Saturday, August 11, 2012

“Americanization” Programs in the Citrus Industry


In his book Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden, historian Douglas Caxaux Sackman writes:

Leading agricultural employers, including representatives of the citrus industry, lobbied to keep the border with Mexico porous in order to keep up the supply of workers they could employ on a no-risk basis (noncitizen worker advocates could be deported).  But Sunkist also tried to create a stable, skilled, and thus reliable workforce by incorporating Mexicanos into American society to a degree.  Convinced that environmental influence was critical to the creation of contentment and efficiency, Sunkist and the state’s Progressive social agencies—foremost among them the California Commission of Immigration and Housing—agreed that the Mexicano worker had to be made at home.


The commission’s cultural construction of homes would follow a blueprint called AmericanizationSeveral historians have presented especially illuminating examinations of the Americanization process as negotiated by Mexicanos in the Southwest.  What emerges from this new interrogation of Americanization is not a simple top-down program that was either accepted or rejected by those who would be Americanized, but a multi-faceted and constantly evolving struggle over the meaning of immigration, identity, and citizenship.  Americanizaton was a contested concept, which is not surprising: after all, the term raised core issues about who and what counted as American.

During World War I, some Americanization programs emphasized “100 percent Americanism” as an imperative of national security.  A battle was waged between the groups that saw the American as an essentially homogenous entity and those who saw the American as a product of a combination of traditions.  The metaphor of the melting pot could work for both sides:  all elements combining to make something new and multifarious or all differences melted down and boiled off so that a new person could be stamped out who would live according to the American way.  At the Ford Motor plant, immigrant workers went through an Americanization program that promised to turn them into pure and patriotic products of America.  Graduation was marked with a ritual: workers would walk into a six-foot tall “melting pot” dressed in the peculiar clothes of their nation of origin, and walk out dressed like a department store mannequin and waving American flags. 


As much as the commission celebrated mutual cultural respect in theory, in the field Mexicanos were most often viewed as people who had to adapt to the “American way of life.”  That American way of life, we should also note, was more of a fiction than a description of the way native-born Americans lived…The American way of life did not exist; rather, it was being invented at the time by various apostles of modernity—social workers, academics, and advertisers.

The Home Teacher Act became law in 1915.  The home teacher was “to work in the homes of the pupils, instructing children and adults in matters relating to school attendance and preparation, sanitation, in the English language, in household duties such as purchase, preparation and use of food and of clothing and in the fundamental principles of the American system of government and the rights and duties of citizenship.”

Taste itself was up for grabs.  As George Sanchez points out, “Food and diet management became yet another tool in a system of social control intended to produce a well-behaved, productive citizenry”…In California, reformers saw salsa as being…uncouth.  Obviously, this was good news to California’s fruit, vegetable, and canning industries.  They worked closely with home economists and the state to create an ideal dietary template reformers could use to change the palates of Americans of all stripes.


Using its environmental theory of the origin and spread of worker radicalism, the commission portrayed good housing as a prophylactic against strikes…Providing books and magazines, billiards, and even movies could stave off a descent into bad morale, disease, or unionism…Ultimately, the commission believed that the key to creating harmonious labor relations lay in managing the bodies and special experiences of workers.

Appealing to economics rather than humanitarianism, [the commission] reasoned that “to make a citrus camp pay—to make it produce the desired workers—it is necessary to create an atmosphere that will attract and hold such workers.”

Local associations made sure to construct a house for a home teacher in the midst of their worker communities.  Growers often selected the teachers and sometimes paid part of their salaries as well.  These teachers, in turn, often reported to the growers about what they saw going in in the Americanization classes.  Thus, surveillance and uplift cohavitated.  Furthermore, these workers’ homes did not enjoy sanctity, as police would sometimes raid them without warrants.

Housing policy was at bottom a form of social control designed to enhance profits.

"Americanzation" Programs in Orange County

In his book A History of the Fullerton Union High School and Fullerton Junior College 1893-1943, superintendent Louis Plummer includes a section entitled “Americanizaton” which demonstrates the prevailing attitudes behind these programs:

It takes the determination and sacrificial spirit of a crusader to undertake and carry to success the training of any considerable immigrant population in the tenets of American democracy.  Yet this must be done if we are to be a homogenous people rather than a conglomerate of Little Italys, Little Chinas, Little Mexicos and so on, ad infinitum.  We need not go into the merits of our immigration laws and exclusion acts.  The facts are that we have such groups and that their training in the ways of good American citizenship is as important as it was when your parents or foreparents and mine received similar training.

