Migrant Citizenship and the New Deal’s Experiment in Farm Labor Democracy

Historically, Congress’ deliberate exclusion of farmworkers from key national labor protections, social-welfare benefits, and distinct forms of civic participation in the United States ensured that farmworkers remained, what Carey McWilliams termed, 'Alien Americans' and part of the 'federal homeless.'

Lecture Description

During the 1930s and 1940s, stringent state and local residency laws, combined with deep-seated racial and class prejudice, left migrant farmworkers without a place to enact their basic rights. Even if they were formally U.S. citizens, farmworkers were regularly denied the right to vote, send their children to school, access public aid, and receive medical care because they were considered non-residents or non-citizens of the community and state in which they were seeking services. This talk focuses on the history of the Farm Security Administration’s Migratory Labor Camp Program and its role in the lives of diverse farmworker families across the United States. Martínez-Matsuda discusses how the federal camps functioned as more than just labor centers aimed at improving agribusiness efficiency. Instead, as she’ll argue, they represented a profound “experiment in democracy” seeking to secure migrant farmworkers’ full political and social participation in the United States.


Labor and Working Class Latino Latina

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Verónica Martínez-Matsuda

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