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Ernesto Galarza

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Title: Ernesto Galarza  
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Subject: Bracero program, Sacramento Charter High School, Chicana/o studies
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Ernesto Galarza

Ernesto Galarza (1905–June 22, 1984) was a Mexican-American labor activist, professor, poet and writer, a key figure in the history of immigrant farm worker organization in California.

Early career

Born in Jalcocotan, near Tepic in the Mexican state of Nayarit, Galarza immigrated with his mother and two uncles to Sacramento, California.[1] As recalled in his autobiographical Barrio Boy, the young Galarza successfully navigated the cultural differences in the public school system, attained a scholarship to Occidental College in Los Angeles,then went on to earn a master's degree in history at Stanford University in 1929.

Galarza worked with the Pan-American Union (now the Organization of American States) in Washington D.C. from 1936 through 1947 publishing analyses on educational, labor and infrastructure issues in Latin America. In 1947 he completed his doctoral dissertation on the electricity industry in Mexico, taking a Ph.D. from Columbia University.[2]

Labor organization

Galarza worked as an labor organizer and "a key leader in laying the groundwork for the emergence in California of the farm labor movement. National Farm Labor Union. Galarza begin organizing farm workers in California in 1948 as research and education director of the American Federation of Labor's short-lived National Farm Labor Union .

Galarza organized a 1947 strike against the DiGiorgio Corporation in Arvin, California that lasted 30 months, and entangled the company and the union in suits and counter-suits for the following 15 years. Altogether between 1948 and 1959, Galarza and the union initiated some twenty strikes and labor actions.[3]

Although primarily an intellectual and scholar whose weapons were words, Galarza initially played an activist's role with the AFL as the leader of several strikes. But he was completely thwarted by the bracero program and so abandoned the union leader's weapon of direct economic action for the intellectual's weapon of words in hopes of killing the program.

A prolific writer, Galarza's best-known work is Merchants of Labor (1964), an exposé of the abuses within the Bracero Program. The book was instrumental in the ending of the program, which in turn opened the door for Cesar Chavez to begin unionizing immigrant farmworkers in 1965.[4]

In 1956 Galarza was awarded the Bolivian Order of the Condor of the Andes.[5] The Ernesto Galarza Applied Research Center at the University of California Riverside, and other California elementary and secondary schools, bear his name. His many books include:

  • Barrio Boy, 1971
  • Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story, 1964
  • Spiders in the House and Workers in the Field, 1970


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