Ernesto Galarza Is The Chicano Pioneer That You Probably Never Read About In Your History Books
The majority of Mexican-American studies in this country mention, at great length, the contributions social activist Cesar Chavez had on the Latino farmworkers movement in this country. But there’s another Chicano pioneer who I didn’t learn about until a recent conversation I had with my dad…
Meet Ernesto Galarza one of the first Chicano scholars who began organizing for Latinos in 1948.Facebook/@GalarzaErnesto
But I didn’t learn about Galarza in my history class, chicano studies lectures or even from reading on my own.
The way I discovered the incredible legacy of Galarza wasn’t through history books or in college. It was through my dad.That’s my mom and dad back in the ’80s when they were field workers.
During a phone conversation, my dad told me that people in Jalco (the small village in Mexico my parents are from) had honored a native writer and poet in the town’s plaza. “A poet?” I asked. “A poet from Jalco…what the?” Most of the townspeople in Jalcocotán, Nayarit are hardworking laborers, caretakers, moms and dads, teachers, lawyers, nurses, but certainly not poets. When I asked my dad the name of the poet, I quickly Googled him and what I found was astonishing.
Galarza wasn’t just a poet but a profound historical figure in Latino history who lead major movements as a young boy.Facebook/Man of Fire: Selected Writings of Ernesto Galarza
Galarza was born in Jalcocotan, Mexico on August 15, 1905, but moved to Sacramento when he was a boy. There, he quickly learned English and excelled in his studies. Because his English was so good, local farm workers in California asked him to protest on their behalf because polluted water had gotten them sick and even taken the life of a baby in the camp. He did that commendable act when he was just a kid.
He went from the fields on to attend Occidental College, Stanford and Columbia University. NBD, right?
After graduating from Occidental College, he got his master’s degree in Latin American History and Political Science in 1929 at Stanford University. He was one of the first Chicano alumni from Stanford. He also got a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in 1944. All of this left me astounded.
That was just the beginning. Here’s more of his incredible accomplishments that contributed and aided the Latino community in the United States, and in Mexico.
Between the 1940s and 1950s, Galarza led the National Farm Labor Union.@GalarzaErnesto
His work with this organization led to many accomplishments for farm workers including the initiation of the Bracero program, but it also included the exploitation of these works by the U.S. government.
The National Farm Labor Union birthed a movement that gained another Chicano activist and that was Chavez.
Chavez’s work with this organization led to numerous strikes mainly in California, but also throughout the country. Galarza believed he could help the Latino community more effectively through his writings than through activism.
Between 1920 and 1982, Galarza published numerous essays, books, and poems.
Some of the books he wrote include “Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story,” “Spiders in the House” and “Workers in the Field,” among others.
In 1971 he wrote what is now one of my favorite books—his autobiography “Barrio Boy,” which, among other things, discusses in great detail his childhood in Jalco.
Reading about my dad’s hometown, my history, in such an eloquent structure was very emotional for me. Jalco has always been this little town that I wish everyone knew about, and here I was reading about it in a book.
Here’s an excerpt about Jalco from that book:Immigrant Voices: New Lives in America, 1773-1986.
It was because of this tremendous volume of work that in 1976 he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature.Facebook/Man of Fire: Selected Writings of Ernesto Galarza
That alone is an amazing legacy, but there’s more!
I found two elementary schools named after Galarza. One is in San Jose, Calif., the other in San Francisco.Facebook/ sjusd.org/galarza
There’s also a research center that bears his name at the University of California, Riverside.
In San Jose, which is where Galarza lived until he passed away, is a monument dedicated to him and his advocacy work.
The artwork located at the San Jose Peace & Justice Center states the following: “Man of Fire commemorates the great and influential teacher and civic leader Dr. Ernesto Galarza. The artwork references Dr. Galarza’s life-long pursuit of bridging academic and civil life. The design of this commemorative work seeks to physically and conceptually connect San Jose State University with Plaza de Cesar Chavez, in the heart of the City’s downtown.”
Galarza’s extended family, some of them from Jalco, visited this dedication last year.
I don’t think I’d ever discover this great Latino trailblazer if it wasn’t for Dad. However, I am even more ecstatic that I can now share the amazing legacy of this labor activist, professor, writer, and the small village where we both have roots.
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