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Farmworkers’ Memories Coming to Life During Oral History and Panel Discussion Scheduled April 4

Article by: Rosa Linda Reynoso

It’s story time! Del Mar College (DMC) will host “Memories of Working in the Fields: Oral Histories of Mexican American Farmworkers” on Thursday, April 4. The panel presentation will touch on themes covering labor conditions, family, education and civil rights from the diverse perspectives of DMC faculty and staff who previously worked in the fields.

The free presentation begins at 6 p.m. in Room 514 of the White Library located on the East Campus at Naples off Kosar at Staples. A Q&A session will follow the panel discussion. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call Dr. Mark Robbins, associate professor of history at 698-1370 or mrobbins1@delmar.edu.

“Memories of Working in the Fields” includes faculty and staff offering direct reminiscences of personal experiences and family stories, along with comments about the important role these reflections play in shaping history.Moderated by Dr. Christine Reiser Robbins, assistant professor of anthropology and coordinator of Mexican American Studies and Southwest Borderlands Studies at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, the panel will investigate oral histories of Mexican-American farmworkers through a multi-layered approach. In the tradition of how oral history research is guided between interviewers, narrators and scholars, the panel blends the direct accounts of three former farmworkers with analysis of how these and similar oral histories have enriched agricultural history as well as public history and classroom outcomes.

The panelists include Erica Bertero, assistant professor of English and DMC Mexican American Studies program coordinator; Renato Ramirez, chairperson of the Social Sciences Department and professor of political science; and Rosa Linda Reynoso, staff writer/editor in the College Relations Office; along with Dr. Derek Oden, professor of history and Dr. Mark Robbins, associate professor of history.

Berterospent several childhood summers as a migrant farmworker in a small town in Minnesota. Her grandparents were migrant workers for over four decades, and her stepfather and all nine of his siblings grew up following the seasons with their parents. Eventually, they committed to traveling from May to September to a small town in Minnesota to work in bean and sugar beet fields. From ages 11 to 15, she worked in the fields while her parents continued working a few more summers after that. Bertero remembers attending a summer school program available in Minnesota, which provided activities to help keep children out of the fields. Bertero’s recollections will focus upon the importance of education, assimilation, race, acceptance between two cultures and how all of this shaped her future and influenced her journey as an educator.

Ramirez remembers growing up working in the fields in Duvall County and navigating social and political dynamics of labor and life in the area during the 1960s and 1970s. He recalls challenges in working conditions, access to services, education and politics. He will recount the presence of a political machine in the area and the denial of Mexican-American representation in local politics as well as the emergence of activism to challenge these injustices. Included in these recollections are his memories of not only how families responded to the challenges of inequality and injustice but also how different generations navigated forms of activism represented in such groups as the League of United Latin American Citizens and La Raza Unida. Ramirez’s memories capture an important moment in which he and others worked to establish greater equality, justice and political voice for Mexican Americans in the area and beyond.

Reynoso describes her work as a migrant laborer and the dynamics of community through family and work while following the crops from Texas to the Midwest in the late 1960s and 1970s. She will share experiences related to hard work and dangers in the fields, along with her reflections about the nature of social relationships as she travelled to and from workplaces, residences and schools in several locations. Reynoso recalls the challenges of balancing school attendance in multiple places with the need to contribute to the family economy through field work. She will recount the divisions between domestic and working life, ideas regarding child and adult responsibilities and male and female gender roles in migrant labor communities.

Dr. Oden will combine the three presenters’ words and thematically similar oral histories by analyzing how they have impacted historical scholarship covering Texas agricultural history and beyond. Dr.Robbins will highlight how a blend of direct voices from oral history interviews and synthesis of major themes in historical scholarship enable oral history to have uniquely valuable public history and educational outcomes, ranging from student-guided museum exhibits to cemetery restorations. He will consider how listening to the direct words of oral history narrators, along with the insights of Dr. Oden, can most effectively and accurately connect the public to important themes and intimate details in Texas agricultural history.

This event is cosponsored by the DMC Mexican American Studies Program, English and Philosophy Department, Social Sciences Department, the DMC chapter of the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education and the Southwest Borderlands Studies at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.


About Del Mar College

Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.