrish of the California Relief Administration (and later the New Deal...

  13. Conclusion The Lie of the Land
    (pp. 198-202)

    The temptation at this point isnotto conclude, not to provide a look down (and back) from the top of the hill, not to succumb to the seductions of landscape. Rather, the temptation is to leave the impression of an unceasing history of struggle. Whether from the vantage of 1942 where I ended the narrative, or from the present vantage of more than fifty years later when we know so well the continuing history of agricultural labor in California—the renewed organizing efforts in the 1950s (and the further consolidation of land and wealth), the rise of the United...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 203-238)
  15. Index
    (pp. 239-246)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)