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Guide to the Ernesto Galarza Papers, 1936-1984 M0224
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  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Publication Rights
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  • Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Ernesto Galarza Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: M0224
    Physical Description: 41.5 Linear Feet
    Date (inclusive): 1936-1984
    Abstract: Correspondence, reports, minutes, legal documents, notes, newsletters, press releases, newsclippings, statistical information, questionnaires and photographs documenting Galarza's career as a labor organizer, scholar, Research Director in the National Agricultural Workers Union (1947-1960), and nationally prominent Mexican American activist.
    Language of Material: English .

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Galarza Papers reflect the multi-faceted career of activist scholar Ernesto Galarza. The thirty-two linear feet of papers consist of correspondence, reports, minutes, legal documents, notes, newsletters, press releases, newsclippings, statistical information, questionnaires, and photographs dating from 1923 to 1984. The collection is divided into five series: Personal and Biographical Information; Writings of Ernesto Galarza; Organizational Files; Subject Files; and Photographs/Graphic Materials.
    The Galarza Papers are particularly rich in information about Mexican and Mexican American farm workers in California from 1948 to 1960. As research director and organizer for the National Agricultural Workers Union during those years, Galarza gathered data and wrote extensively about the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers. Other subject strengths include the development of the National Agricultural Workers Union, other farm labor groups, and non-agricultural organizations, such as El Congreso del Pueblo de Habla Espanola and La Raza Unida. A myriad of other issues are represented in the collection, including employment, bilingual education, immigration, discrimination, poverty programs, and Mexican American culture.


