The writings of Ernesto Galarza (gahl-AHR-sah) can be divided into three phases: the Pan-Americanist, the farm laborer advocate, and the educator. Galarza was born in a tiny mountain village in Mexico. When he was five, he, his mother, and two uncles fled the Mexican Revolution. They traveled for three years until they reached Sacramento, California.
At the age of twelve, Galarza lost his mother and one uncle to influenza. He continued his education with the assistance of his other uncle and worked after school and during the summers as a farm laborer and in canneries. His flight northward, his family’s struggles for survival, and the process of acculturation are depicted in his 1971 autobiography, Barrio Boy: The Story of a Boy’s Acculturation. This book is perhaps Galarza’s most outstanding contribution to Chicano literature for its pioneering spirit in the field of the essay and the fictionlike quality of its prose.
In 1923 Galarza received a scholarship from Occidental College in Los Angeles. In 1927 he received a fellowship from Stanford University, which awarded him a master’s degree in Latin American history and political science in 1929. After marrying Mae Taylor, a teacher from Sacramento, Galarza entered Columbia University, where he obtained his Ph.D. in Latin American history in 1932.
Galarza’s first publications belong to his Pan-American phase. In his book The Roman Catholic Church as a Factor in the Political and Social History of Mexico, Galarza defends the actions of the Mexican revolutionary governments, which aimed to limit the power of the Catholic church. He wrote his other Pan-Americanist works, Argentina’s Revolution and Its Aftermath; Debts, Dictatorship, and Revolution in Bolivia and Peru; and Labor in Latin America, while working for the Pan-American Union in Washington, D.C., which later became the Organization of American States.
Galarza worked in Washington, D.C., as a research associate in education and as the chief of the Division of Labor and Social Information at the Pan-American Union. He wrote and edited numerous Inter-American Reports and the Latin America for Young Readers series, published by the Pan-American Union. He became concerned about the living conditions of the braceros, the Mexican contract agricultural laborers who were brought to the United States in 1942 and remained until 1964. His book Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story analyzes the bracero in California agriculture. This book initiates Galarza’s farm labor advocate phase.
In 1947 Galarza resigned from the Pan-American Union to serve as the Director of Research and Education in California for the Southern Tenant Farmer’s Union, which became the National Farm Labor Union. He became entangled in a union strike against the DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation. The strike gave rise to libel suits and countersuits, which Galarza analyzes in his book Spiders in the House and Workers in the Field.
In 1955 he conducted field surveys on the living conditions of Mexican nationals in the United States. This work culminated in his 1956 book Strangers in Our Fields, which produced an uproar among the members of the California State Board of Agriculture, the growers’ associations, and all those who employed Mexican laborers. However, Galarza continued to make public sensitive issues involving agriculture. Farm Workers and Agri-Business in California, 1947-1960 documents the rise of the corporations that precipitated the demise of the small farmer, and Tragedy at Chular examines the safety violations that caused the death of thirty-two laborers.
In the mid-1960’s Galarza engaged in the study of learning theories and methodologies for an effective bilingual and bicultural education program. In 1971 he founded the Studio Laboratory for Bilingual Education in San Jose, California, to...
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