The Jazz Age Great Depression New Deal Era and World War 2 America

Chapter 1: Community and Family :: Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950 by Vicki L. Ruiz

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “By 1930 Los Angeles had the largest concentration of Mexicans in the United States, and by 1940 only Mexico City could claim a greater number of Mexican inhabitants. Spanish-speaking communities throughout southern California grew at a phenomenal pace during the early decades of the twentieth century. In 1900 only 3,000 to 5,000 Mexicans lived in Los Angeles, but by 1930 approximately 150,000 persons of Mexican birth or heritage had settled into the city’s expanding barrios.1 Los Angeles firms employed one-half of the state’s Mexican industrial labor force, and two-thirds of California’s Mexican population resided in five southern counties. On a national level, by 1930 Mexicans formed the “third largest ‘racial’ group,” outnumbered only by Anglos and blacks.”
  • “Women contributed to the family income through their seasonal labor in agriculture and food processing, and many were employed in the growing service sector associated with California tourism. Mexicanas also performed a variety of home tasks for pay, taking in sewing, washing, ironing, and boarders. Some practiced the art of curanderismo (or folk healing) as a means of economic, as well as cultural, survival.”
  • “In Los Angeles, the old “Sonoratown,” pushed by the commercialization of the downtown area, gradually declined as a residential section. In its stead, suburban barrios grew up east of the Los Angeles River.”
  • “Between 1931 and 1934, rhetoric exploded into action as an estimated one-third of the Mexican population in the United States was either deported or repatriated to Mexico even though many had been born in this country. Mexicans were the only immigrants to be targeted for removal. The proximity of the U.S.–Mexico border, as well as the physical distinctiveness of mestizo peoples, fostered the belief that Mexican immigrants could be easily identified and—perhaps more important—inexpensively transported back to their homeland. Mexicans were viewed alternatively as foreign usurpers of American jobs and as unworthy burdens on local relief rolls.”
  • “Yet, the threat of deportation did not touch all Mexican families equally. Historian Camille Guerin-Gonzáles argues that farm workers newly arrived in Los Angeles from rural California were more likely candidates for removal than long-term urban residents. The food processing workers I have interviewed certainly were aware of the fear permeating the barrios, but their own families were not directly affected.”
  • “Red bandannas [sic] I detest, And now the flappers Use them for their dress. The girls of San Antonio Are lazy at the metate. They want to walk out bobbed-haired, With straw hats on. The harvesting is finished, So is the cotton; The flappers stroll out now For a good time.”
  • “I fought with my parents . . . but I didn’t try to sneak out because I didn’t want our neighbors to talk about me the way they talked about some other girls. That kind of chisme would hurt my family.”
  • “Like many female factory workers in the United States as well as in England and France, most Mexican cannery operatives were young single daughters who lived at home and contributed all or part of their pay checks to the family income … Teenage daughters often entered the labor market first, followed by their mothers if additional income was needed.”
  • “The wages garnered by Mexican women industrial operatives were modest; those employed in canneries and packing houses averaged from $2.30 to $2.70 per day. In contrast, their male counterparts received from $3.50 to $4.50 per day. Yet, the earnings of Mexican women food processing personnel were comparable to those garnered by immigrant women on the East Coast. In 1930, for example, the median weekly wage of immigrant women workers in Philadelphia (primarily Jews, Poles, and Italians) was $15.35, or $2.56 per day.”
  • ““I wanted to be a housewife, but I wanted to work. I wanted to see the world . . . I didn’t have any intentions of just . . . getting married . . . and raising kids . . . and being behind the stove. That was out of my line. I didn’t believe in that.”56 Motivations for married women’s employment were certainly as diverse as the women themselves and defy easy categorization.”
  • “While English and French wives often withdrew from the labor force to manage the family income, Mexican and European ethnic wives in the United States (particularly if second generation) continued working so as to accumulate extra funds.”
  • “While one woman might rationalize her wage-earning role as an extension of her family responsibilities, her U.S. born daughter might visualize her own income as an avenue to independence.”

Thought Questions

  • Explain and Expand: “Barrio life nurtured traditional values and customs. The barrio, like the family, offered security and refuge”
  • Explain and Expand: “a dynamic entity which fosters a sense of self-respect and dignity.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Ethnic pride as exhibited in secular and religious groups served as a psychological bulwark against the grinding poverty experienced by the majority of barrio residents in southern California.”
  • Explain and Expand: “the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan”
  • Explain and Expand: “The impact of flapper styles on the Mexican community”
  • Explain and Expand: “Though times were lean, many women had dreams of fame and fortune, nurtured in part by their proximity to Hollywood.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Viewed within the construct of a family wage economy, women’s outside employment was an extension of their role in the family.”
  • Explain and Expand: “For some women, however, wages were not supplements to family income. As female heads of households, Mexican women depended on their meager earnings to support not only their children but also their parents.”
  • Explain and Expand: “While most youthful Mexican Americans maintained their cultural identity, many yearned for more freedom, particularly after noticing the more liberal lifestyles of self-supporting Anglo coworkers.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Thus, the household could no longer be characterized as a family wage economy, but as a family consumer economy”
  • Explain and Expand: “items perceived as conferring American respectability. … Sometimes the desire to become “good Americans” resulted in a rejection of Mexican identity.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Mexican women sought employment in food processing firms for a multitude of reasons depending on age, generation, and marital status.”

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading