Latinx Grassroots Archives: Quotidian Histories in Albuquerque, Tijuana, and the San Gabriel Valley

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of ALANA Historians and ALANA Histories, IEHS, OHA, and WHA

Friday, March 31, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Latino/a; Local and Community History; Social and Cultural


When confronted with the reality of our collective crises, to witness and to remember is an imperative. This requires an unwillingness to give up on the remnants of small, grassroots archives which hold the histories of Latinx placemaking, identity, and social movements. In recent years, Latinx historians have reminded us the ways in which archives do not provide a full picture of history, and that history can and should be made by historians who can speak to communities with vivid memories and recollections of these recent pasts. This panel considers historians’ work in and through twentieth and twenty-first century Latinx community archives across regional and transnational boundaries. As historians, to witness and remember means to balance the delicate craft of piecing together when so little remains. To reckon with history for uncertain times requires an approach to the archive that demands an unwavering commitment to our histories and communities. This panel considers the reality of working with small, grassroots archives and community members along the Mexico-U.S. border, in community organizations’ basements in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and among fragmented receipts and oral histories from Latinx food entrepreneurs in the central San Gabriel Valley. MJ Plascencia’s work is a community-centered project that is driven primarily by the personal collections of small businesses and family archives in Tijuana. Divana Olivas’ paper centers Chicanx food politics in New Mexico, which has led her to gather oral histories and document the local history of an Albuquerque-based environmental justice organization called the SouthWest Organizing Project. Natalie Santizo’s work creates a methodological approach to working with fragmented histories, called “critical Latinx foodways,” demonstrated in this paper through a case study of food entrepreneurs in the labor camps of El Monte, California. Taken together, our papers reflect on working with grassroots archives across regional and transnational boundaries and argue that Latinx histories are vital in learning about cultural belonging, racial formations, and survival in these spaces.

Papers Presented

Chicanx Food Politics: Oral histories and Community archives of the SouthWest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico

This paper centers the methodological approach to my dissertation research on New Mexican food politics from statehood to climate crisis. In my research, I find the multiple and varied ways that food-- as material and metaphor-- functions to reinforce, reimagine, and resist power hierarchies. In the case of the Albuquerque-based SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), food politics served as a way to build political analysis and mobilize community members around issues of environmental racism in the early 1980s and 1990s. In this way, I position food politics within a longer view of Chicanx political organizing in the state, a narrative which is often overlooked. I trace the cultivation, circulation, and consumption of food in SWOP’s archival material, which requires creativity to piece together moments that might otherwise be forgotten. As feminist food scholars argue, such as Meredith Abarca and Carole Counihan, the quotidian nature of food demands an analysis that centers people’s everyday interactions. This informs my methodological approach to my oral history interviews of SWOP organizers. I follow Abarca and Counihan’s method of asking organizers about their day-to-day food cultures and traditions. The histories that emerge from a granular analysis of specific movement leaders, alongside an analysis of the organization’s politics, paints a fuller picture of Chicanx food politics in New Mexico. I contribute a food history of New Mexico that centers Chicanx community organizing, and social movement history.

Presented By
Divana Olivas, University of Southern California

Aqui Empieza La Patria: Oral Histories and Community Archives in Tijuana, Baja California

This paper focuses on my community grounded methodological approach for my dissertation, “Aqui Empieza La Patria: Cultural Placemaking in Tijuana from 1942-1988.” In my dissertation, I argue that “everyday people” are important placemakers: small businesses owners, street vendors, food workers, students, and Tijuana residents who often fall through the cracks of major archival collections. To uncover the silences in the formal archives, I conduct oral histories and draw from archival collections of Tijuana residents. History enthusiasts, like Don Jose Saldaña, share their personal collections with the public through small local libraries and engage audiences on social media. Others have private documents pertaining to their businesses, daily life, and Tijuana ephemera that historians have not looked at. Finally, I bring primary sources to my oral history interviews. I find that when I do, people share detailed memories of a historic event or a specific site. In this paper, I argue for the importance of working with community members to think about the histories obscured by the “formal” archives. I push us to think about how we can center community archives in our historical work. Finally, I explore the ways in which oral history can help us write more nuanced histories.

