idea was to organize a Levan Center for the Humanities book discussion
and bring together a diverse group of Bakersfield College students to
read, explore and examine an oral history collection illustrating the
experiences of migrant farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley.
The result brought so much more.
In the fall semester, Professor Oliver
Rosales and I co-led a Levan student seminar that was held over a span
of three sessions and featured a guest visit and the work of Gabriel
Thompson, author of Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture.
More than 60 students expressed interest for the 10 spots
available. Those selected shared strong reasons for wanting to be
a part of the Levan book discussion.
The book discussion centered around Chasing the Harvest,
published by the nonprofit Voice of Witness and written by Thompson, an
award-winning journalist whose research has focused on immigration,
labor and organizing.
Through his oral history interviews that include farm workers,
community workers, a labor leader, a grower, youth and others, Thompson
seeks to shed light on the incessant problems John Steinbeck sought to
convey in his novel The Grapes of Wrath and the struggles faced by the Okies in the 1930s. Eighty years later, Thompson shows the problems continue.
moves to highlight key issues that plague migrant laborers in the
valley. Many still endure abuse and discrimination by coworkers,
bosses and even outsiders. Farmworkers continue to face low wages
and unfair working conditions where exposure to pesticides has become
an accepted part of the landscape. Poverty is commonplace, while
many families remain separated with the breadwinner following the
agricultural harvest in the United States and mothers and children
hanging on to a thread of hope on the other side of the border.
Chasing the Harvest provides
a compelling narrative on the intersection of labor and agriculture in
the lives of San Joaquin Valley people, facing struggles, inequality
and discrimination, in their search for better life opportunities.
book is broken into chapters based on each person interviewed.
Thompson spent several months in 2016 gathering evidence in the form of
the narratives. His book provides appendices that chronicle agriculture
in labor in California and offer a glossary for students learning
significant terms related to the subject.
part of the Levan seminar, the students met to discuss the book and
contribute different perspectives. Some students felt they
understood the struggles endured by loved ones under similar
experiences. Others, who did not have firsthand knowledge of the
farmworker experience, felt a deeper reflection and desire to learn
more. And a few questioned why more has not been done to correct
the problems facing farmworkers, including an immigration system in
need of reform and violation of basic human and worker rights as well
as other forms of social injustice (poverty, living in fear in the
shadows, sexual harassment and the list goes on).
also were given the opportunity to meet with Thompson, who made a
special guest appearance at the seminar, and later, the students were
able to share pieces of their own histories that defined their stories,
thanks to the help of BC Delano campus librarian and Digital Delano
Project Co-Director Elisabeth Sunby.
the conclusion of the seminar, students were asked to share a review of
the book and their experience. The following is a reflection by
some of the students:
Thompson’s oral history collection captures farmworkers’ resiliency
Chasing the Harvest
is an astonishing read. I was shocked to read and learn of the
test and trials that farmworkers have to face. The women have it
even harder than the men. This surprising book is an oral history
with narratives that were told to editor Gabriel Thompson. People will
get a lot out of this book. They will walk away knowing that
farmworkers are strong and vibrant, and they have great
resilience. They will read about the unfair wage theft, unsafe
working conditions and whether or not the farmworkers’ futures are
assured any longer in this USA, the place of freedom.
Thompson is an independent journalist. He has written for the New York Times.
He has won prizes for his writings about immigration and labor.
Thompson has won the Studs Turkel Media Award, along with the Sidney
Award. He has written five books. Chasing the Harvest
captures stories from different people, mostly migrant workers in
California agriculture. Thompson makes the point to share their
different stories from a humanizing perspective.
our book discussion. I had the pleasure to ask Thompson a
question about media literacy. I asked him if he believes that
media literacy will help farmworkers expose their stories more.
