and Intellectual Struggle
in the Life of Ernesto
with an Accompanying Bibliography by Richard Chabran
first published in: Hispanic Journal of Behavioral
Sciences, 1985, Vol 7 No. 2, 135-152
a printable version
Ernesto Galarza was a man of stature. He was a man of conviction
and action. He was recognized both within the Chicano community
and, as witnessed by his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, internationally.
He knew his mission in life and pursued it with a rare precision
and determination. Yet Don Ernesto was also a humble man of letters.
This small tribute in no way pretends to be comprehensive; our intention
is to provide an outline of his life and work and provide a glimpse
of the person behind these actions.
Don Ernesto often opened his speeches to congressional committees
and foundations by stating that he was of Mexican origin. He was
born in Jolocotan, Nayarit, Mexico on August 15, 1905. His early
years were spentin that small village where he was always attuned
to the rhythms of life and nature. Perhaps the rhythm of the countryside
was the well-spring to which he would consistently reach as an older
child and adult.
These important early moments were to be changed by historical forces
already at work. The rise of the Mexican revolution signaled the
movement of many families north to the United States; Ernesto, his
mother, aunt, and uncles were part of this movement. His family
finally settled in Sacramento, California, where Ernesto assisted
his family during the harvest season as a farmworker while he attended
Lincoln Elementary andSacramento High School. As a youth he became
involved with the labor movement, as the following account of his
experience in the Sacramento valley while picking crops demonstrates:
. . . because he had gone to school to learn English, the Mexican
workers asked him to protest over polluted drinking water that had
taken the life of one baby in the camp and was making others sick.
(Arizona Republic, June 24, 1973).
Although he had not initially planned to further his education,
he was encouraged by a teacher to attend Occidental College. He
received a scholarship to attend college and returned to Sacramento
during the summer towork as a farm laborer and cannery worker. During
his senior year at Occidental, he traveled to Mexico on a study
abroad program. While in Mexico, he gathered information for a senior
thesis which was later published as The Roman Catholic Church as
a Factor in the Political and Social History of Mexico (M. Galarza,
personal communication, December, 1984). After graduating from Occidental,
he attended Stanford University where he received his Master's degree
in History and Political Science. After his graduation, he married
Mae Taylor in 1929. They eventually had two children.
Stanford, Ernesto attended Columbia University where he had received
a fellowship to complete his graduate training. While pursuing his
coursework at Columbia, he worked as a research associate for the
Foreign Policy Association. Several of his reports were published.
Between 1932 and 1936 Don Ernesto and his wife served as co-principals
and then as owners of Gardner School, a private school in Jamaica,
Long Island known for its commitment to progressive education.
By this time, we can clearly see major areas of motivation had already
been formulated and acted upon. Don Ernesto's goal was to improve
the living conditions of working-class Latinos. He saw education,
research, and organization as the principal vehicles to accomplish
that goal. He saw education not as an end unto itself, but as necessary
to pursue his larger goal. He saw the need to change established
educational philosophy and curriculum in schools. These motivating
forces, goals, and vehicles remain constant throughout his later
While working at the Gardner School, Don Ernesto finished his graduate
coursework. It was then time to choose a dissertation topic. During
a discussion of why he chose the development of electricity in Mexico
I would select one industry that showed promise. that seemed to
be developing in Mexico along the pattern of modern industrial organization,
. . . one industry in which 1 can isolate and observe the capitalist
process of production getting started in Mexico. (Burning Light,
1982, p. 35).
In 1942 the Fondo de Cultural Economica published what would be
his dissertation La Industria Electrica en Mexico. He was awarded
his Ph.D. in Economies in 1947.
In the interim, Don Ernesto was hired by the Pan American Union
as a research associate in education. The Pan American Union was
created in the 1900s as an organization which would promote unity,
peace, and economic trade among the various American nations. (In
1948 it was reorganized and became part of the present Organization
of American States.) In 1940 the Pan American Union had created
a Division of Labor and Social Information and appointed Galarza
as its chief. During his residence with the Pan American Union,
he wrote numerous reports on various aspects of Latin America. Two
which stand out are his work on Bolivian tin workers and Mexican
farmworkers in the United States.
