Distinguished Lecturers
Matt Garcia

Matt Garcia

Matt Garcia is a professor of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean studies and history at Dartmouth College. Originally from California, he previously taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the University of Oregon, Brown University, and Arizona State University. He is the author of A World of Its Own: Race, Labor and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970 (2001), which won the Oral History Association's best book award, and, most recently, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement (2012), which won the Philip Taft Award for the best book in labor history. He is a coeditor, with E. Melanie DuPuis and Don Mitchell, of Food Across Borders: Production, Consumption, and Boundary Crossing in North America (2017). Garcia was also the outreach director and coprimary investigator for the Bracero Archive Project , which received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant as well as a Best Public History Award from the National Council for Public History.

OAH Lectures by Matt Garcia

In September 1962, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) convened its first convention in Fresno, California, initiating a movement that would result in the creation of United Farm Workers and the first contracts for farm workers in the state of California in 1970. Led by Cesar Chavez, the union contributed a number of innovations to the art of social protest, including the most successful consumer boycott in the history of the United States. By the mid-1970s, the United Farm Workers pursued justice within the boundaries of a state law, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, and the implementation of state-monitored union elections on California farms in 1976. In spite of these triumphs, Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers lost their way by the late 1970s, never to regain the strength they enjoyed during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In his presentation, Matt Garcia, author of the new book From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement (University of California Press, 2012), discusses the lessons from the movement and why it is important to hold Cesar Chavez accountable for its failure to achieve its primary goal: the establishment of a national farm worker union. Garcia avoids presenting Chavez as an apotheosized saint prevalent in most other renditions of this history. Rather, Garcia reveals him to be a man subject to emotions and impulses that shape all of us. His presentation explores the consequences of more than forty years of Chavez hagiography and why we need to begin exploring the complexities of his character and the union he lead. Ultimately Garcia argues for a new look at this history that contributes to a stronger, more accountable food justice movement today.

In September 1962, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) convened its first convention in Fresno, California, initiating a multiracial movement that would result in the creation of United Farm Workers and the first contracts for farm workers in the state of California. Led by Cesar Chavez, the union contributed a number of innovations to the art of social protest, including the most successful consumer boycott in the history of the United States. Chavez often referred to the boycott as “capitalism in reverse” for its power to turn ordinary shoppers into union allies. Garcia discusses the accomplishments of the movement, including the benefits gained through the formation of a diverse organization that welcomed contributions from numerous ethnic and racial groups, men and women, young and old. For a time, the UFW was the realization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s beloved community. Garcia demonstrates that the community became increasingly difficult to maintain for Chavez as the state of California became more involved in adjudicating labor disputes in the mid-1970s. Although Chavez and the UFW ultimately failed to establish a permanent union, the boycott offers important lessons to those wishing to build a new food justice movement today.


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