The Fullerton Union High School district has always had, and still has, a large Mexican population.  Some of them are migrant workers, most of them stay throughout the year to work at fruit-and nut-picking and the raising of vegetables.  They were and are our neighbors; their children are our children’s associates.  They affect our social, economic, and civic welfare.  Schools, churches, law-making and law-enforcing agencies must recognize the problems inherent in such a situation.

The school’s acceptance of this responsibility led to the establishment of and Americanization Department of the Fullerton Union High School.  The impetus that placed the whole program in motion came from the La Habra Citrus Association.  Miss Druzilla Mackey had been employed by this association—but Miss Mackey will tell her own story. [Here Plummer quotes a long passage written by Mackey about her experiences as a teacher in segregated “Mexican schools” in Fullerton and La Habra.  Her tone is equal parts compassion and condescension]:

On a hot July afternoon in 1920 I sat across the desk from young Mr. George Hodgkin, recently appointed head of the Labor Relations Department of the California Fruit Growers Exchange.  He asked if I knew the work of the State Commission of Housing and Immigration, if I knew that California had recently enacted a law which compelled employers of agricultural labor to provide good housing for their workers with sufficient sanitary arrangements for decent living.  He told how the California Fruit Grower’s Exchange had complied with all state regulations only to find that good homes do not immediately turn Mexican laborers into first-class American citizens.  He said that five years ago, the La Habra Citrus Association had built a model colony but its inhabitants would not live in a model way.  Mr. Hodgkin felt that the problem might be solved by education and asked if, under the California Home Teachers Act, I would be willing to experiment in the La Habra “Camp.”

During the eight years I had been teaching in the foreign schools of Los Angeles I had always been disquieted by the fact that I traveled several miles each day from my home to the very different section of the city in which I worked.  This was a mistake.  How could I become an educational leader in a neighborhood in which I had no integral part?  I had recently been reading New Schools for Old by Evelyn Dewey and wishing that in some foreign neighborhood I could play the part of Mrs. Harvey when she made a new rural school from an old one.  So when Mr. Hodgkin said that his idea of the “La Habra Experiment” would be for the teacher to live in the camp as one of the community I promptly said I would try it.

The camp, sixty three-room cabins on a breezy hillside, was located one mile from the town of La Habra itself.  Most of its sixty families had come, only a short time before, from a land of adobe houses with dirt floors and stoves built into the adobe walls, a land in which the barefoot peon was lucky to earn twenty-five or fifty cents a day, where the family food came almost wholly from the cornfield with its red blossoming beans climbing up the corn-stalks.  Sometimes the laborer would be able to buy a goat or even a cow which he kept conveniently tied to the door-post.


And now in the year 1920 here were these same laborers in Los Estados Unidos earning occasionally mas much as three whole dollars for one day of orange picking; living in a real house of wood with floors, not just dirt, with screened windows of glass.  Kindly employers had even provided each window with a bright blue shade which would roll up and down—if you knew how to work it.  Before many months in this “too rich United States of the North” a dozen of these families had become the proud possessors each of a rickety horse and cart.  Some four or five had cows and sold milk to their neighbors and nearly everyone was raising chickens and a fat little pig.  They were enthusiastic about adopting the ways of their new country, but how to do it?  How did you manage one of those tricky American cook stoves?  How could you do the family wash without a river or make those luscious American pies so beloved by the Mexican husband?  Above all how could you make a dress like those worn by the “Hi tone senoras in el pueblo de La Habra?”  Despite stirring ambitions these people, underfed and miserably housed since childhood, still carried a hangover of lazy undependability.  Even with a horse and cart it was a chore to haul and cut your own firewood when the American “boss” insisted that you arrive in the orchard exactly at seven o’clock you just ran out and ripped a few pieces of siding from the walls of your little cabin to hurry the morning coffee along.  When your hillside home was raised above the ground on cement blocks to make its floor level, what more convenient place to shelter your suckling child and family pig than on the ground beneath?  No health authorities in Mexico had led you to attach any significance to the close proximity of a tiny baby and a mother pig with her litter so long as all were happy together in the shady coolness beneath the house.

Mr. Hodgkin was right; education was needed.  Under his guidance the Fullerton Union High School had agreed to pay a teacher of English for these people, the La Habra Grammar School a home teacher and truant officer, the La Habra Citrus Association a resident camp manager.  All had entered into a cooperative plan by which the functions of English teacher, home teacher, truant officer and camp manager would be carried on by one person to make complete the “La Habra Experiment.”  The cordial cooperation of labor employers with the school was  a leading factor in the success of our experiment.