Standing on principle, Galarza resigned twice while at the Pan American
Union. The first involved the tin workers in Bolivia. The Bolivian
government in 1942 had passed fair labor legislation which would
require higher wages and better working conditions. Galarza charged
that the U. S. State Department had tried to influence Bolivia not
to sign these laws. The ambassador to Bolivia, Galarza alleged,
bad argued that the rise in the cost of production would endanger
the production levels of war supplies needed for World War II. Galarza
charged that what was really occurring was that the State Department
was representing the interests of U. S. companies in maintaining
a high profit margin. Galarza's charges caused a major scandal in
Washington. The State Department denied any involvement. After negotiations
which included President Roosevelt, Galarza was asked to return
to the Pan American Union. A few years later the President of Bolivia
was assassinated while Galarza was in Bolivia. Galarza again charged
State Department involvement. This time he was not convinced to
return to the Pan American Union. He 'vas offered a handsome contract
by Harpers to write up this scandal. He accepted their offer but
they decided not to print the story because it was too explosive
Galarza, personal communication, December 1984).
Galarza's other major area of interest while at the Pan American
Union was Mexican workers in the U. S. The Bracero Program had been
established and he saw it as a means of exploiting Mexicans working
in the U.S.for the benefit of agribusiness. He lobbied against it
but lost. By the end of his stay 'with the Pan American Union, he
had lost faith that the Union could produce the kind of changes
he felt were necessary. He could not see himself staying in a position
just to have a job.
After leaving Washington, he was recruited as the Director of Research
and Education for the National Farm Labor Union (Florida, Louisiana,
Texas, Arizona, and California) and established his home in San
Jose, California. Galarza's first assignment with the NFLU was to
assist strike director Hasiwar in the strike against the Di Giorgio
Fruit Corporation in Arvin, California. London and Anderson (1970)
note his initial efforts in this regard:
He was the very model of diplomacy, staying in the background while
. . . Hank Hasiwar continued the activities already in motion. When
Galarza eventually became his own strike director, Hasiwar returned
the consideration with a loyalty rare in organized labor (p. 18).
In 1950 he led the tomato strikers in Tracy and in 1951 the cantaloupe
pickers in the Imperial Valley. Galarza's NFLU efforts were not
limited to California. In 1953-54 he assisted in organizing sugar
cane workers and strawberry pickers in Louisiana. When "right
to work" laws were instituted as strike breaking tactics in
Louisiana he fought against them While these laws effectively halted
the strikes that Galarza was organizing, his efforts forced a revision
of the laws. To his dismay, 'when the laws were revised they were
restricted to agriculture and supported by organized labor. He considered
this a betrayal of farmworkers by organized labor and protested
to organized labor for supporting such reactionary legislation.
the 1950s, Galarza became a familiar face in congressional hearings
where be exposed the abuses of the Bracero Program and the socioeconomic
status of Mexican Americans. His attacks on the Bracero Program
accelerated. He realized that "unionization was futile while
the Bracero Program remained" (Acuna, 1981, p.261). The National
Farm Labor Union was renamed the National Agricultural Workers Union
(NAWU) in 1956. By that time, Galarza had become discouraged by
the symbiotic relationship between agribusiness, government bureaucrats,
and organized labor and decided to fight against it. London and
Anderson (1970) note Galarza's strategy:
Galarza undertook simultaneously, to destroy the alliance between
towers and government bureaucrats, and to shake organized labor
out of its complacency . . . He had neither large numbers of supporters.
nor finances, nor friends in high places. His weapons were highly
personal: the shield of research and analytical thought. the sword
of the written and spoken word His basic tactic was to document
the flouting of laws the abuses, the corruption, the debasement,
the scandals inherent in the Bracero system and to publicize his
findings as widely as possible (p. 123).
