Video: Discussing my book with Laura Pulido

Last Friday I had the distinct pleasure of discussing my recently published book, Evolution of a Movement: Four Decades of California Environmental Justice Activism, with scholar Laura Pulido. It was a wonderful way to launch the book into the world. You can watch the complete recording above. It clocks in at just under an hour and a half (introductions, then a reading, then discussion with Dr. Pulido, then discussion in response to audience questions).

The event took place at ASU, with Dr. Pulido zooming in from the University of Oregon and Michael McQuarrie serving as moderator. Together with my home unit, the School of Social Transformation, the event was co-sponsored by the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, the School of Transborder Studies, the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, and the Center for Work and Democracy. Thank you to everyone who made the event possible.

New Publication on Salinas Valley Roadside Agricultural Art

I’m pleased to share that Boom California recently published an new piece of mine, Roadside Art in the “Salad Bowl of the World:” How Agricultural Ideology Obscures Racial Capitalism and Inhibits Labor Reform. The essay grows out of my move to Santa Cruz, CA to to pursue my PhD in 2008. Ranging south from Santa Cruz through the Salinas Valley for research and for pleasure, I started noticing unique, larger than life billboard cut-out murals featuring farmworkers and farmers along the agricultural byways. When possible, I stopped to take photos of the work in the hopes of someday doing something with it.

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.

Billboard mural of “field man” Bob Lyman holding sliced head of lettuce. Vernon Morris provides scale. Photo by Tracy Perkins. Mural by John Cerney.

Quoted in New York Times

I was recently quoted in the New York Times. The article is by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and is titled “The Mental Health Benefits of an Inclusive Outdoor Escape: Amid pandemic stress and racial violence, many communities of color have turned to wilderness areas for healing.” The article covers the mental health benefits of time outdoors for people of color. It addresses these in the context of the long history of racism and violence against people of color in outdoor spaces. Gupta quotes a snippet of the conversation we had to introduce readers to the eugenicist history of the US conservation movement:

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.