Thompson responded with, “Yeah, a lot has changed in the last few
years. There is a lot of potential. A 50-year-old farmworker told
me to get with the times; he showed me a video of him having to be
misplaced by the wine country fires. The United Farm Workers
connected the stories from the field. Roberto (the farmworker
interviewed) used his cellphone to show the reality of the work and
stories of their work using videos. The UFW has really embraced
the idea of farmworkers sharing their stories on Facebook. It’s a
way to share their experiences with people who aren’t going to ever
step into the fields.”
liked the way that every narrative in the book was uniquely told and
written out. The book is an easy read; I understood what was
going on. This book has great human interest throughout the
pages. I really enjoyed how Thompson placed an appendix, along
with a glossary, so that readers could learn all the terms used in the
Read this book. The lessons you learn
from farmworkers will help you succeed in your everyday life!
— Ivory Williams
Book brings social, cultural awareness of farmworker lives
Chasing the Harvest
by Gabriel Thompson book discussion and the author meet at Bakersfield
College proved to be of immense social-cultural value and a
I’ve driven all over the spectacular state of California, and on many
occasions near farm fields, I would see folks toiling away to harvest
the crop. Finding a food truck nearby was always a good idea for
a bite of a tasty asada and cilantro and catch of a beautiful smile
from a señorita. But besides visual contact, I had no idea of
what the stories and life were of migrant farm workers — or their
delved deep to bring to public knowledge and firsthand accounts of many
folks involved in California's agriculture industry; the book centered
on the life and work of the laborer and their family. I feel more
aware and have more understanding of migrant farm workers' struggles
and even insights into their stronger communities, more than we may
have in any big city.
— Mark Zambon
This book really opens your eyes to
the abuses, conditions, poverty, and suffering of millions of
farmworkers and their families. This book gives you an insight
into what it is really like to be a farmworker in modern America.
Chasing the Harvest lets our
community have a voice and share it with others. I cried from
page to page because of the treatment that people still endure in the
farmworker profession. This book is a rollercoaster full of
emotions. You will need plenty of tissue. I really enjoyed
— Tania Bernal
Chasing the Harvest highlights adversity farmworkers face, overcome
When my History professor mentioned
the opportunity to be in a discussion group for the book, Chasing the Harvest,
I wasn’t completely sure what I was in for. However, one thing I
knew for sure is that I didn’t really understand the plight of the
migrant workers of the San Joaquin Valley. I was born and raised
in Bakersfield and had many Mexican friends growing up. Yet I was
blind to the agricultural labor many of their families put forth in the
fields so I could enjoy the privilege of fresh produce in the grocery
store. Joining the discussion group the first day was kind of
awkward being in the minority. One thought kept creeping back
into mind: should I really be in this group? The majority
of participants were female and Hispanic. But I later found that
I learned just as much from them as I did from the folks who shared
their own stories in the book. These women were humble and
powerful. I am thankful to have been a part of this unique
opportunity, and I know it has helped me to see and understand the
adversity affecting the Hispanic population in California.
one person who stood out to me in the book was a teacher named
Oscar. As a boy, he was an illegal immigrant and had to live in
fear. In turn, he overcame all of the struggles he went through
and used them as a platform to encourage the children of the migrants
who work our fields. He never belittled the life they had or
might even choose for themselves. Yet, he was also able to show
them that they could do anything they set their minds to. I will
remember this opportunity for a long time and hope myself to have a
lasting impact on students someday.
— Christopher Brantley
Book discussion brings self-discovery
After being a part of this book
group, I have learned a lot more about my culture and how much
Hispanics go through for their families. This book is not only an
interesting book, it is also a very eye-opening book that can make many
people realize what people go through when they are illegal immigrants.
These stories also help many people to be inspired to spread their
voice as well as their stories and struggles. This book also
inspired me to see that the people in the stories went through a lot in
their lives and, yet, they either managed to get a job or even become
an elementary teacher; therefore, if they were capable of doing so,
then so can I.
talked about the struggles each person went through, but, in my
opinion, there was another message being expressed in a certain
way: I believe that the people who shared their stories also
believed that even though they went through a huge struggle for their
kids or family members, they still believed that they had a beautiful
journey. Their community in their jobs are very united and caring
for one another. They can happily look back at their lives and see all
they have accomplished in life and all the obstacles they went
through. Overall, this book was one of a kind and a must-read.
— Gabriela Poblano