Few people in the colony had ever attended school more than two years and non more than five, so I must sell them the idea of learning English.  In book-agent fashion I went from house to house asking the women if they would like to speak English.  They invariably told me in dramatic Spanish how hard their heads were and how they couldn’t read, but from my hand-bag I took four tiny bottles and explained their contents, “Coffee, sugar, chocolate, salt.”  In a few moments they were saying over after me these English words and I was explaining how easy it would be to go to the American grocery and say, “I want some coffee” etc.  After several of these individual lessons to overcome the inherent Mexican timidity, the women suggested a class in English where they could practice together.  When I moved into my camp house I asked some of the women to show me the best places in “el Pueblo” to buy furniture.  With their assistance I bought a table, an oil cook stove, two straight chairs and an army cot.  They told me the cot would be cold—and it was.  In our neighborly intercourse they always taught me more than I did them.  Seeing how little I bought, especially groceries, they decided that the “theen little teacher” was hard put to make ends meet until pay day.  They held a meeting, I discovered in later years, and arranged to give me neighborly aid until I could support myself.  One brought me a quart of milk, every day, others fresh corn and one good friend brought me two fresh eggs each morning during the whole of my stay in the camp.  I was invited to eat one good hot meal every day in some one or other of the houses, and when I had acquired the art of eating without knife and fork I found them delicious.

A few evenings in the camp convinced me that most of its shootings and knifings were the result of a lack of recreation.  Each evening the men assembled in groups out of doors around a lantern or small fire to play a gambling game which often ended in a quarrel.  They were enthusiastic about evening school and when its newness began to wear off we organized various celebrations and parties, a Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas entertainment, also a benefit lodge.  The women came to classes in cooking and sewing and, during the second year, to a well-baby clinic.

In seeking out and fostering Mexican native arts we discovered the saintly wood carver, Senor Francisco Espana whose work came known as far away as the city of New York.  To California he contributed his genius by spending many months in San Juan Calistrano where he assisted the work of Father O’Sullivan by repairing the broken statues and defaced paintings of the old mission.  His influence as a community leader was of immeasurable assistance in every camp activity.

After two years of work in La Habra the Mexicans were living more peacefully together because they were busy on community projects organizing their lodge, planning a community dinner, learning English in evening school, an orchestra, etc.  All domestic animals had been moved from the dooryards to stables built by the Citrus Association.  The houses were clean and the people careful about preparing for the weekly garbage collection.  Americans in La Habra came early and often to the camp entertainments and community dinners.  They now spoke with personal pride of “Our” Mr. Espana and “Our” Mexican camp.

The Bastanchury School after it was moved to Ford School in 1934 and converted into a soup kitchen during the Great Depression.

The high school now decided to try similar experiments in other Mexican colonies in the union district.  In the town of Fullerton itself the Placentia Orange Growers’ Association had just completed twenty-four homes for its Mexican employees.  This was indeed a “model” colony, beautifully located in a walnut grove, four room houses each with a flush toilet, community showers and wash house with automatic hot water, a large community hall and a home for the teacher.  Despite these carefully planned conveniences the Americanization work in this center was the least successful in the department.  Probably because:

1.) Instead of giving its Fullerton employees the anticipated opportunity of living in this well-equipped camp, the Orange Growers imported laborers from the Pomona district and installed them in this choice spot.  This aroused bitter antagonism among the local group who deridingly gave this colony the name of “Campo Pomona.”  Even with all its splendid equipment few of the “Town Mexicans” would come to classes in its community hall or cooperate in its community projects.

2.) The Fullerton colony was built right in the town and American neighbors who felt that their property had been devalued by its close proximity to the Mexicans treated them with humiliating scorn.

3.) The teacher of the group was not employed partly by the Orange Growers’ but wholly by the high school.  Partly for this reason in the first years of our work she did not receive the hearty support of the Association.

After four years the department was fortunate enough to secure the services of Mrs. Arletta Klahn Kelly as teacher of this group.  With her fluent command of Spanish, genuine understanding of the people and enthusiasm for hard work Mrs. Kelly accomplished wonders in the amalgamation of warring Mexican factions and in bringing neighbors and employers into cooperation with her work.  She became an outstanding leader among the Mexicans of the entire county.  To her county welfare workers continually came, and still do with their problems because of her kindly and thorough understanding of the Mexican people.


It was through an invitation to a Mexican part that we first discovered several little known Mexican camps far back in the hills of Bastanchury ranch.  It was the policy of this ranch company to allow any Mexican who could find sufficient scraps of sheet iron, discarded fence-posts and sign-boards to build a shelter, to establish himself on the ranch.  The larges of these camps, called Little Tia Juana, was pronounced by an artist friend the most bewitching bit of primitive art show had ever seen.  “Who,” she said, “but a Mexican could contrive a lovely vine covered patio from rusted bed-springs salvaged from the dump?”  As an Americanization worker I was not so much impressed by the rare artistry of this community as by the fact that all of its thirty families must be served by one lone water faucet and a few makeshift privies.  And this was only one of six similar colonies scattered over the largest orange ranch in the world.  Its owners had the old-world feudalistic attitude toward their farm hands.  They felt generous in allowing these  squatters to establish homes on their ranch and could not comprehend its danger to the health and morality of the community as a whole.

