Verónica Martínez-Matsuda

Dr. Verónica Martínez-Matsuda is an Associate Professor at Cornell University's ILR School, where she teaches courses on U.S. immigration, Latino/a/x studies, and labor and working-class history. In 2021, she was granted the State University of New York Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Martínez-Matsuda received her Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Texas at Austin. Her most recent article, "For Labor and Democracy: Competing Visions of Migrant Farmwork, Social Reform, and American Civil Rights in the 1940s," appeared in The Journal of American History (Sept. 2019) and was awarded the 2020 OAH Binkley-Stephenson Prize for the best article in the JAH during the preceding calendar year. Martínez-Matsuda is also the author of Migrant Citizenship: Race, Rights, and Reform in the U.S. Farm Labor Camp Program (2020), which was awarded the 2021 OAH (with co-sponsorship by the Labor and Working-Class History Association) David Montgomery Award for the best book in labor and working-class history. Her research has received funding from the Ford Foundation, the Smithsonian, and the Institute for Citizens & Scholars (formerly Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation), among other institutions.

Martínez-Matsuda's research is grounded in the following central question: How do those excluded from the legal and everyday rights of American citizenship because of their political status, racial identity, or class standing as low-wage workers, express civic membership and claim national belonging? In particular, her work has centered on how agricultural workers' experiences of disenfranchisement have varied and yet informed one another across different historical junctures, places, and relative to their specific circumstances of noncitizenship, racial subjugation, and economic exploitation. Her areas of research include relational race and ethnic studies, farm labor, rural housing, and immigration/migration history from a social and political perspective.

OAH Lectures by Verónica Martínez-Matsuda

This talk will center on the important actions Mexican and Mexican American migrant women residing in the Texas farm labor camps during the 1930s and 1940s took to establish the camps as sites of democratic reform, and advance their family’s labor and civil rights. Despite their long-standing experience as farmers, farmworkers, and packing shed and cannery employees, government officials repeatedly ignored or discredited Tejanas’ productive labor contributions. As wives, mothers, or daughters of workers, Tejanas were characterized as supportive but not pivotal to the family economy. Rather than accepting that the camps' gendered constraints were emblematic of dominant ideology at the time, this talk will consider how progressive federal officials reconstituted a political framework that kept farmworkers disenfranchised, divided, and bound in their exploited condition by subverting more solidaristic possibilities.

Beginning in 1938, the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) launched one of the largest, most far-reaching experiments in health care delivery ever undertaken by the federal government when it established various state-based Agricultural Workers Health Associations (AWHA). Through these associations, the FSA provided farmworker families critical aid to combat the alarming rates of disease, malnourishment, infant mortality, and poverty that plagued their lives. In an unprecedented manner, the FSA’s health plans brought national attention to the seriousness of migrants’ health conditions and supported farmworkers’ claims about their inability to receive medical care. In the process of conducting this promising effort, however, the FSA’s medical program also reflected and deepened problematic cultural biases that further exploited and racialized rural poor people. This talk examines the tension between U.S. public health care and medical racialization, particularly as it intersected with migrants’ civil rights.

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.

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