    Ernesto Galarza was born in Jalcocotan in the state of Nayarit, Mexico, in 1905. In 1910, Ernesto, his mother, and two maternal uncles left their village to find employment and escape the depredations during the Madero Revolt. They spent three years traveling northward before settling in Sacramento, California. During their journey, they spent one year in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, where Galarza began his formal schooling in 1911. Although his mother and one uncle died in an influenza epidemic when Ernesto was only twelve, his other uncle made it possible for him to continue his education. He soon became fluent in English, and took part-time and summer jobs as a messenger, drug store clerk, court interpreter, and field and cannery worker. Following graduation from high school, Galarza entered Occidental College in Los Angeles on scholarship in 1923. He was a member of the debate team, wrote for the school newspaper, did field work in Mexico during his senior year, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
    A year after his graduation in 1927, Galarza received a fellowship to study Latin American history and political science at Stanford University. While at Stanford, he married Mae Taylor, a Sacramento teacher. He received the M.A. in 1929, having written a thesis entitled Mexico and the World War (available in the Green Library stacks, and in the Stanford University Archives). He then entered Columbia University to begin a doctoral program in Latin American history.
    In the early 1930s, the Galarzas established the Year-Long School, an experimental elementary program on Long Island where students spent the summer working on a farm. He continued to teach, lecture, and write and do research on Latin America for the Foreign Policy Association in New York.
    A fellowship enabled him to do field work and write his dissertation, La industria electrica en Mexico (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1941). He obtained a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1944. Galarza spent nearly eleven years in Washington, D.C., first as research associate in education, and then as Chief of the Division of Labor and Social Information at the Pan-American Union. He was particularly interested in the living conditions of Mexican contract workers, the braceros who first came to the United States on a war-time emergency basis in 1942. By July, 1945, more than 58,000 braceros were working in agriculture, and almost 62,000 were on railroad crews. Galarza traveled to bracero camps and worked to publicize and correct conditions and abuses.
    He also was employed by the Bolivian government as a consultant on labor and economic conditions; he later published his findings in The Case of Bolivia (Washington, D.C.: Pan American Union, Inter-American Reports, 1949). He wrote and edited a number of titles in the Inter-American Reports and the Latin America for Young Readers series, published by the Pan-American Union. Galarza left his post with the Pan-American Union in 1947 to become the Director of Research and Education in California for the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union (STFU). The STFU's membership included black and white tenant farmers and agricultural laborers striving for better wages, better working conditions, and more favorable legislation for small-scale farm workers.
    Galarza's command of Spanish and personal experience in Sacramento Valley orchards and packing houses made him a valuable asset to the organization, renamed the National Farm Labor Union in 1947. He soon became involved in the union's strike against the DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation, begun in November, 1947 under the direction of Hank Hasiwar. The strike for higher wages, one of the earliest and longest in the history of the San Joaquin Valley, lasted for thirty months before the easy availibility of bracero labor and congressional pressure forced the union to back down. Bitter feelings persisted on both sides; Galarza and the union were entangled in libel suits and countersuits with DiGiorgio for more than fifteen years. (see Boxes 35-43). Galarza and the union were involved in some twenty strikes in the South and the West between 1948 and 1959. Galarza realized the futility of strike actions as long as a large and inexpensive pool of braceros was readily available, either "on loan" from grower to grower, or hurriedly imported from Mexico.
    In 1974, he recalled his strategy: One, we had to bring about the termination of the bracero program. We figured it would take us ten years and it did. Our view was that when that was accomplished that we next would have to undertake a similar campaign to bring to the attention of the country and to bring about legislation concerning the wetbacks. Our view was not to exclude the wetbacks. Our view was that the so-called wetback is a product of the social and political conditions of Mexico; and consequently we favored a campaign of publicity, confrontation, documentation, protest and so on that would zero in not on the wetback as a person, but on the Mexican government and its policy in Mexico that created such terrible poverty conditions that the wetback was a natural product of this burgeoning Mexican capitalism. That was our pitch. Maybe that would take us ten years and at the end of that ten year stretch we then thought that we could begin organizing farmworkers. Maybe fortunately or unfortunately, I don't know, that strategy of the union was cut off halfway. We never got to the wetback issue, not really. That brings us to 1960 and the union went down the drain. (Morris, Gabrielle. The Burning Light: Action and Organizing in the Mexican Community in California [Berkeley: Regional Oral History Office, 1982])
    As the again renamed National Agricultural Workers Union's finances, support, and staffing declined, the AFL-CIO launched the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee with Norman Smith as its head. During 1959, Galarza served as a field organizer for AWOC, but jurisdictional disputes among the AFL-CIO leadership and philosophical differences between Galarza and Smith soon led to a parting of the ways. (see Series III) Fearing that the AFL-CIO chiefs would preemptorily order NAWU to relinquish its charter and merge with either the AWOC or the United Packinghouse Workers of America, NAWU president H.L. Mitchell convinced the membership to vote in favor of a merger with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butchers Workmen.
    Galarza was soon dissatisfied with the arrangement and left Amalgamated in 1960. The decade of the 1960s found Galarza dividing his time between agricultural labor issues and the concerns of a growing, urban Mexican American population. His book Merchants of Labor, a detailed critique of the fading bracero program, was published in 1964. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, appointed him chief labor counsel in an investigation into the collision of an overloaded bus and a train in Chualar, California on September 17, 1963, in which thirty-two Mexican nationals were killed. Galarza's report, reissued in 1977 as Tragedy at Chualar: El crucero de las treinta y dos cruces, was a scathing indictment of the safety violations so prevalent in the transport of braceros. (See Series IV)
    In the mid-1960s, Galarza was a program analyst for the Economic and Youth Opportunities Agency in Los Angeles. With Herman Gallegos, he served as a consultant to the Ford Foundation on the needs of Mexican Americans, the results of which were later published as Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. The authors provided an assessment of the educational, political, economic and demographic status of what was then the nation's second-largest minority group. Galarza and Gallegos also reviewed grant proposals submitted to the Ford Foundation by Mexican American groups, one of which led to the establishment of the Southwest Council of La Raza in Phoenix.
    Increasing recognition of Galarza as one of the country's leading Mexican American intellectuals and activists brought new commitments. He was elected Chairman of La Raza Unida Unity Conference at its organizational meeting in 1967. La Raza Unida began as a loose confederation of Hispanic civic, social, and cultural groups, whose representatives were in El Paso to attend hearings of the Cabinet Committee on Mexican American Affairs. By the time the second major conference took place in San Antonio in January, 1968, La Raza Unida chapters were being organized throughout the United States. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Galarza also served on the Board of Directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a nationally prominent public interest legal organization. The majority of his time, however, was devoted to teaching and writing. He immersed himself in theories of and strategies for bicultural education.
    In 1971, he founded the Studio Laboratory for Bilingual Education, a resource center for students and faculty of the San Jose Unified School District. The Studio Lab stressed a hands-on approach to the teaching of cultural values, nature, and the creative arts. During this time he wrote poems and short stories for use in bilingual classrooms, as well as his autobiography Barrio Boy.
    Galarza's teaching excellence earned him several honorary positions, including Distinguished Visiting Professor at San Jose State University, Visiting Professor of Community Development at the University of California, San Diego, Honorary Fellow at U.C. Santa Cruz, and Associate in Mexican American Problems, Harvard Graduate School. Galarza's final book on agriculture, Farm Workers and Agri-business in California, 1947-1960, is a scholarly, personal account of NFLU/NAWU's campaign to organize domestic farm workers, negotiate with agri-business and government officials, repeal pro-bracero legislation, and stem the tide of undocumented workers. (See Box 1, folders 10-12; Box 2, folders 1-5.) In 1971, Galarza received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from his alma mater, Occidental College. In 1979, Galarza's name was submitted to the Swedish Academy for consideration for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was the recipient of the Friends of VISTA Award for Exceptional Service and Work to End Poverty in 1980. Ernesto Galarza died in his San Jose home on June 22, 1984.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item] Ernesto Galarza Papers, M0224, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Dr. Ernesto Galarza, 1971-1978.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.


    There are no restrictions on access.