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California migrants commemorated in CSUB Walter W. Stiern Library exhibit

We can see what poverty looked like in America.
migrant workers
Posted at 4:27 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 18:12:18-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — California has played a pivotal role in many chapters of our country's history and migrants have been at the center of much of it.

However, those migrants have not always been recognized for those contributions.

A new exhibit at the CSUB Walter W. Stiern Library explored the migrant labor experience in the 1930’s and the connections to Kern County.

With drought in many parts of the country, the stock market crashing, and the mechanization of farming, the Dust Bowl was the perfect storm for people to head out west.

Through pictures and articles from that time, we can see what poverty looked like in America. Still, as more information becomes available, history continues to be revised to get a better picture of those chapters and that is what this exhibit aims to do.

“They were also a big part of the migrant labor, but you don’t see them in a lot of those posters, or you don’t see them on the covers of books,” said Kristen Gallant, Outreach and User Engagement Librarian at Walter W. Stiern Library.

Kristen Gallant who helped create the exhibit is talking about these faces. Those of Mexican, Japanese, and Black migrant workers, who came to California and helped feed Americans during the Great Depression.

“All of the photographs that we use for the exhibit were taken by Dorothea Lange herself, most people are familiar with her work of migrant mother.”

“The face of migrant labors were white because that is what they related to. It does not mean that it was consciousness on their part to exclude other ethnicities or other experiences, but I think for them it is what they specifically related to, and they were the lens through which all of these experiences were being filtered,” said Gallant.

With images of white migrants being published, photographer Dorothea Lange captured the full diversity of a changing California landscape.

“There are thousands of photographs, and they are not just of white families they are Asian American, Filipino, Mexican. So, there is a lot of diversity in her own collection,” said Donato Cruz, Archives and Marketing Assistant of Walter W. Stiern Library.

It wasn’t until recently that exhibitions like this one are dusting those pictures off the archives to adjust the lens through which we see history.

“People narrow the farmworker movement or farmworker labor to be Hispanic at the point of Caesar Chavez and we can see in the photos that Latino farmworkers have been here for a very long time,” said Cruz.

Donato Cruz who also helped bring this display to life says it’s highlighting those overlooked.

“To me that shows legacy for people who have generationally been farmworkers or people who have taken pride in being Black farmers as well for many years and generations, especially here in California where there is very little.”

Aside from the diversity aspect, the exhibition focuses on several other topics, including the often-false narratives billboards made migrant labor look like, and the poverty many faced. A reality that Gallant points out is true today with many farmworkers still living in poverty and struggling to feed their own while feeding America.

You can check out the display through May 20 and there is also an online portion that has a lengthier version of the one on display.