In late 1955 Galarza received money from the Fund for the Republic
to write a report on the Bracero Program. This report, Strangers
in the Field, bad immediate impact. Government officials in favor
of the Bracero Program sought to discredit Galarza by attacking
some to the specifics of the report. The report however was given
national press and 'vas a serious blow to the Bracero Program.
It received widespread publicity, even in media, such as the Los
Angeles Times, which no one had ever accused of pro labor prejudice.
The booklet went through two editions and 10,000 copies. Condensation
of much of the same material appeared in at least three national
magazines (London & Anderson 1970, p. 130).
The success of this report was the basis for a $25, 000 award to
the NAWU to assist in the organizing of workers. Galarza used the
funds to develop other organizers as he states here:
I looked upon it as a demonstration project I wanted to prove that
Galarza wasn't the only potential organizer in California. Over
the years, 1 would estimate that 1 have found at least two hundred
people in this state (California)-field workers who would be first-rate
organizers given the chance (London & Anderson, 1970, p. 130).
Later, in 1959, organized labor passed over Galarza when appointing
a chief for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC).
While he initially continued to work 'with the new AWOC, his perspective
andbeliefs differed in many respects 'with those of the new leadership
as London and Anderson (1970) note:
Ernesto Galarza did not accept the proposition that any farm labor
union at all is preferable to none . . . He was not interested in
the kind of union which produces dependent, manipulable people,
even if they are well-paid and well-fed. He was interested in a
union which would help people become more autonomous, more responsible,
better able to make decisions for themselves (p. 135).
By 1959, he left AWOC and in 1962 began writing Merchants of Labor,
an analysis of the Bracero Program. In either late 1963 or early
1964, Galarza was appointed chief Counsel for Labor in the U.S.
Congressional Committee on Education and Labor. Galarza investigated
the Chualar accident in which 32 Mexican laborers were killed when
a bus collided with a train. Galarza's report was later published
under the title Tragedy at Chualar. During this time, Galarza was
busy fighting a law suit by the Di Giorgio Corporation against the
AWOC for showing an old film Poverty in the Valley of Plenty. At
the time Galarza 'vas not even associated 'with AWOC but he had
been named in the suit. He fought the suit and won, but was not
awarded any damages.
In 1964 he completed Merchants of Labor. The first printing was
self-published. He moved to Los Angeles where he worked for one
year as an Economic and Opportunity Agency officer. This move was
significant in another respect: it signaled his work with Mexican
American urban populations. Don Ernesto would focus his organizing
efforts on the Mexican urban working-class population for the remainder
of his life. Another major activity at that time was teaching in
colleges and universities. He was a professor at the University
of Notre Dame, San Jose State University, and the Universities of
California at San Diego and Santa Cruz. He often referred to himself
as a migrant academic. He once said of tenure, "If I stay here
much longer than three quarters, I'll feel that I am sinking roots
into a cemetery" (Burning Light, 1982, p. 34).
The academic atmosphere allowed Don Ernesto to continue writing
principally on farm labor. He authored Spiders in the House and
Workers in the Field (1970), Barrio Boy (1971), Mexican Americans
in the Southwest (1969), and Farmworkers and Agribusiness (1977).
Like most of us, he recognized the alienation between university
life and the community, but unlike many said "I contend that
the solution of the effort to overcome that alienation is ours and
not the community's" (Burning Light, 1982, p. 37). He also
spent time as a consultant to many organizations such as the Ford
Foundation as an expert on Mexican American affairs.