Presented By
Maria Jose Plascencia, Yale University

Making Salsa in the Camps: Mexican Entrepreneurship and Labor in El Monte, 1920-1959

This paper discusses what I call “critical Latinx foodways,” a methodological approach to recovering fragmented histories in unincorporated areas of the twentieth century. To demonstrate this methodological approach, I utilize a case study on Mexican food entrepreneurs and grocers in the labor camps of El Monte, a city located within the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. I discuss how marginalized communities challenged regional power structures through the everyday act of eating and vending Mexican foods and food goods. In my work, I collaborate with local, grassroots archives like La Historia in El Monte and personal collections of community members like Cruz Baca in Baldwin Park, to recover fragmented histories of Mexican food laborers and vendors, demonstrating the need to work with and through community archives. I find that food laborers and vendors shape the places they work (labor), live in (placemaking), and move across (mobility). I argue that histories of Mexican food vendors and laborers are vital to our understanding of belonging and placemaking in the San Gabriel Valley.

Presented By
Natalie Santizo, University of California, Merced (UC President's Postdoc)

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Anneleise Victoria Azua Ph.D., University of Houston, Anthropology
Anneleise Azua is an anthropologist and public historian. Currently, she serves as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Houston’s Department of Comparative Cultural Studies and Anthropology. Her research focuses largely on Texas, Mexico, and the ways humans, plants, and the land create history and culture together. Currently, her work investigates the science of plant medicine and healing in Texas and Mexico, and its complex relationship with the environment, colonialism, and transnational understandings of race. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Gender Studies from the University of Southern California. In 2021, she was a Fulbright EDUFI fellow in the Department of Cultures at the University of Helsinki (Finland). From 2018-2020, she served as a fellow and researcher in the Division of Medicine and Science at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Presenter: Divana Olivas, University of Southern California
Divana Olivas is a Ph.D. candidate and Annenberg Fellow in American Studies and Ethnicity, with a graduate certificate in Public Policy Advocacy at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation, Red or Green?: New Mexican Food Politics from Statehood to Climate Crisis is about the various ways people use food, as metaphor + material, to enforce, resist, and reimagine power hierarchies. Divana’s work has been supported by the New Mexico History Scholars’ Program, the Western History Association, the Latino Oral History Project, USC’S Joint Educational Project, and the Ford Dissertation Fellowship.

Presenter: Maria Jose Plascencia, Yale University
Maria Jose Plascencia is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Yale University. Her dissertation, “Aqui Empieza La Patria: Cultural Placemaking in Tijuana from 1942-1988” focuses on the urban and cultural development of the border city after the demographic explosion of the mid-20th century. In this project, she studies the politics of power in placemaking by looking at the tensions between state developers and the local communities that fought to make their respective visions of Tijuana come true. Her work situates these historical events within the economic and political context of the San Diego- Tijuana border region. MJ’s methodology is grounded in community work, as she collaborates with Tijuanenses, small local archives, and conducts oral histories. She is also committed to the public humanities and has worked with the Migrant Justice Initiative (MJI) at Yale and the National Museum of American History through the Yale-Smithsonian partnership. MJ’s work has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Yale Center for Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM).

Presenter: Natalie Santizo, University of California, Merced (UC President's Postdoc)
Natalie Santizo is a doctoral candidate in the department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Natalie’s current project “Critical Latinx Foodways: Racial Formation, Regional Identity, and Placemaking in the San Gabriel Valley, 1900-1968” explores twentieth century Latinx foodways—the production, consumption, and distribution of foods and food laborers—to piece together a social history of Latinx communities in Southern California. She addresses gaps in 20th century United States historiography by centering a foodways lens to recover histories of survival of marginalized Chicanx communities in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. Her dissertation takes a mixed-methods approach (archival research, GIS mapping, content analysis, and oral history) to create two interventions: 1. Foregrounding public history in piecing together Chicanx social histories and 2. Advancing the framework of “critical latinx foodways,” a methodological approach to recovering fragmented histories that expands far beyond this region. Natalie’s work has been supported by the Ford Dissertation Fellowship, an Institute of American Cultures Grant at UCLA, and a Graduate Research Fellowship at UCLA.