Many years later, this essay is the result. It analyses the art as a form of agricultural ideology that, I argue, inhibits much needed labor reforms by either obscuring the role of California’s vast Latinx agricultural labor force or, alternately, depicting them as content in their work.
Although I have long incorporated my own photography into my research, this was my first time analyzing visual culture created by others. It is a line of work I intend to continue developing.
It was also a pleasure to return to Boom, which published my photo essay with Julie Sze, “Images from the Central Valley,” in their inaugural edition in 2011. Boom tries to thread the needle of doing public-facing scholarship that still “counts” in the evaluations that faculty undergo within their institutions by creating a free, online, magazine-like publication that still puts its manuscripts through peer review. It is a model I wish more publishers would adopt.
Awe-inspiring natural spaces in the U.S., like national parks, are also tarnished with racist histories, according to Tracy Perkins, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who studies social inequality and environmental justice. Many environmental conservation efforts starting in the late 1800s were led by eugenicists, like Madison Grant, to create spaces for white people to get fresh air and exercise in order “to preserve the vitality of white race,” she said.
To be abundantly clear, my quote does not describe my beliefs, but rather the beliefs of some eugenicists of the late 1800s and early 1900s in the United States. I’ve assigned this subject recently in my Environment and Justice class, as well as in my class titled The Multiracial American West. I’ve found that while some students are versed in the conversations about John Muir’s racism and ongoing symbolism within the environmental movement, none are aware of the early conservation movement’s connections to eugenics. I have used the following readings introduce the subject to them and further my own learning:
I highly recommend these readings. They provide an important historical reference point for understanding ongoing racism within the environmental movement. They are also vital to understanding contemporary efforts to return access and management rights to the resources and lands within national parks to the indigenous peoples who once lived there, as well as to indigenous land-back campaigns.