community work continued in Oakland where he compiled a report on
the economic status of the Mexican American community there. This
report served as the building block for the current Spanish Speaking
Unity Council which is a community development corporation in that
area. In approximately 1966, his concern for the urban plight of
Mexican Americans was drawn to Alviso, a small Mexican community
north of San Jose. Alviso had become a community threatened by the
metropolis. The expansion of San Jose, Santa Clara, and Hayward
eventually began to affect Alviso. The small town became attractive
to business interests which joined with the City of San Jose in
an effort to relocate existing residents and build new marinas,
apartment complexes, a trade mart, light industry, new transportation
routes, and tourist facilities" (Galarza, from Vialpando interviews,
1975, p. 8). In 1968 an annexation election was held and Alvisians
narrowly voted in favor of annexation to San Jose. Many
residents had received misleading information. Galarza, along with
several other committed professionals from the Bay Area who wanted
to save Alviso, instituted the Alviso Study Team. After some preliminary
research, they helped establish an ad hoc committee of residents
which took on the task of developing a strategy to fight annexation.
Although the ad hoc committee was unsuccessful in contesting the
election, the City of San Jose was forced to honor many of its promises
to the residents of Alviso. While the story of Alviso is continuing,
there is no doubt that Galarza played a key role in organizing the
citizens of that town against urbanization.
often visited Galarza to discuss the educational problems of students.
Besides acting as a formal and informal consultant, Galarza began
writing books for children. He called these the Colleccion Mini
Libros. He was trying to fill a need voiced by many teachers. All
but one of the books in the collection were self-published. Another
of Galarza's major efforts concerning education was the establishment
of the Studio Laboratory. The Lab's primary mission was to develop
alternative education methods for students. Its major effort was
to work with teachers to develop new curricula. Don Ernesto was
convinced that teachers had to be retrained in order to become more
sensitized to student needs. The Lab was funded by both private
and local public sources including the San Jose School District.
The Laboratory was considered too progressive for the district which
initiated its own bilingual education program with other districts
that became known as the Bilingual Consortium. However, the Consortium
received federal funds 'while the Lab did not. This signaled the
end of the Studio Laboratory. Galarza and those who had 'worked
with the Lab decided to monitor the new Consortium. He charged that
it was being unresponsive to the community and student needs and
was more interested in getting more funds than in the education
of youth. Galarza, together with concerned community members, developed
the Community Organization to Monitor Education (COME). COME exposed
the lack of community input in the Bilingual Consortium and its
use of ineffective methods and curriculum. Galarza, with the assistance
of COME, published Temas Escolares, a kind of white paper on the
Bilingual Consortium. Galarza detested the way bilingual education
had been co-opted. He also detested the manner in which a few Latinos
became Co-opted into the bureaucracy. In Occupied America, Rodolfo
Acuna assesses the significance of this struggle:
tragic was the network of brokers that bilingual education created.
Often grants were awarded to friends rather than to pro-grams that
had the resources to train bilingual teachers. A classic example
was the elimination of Dr. Galarza's bilingual institute by the
funding of a parallel consultant firm . . . Galarza's experience
exposed the basic problem of Anglo-American education The granting
depends more on the wrapping than on what is in the package. (1981,
Ernesto Galarza was a prolific writer. His publications number well
over 100 items and include over a dozen books, scores of articles,
reports, government hearings, and literary works. These cover the
areas of Latin America, farm labor, literature bilingual education,
urban sociology, education, and Chicano Studies. His works are cited
in virtually all major works on Chicanos and are represented in
all major Chicano bibliographies. Yet Galarza's impact on Chicano
society was much larger than his writings. He was known as an activist,
scholar, and organizer. He was a model to many who sought to improve
the conditions of working-class Chicanos in the U.S. His initial
work with foreign policy issues in Latin America provided the base
for his well-known work on farm labor. His organizing of farm workers
later served as a base for organizing urban centers like Alviso
and San Jose. His interest in literature combined his ties to nature
as well as his belief in the need for relevant education. There
is a consistent pattern of values and ideals- a strong humanistic
orientation and a dream of a better world- in much of his writings.
Those of us who had the pleasure and honor of working with Don Ernesto
Galarza also witnessed his intellectual vigor, his sense of action,
his belief in change, his life of praxis, his humanity and humility.