Americanization teachers were always met with a cordial welcome among the Bastanchury Mexicans and during the several years we worked with the Commission of Immigration and Housing to secure better homes most of our classes were conducted in their own hovels.  After seven years and, at the last, principally through the good offices of a local pastor, Dr. Graham C. Hunter, the Bastanchury Company built suitable homes for their laborers, provided with plenty of toilets and running water.

With the construction of better homes and a community hall built and equipped by the high school the work on Bastanchury ranch became a genuine success.  Classes were welcomed by both men and women and the community hall was much too small to accommodate the audiences which assembled for entertainments and community meetings.  Whenever possible these were held out of doors in front of the hall with most of the audience providing its own seats.  A vital part of the work became the Mexican benefit lodge with an enthusiasm for education an social betterment.  This lodge part of the expense of a well-baby clinic in the colony.  Even after the ranch changed ownership and all employees were required to move elsewhere these Mexicans now living in the Alta Vista camp remained enthusiastically clinic-minded.

The Bastanchury group was always the poorest of our Mexicans, the most friendly and alsothe most idealistic.  Their warm friendship was greatly fostered by Mr. and Mrs. Plummer who were not afraid to frequently entertain and be entertained by these most poverty-stricken of our people.

During our first year as a department of the high school, when we were doing experimental work in Fullerton and on Bastanchury ranch, we were visited by a delegation of Mexican women from Placentia.  They asked if we could “give school” in Placentia.  They said that in other colonies the young hombres were attending evening school instead of “going all nights to the pool” (pool hall).  We could find no convenient place for such classes except an abandoned restaurant.  The Mexicans cleaned this out, the high school provided chars and blackboards and with the volunteer assistance of Mrs. Clemence Allec Melton we dispensed English across the restaurant lunch counter three evenings a week to a full house.  During the following year, with the assistance of Mr. C.C. Chapman, three local citrus association and the Mexicans themselves, a large community hall was built.  Through the enthusiastic work of Mrs. Melton and Mrs. E.P. Roy this center became our largest and served as a starting point for future work in the nearby Mexican colonies of La Jolla Road and Atwood.  Because the Mexican people themselves had assisted in erecting the building and organizing the work of this center, they felt it was their own.  In it they not only held classes, dances, parties, and patriotic celebrations, but on a rainy day when they could not work it was here the men assembled to read and play games.  It was to this building the women came in groups to make quilts and comforters, to wash with the electric washer which paid for itself by being rented out under the supervision of our good friend and capable janitress, Mrs. Mata.

Chapman Mansion

Citrus Housing
The Mexicans in Placentia were eater in their inquiries about home owning and demanded lessons and lectures along this line.  In a short time many bought lots and built homes on La Jolla road and in Atwood as well as Placentia.  In 1931 a survey showed that more than half the Mexicans in Placentia and practically all in Altwood and La Jolla were buying their own homes.

At the end of ten years’ work our department had five teachers and six active centers of work—then Old Man Depression struck us aknock-down blow.

In this time of stress and strain the American community no longer spoke of “Our” Mexicans.  They no longer considered that no “whiteman” could pick oranges.  Instead they felt that the jobs done so patiently by Mexicans for so many years should now be give to them.  “Those” Mexicans instead of “Our” Mexicans should “all be shipped right back to Mexico where they belong.”  The Americanization centers in which these people had been taught how to buy and make themselves a part of the American community were now used for calling together assemblages in which county welfare workers explained to bewildered audiences that their small jobs would now be taken over by the white men, that they were no longer needed or wanted in the United States.  They explained that the Welfare Department no longer had any money to aid them during times of unemployment, but would furnish them a free trip back to Mexico.  And so—one morning we saw nine train-loads of our dear friends roll away back to the windowless, dirt-floored homes we had taught them to despise.

With depression-frightened tax-payers at their heels the high-school authorities were forced to cut the Americanization department to the bone.  We kept it going as best we could in the fond hope that prosperity might be hiding around the corner, but evidently it wasn’t and after four years of such low wages as to permit not even a Mexican to support a family they organized a county wide strike among thefruit pickers.  Latent antagonisms between the two nation-allies came to fever heat.  Deafness prevented my being of any real service at this time so I gave up my work and the high school decided to close the department.

What were its lasting values?  Quien sabe.

A crowd of Mexican American immigrants being sent back to Mexico in a formal repatriation (or deportation) in 1931.

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