In this historiographical essay, I will look at how three different scholars have analyzed labor movements with large numbers Latino/Mexican American members or leaders. In particular, I want to look at how each scholar has looked at the community-based activism that took place in each respective movement, as well as the differences in their approaches to that analysis.
Sarah McNamara describes the labor movement surrounding tobacco manufacturers in Tampa Florida during the Great Depression in her work “Borderland Unionism: Latina Activism in Ybor City and Tampa, Florida, 1935-1937”. In this, she looks at how the Latino identities of the workers involved shaped the labor movement, as their unique community needs had to be accounted for in the development of the tobacco manufacturer’s movement. Her background as a scholar focused on Latino and Mexican history as well as how social demographics fit into labor history is clear in this work. She focuses on the work of Luisa Moreno, the Latina woman who organized much of the movement, and how the differing cultures of the Tampa/Ybor city area meant that much of her labor organizing had to be centered around catering to those different cultures. The work argues that both Moreno’s identities as a Latino, communist, woman as well as her organizing strategies that resembled the mutual aid the communities were used to, were large factors contributing to how well the tobacco labor movement fared in the 1930s.
I found McNamara’s argument to be very compelling as a result of her considering the social and cultural factors that contributed to the formation of the tobacco movement in Tampa as a Latino-centered movement. The focus placed on Moreno helped demonstrate the cultural factors that Latino laborers were considering when forming the movement. Moreno represents the emphasis placed on community-centered organizing. McNamara’s work is well organized, looking at the progression of Moreno’s activism and frequently referencing back to the way the communities interpreted her activism. In this, she makes a convincing argument for the way identities and appeals to Latino-American culture plays into both the tobacco movement in the 1930s as well as Latino-led labor movements as a whole. However, I do find it important to note that McNamara paints Moreno and the movement in a mostly positive light. McNamara only briefly references that Moreno was not a complete saint but doesn’t go on to elaborate on why that is the case. However, I found the rest of McNamara’s argument to be a relatively fair assessment of the movement. In particular, she made a point to frequently reference the viewpoints of the Latino laborers at the heart of the movement.
Adrian Cruz looks at the formation of the United Farm Workers union and how the needed unity was formed between Filipino and Mexican farm workers. Similarly, to McNamara’s look at the cigar makers, Cruz focuses on the importance of bridging racial/ethnic differences. He starts his paper with explaining the rift between Filipino and Mexican workers. Many of the Mexican farm workers in the mid 20th century immigrated to the United States to participate in the Bracero program. They would often work for lower pay than other farm workers, and in this case, many of the Filipino laborers. However, organizers eventually realized that collaboration between the two groups would be necessary for a larger scale farmworker union to succeed. Cruz argues that the emphasis of class as a unifier between both groups was the primary contributor to the success of the two groups’ respective unions merging. The acknowledgement of both groups as being oppressed by their economic situation allowed them to find solidarity with each other.
Cruz’s look at the Farmworker’s union demonstrates the importance of both racial unity and the use of class as a unifier in racially diverse labor unions. He emphasizes the role of Filipino activism in the farmworker’s movement, noting the lack of scholarship on their contributions. His background in both sociology and history with a focus on Latin America are clear in his work. He focuses on how race and identity factor into organization, noting how historically racial differences have been used to divide laborers to prevent unionization as well as the importance of racial unity to the formation of the UFW. His work provides valuable insight on race in the farmworker’s movement using a more sociological perspective. He notes how the use of Filipino and Mexican immigrants as cheap labor led to the racist characterizations of both groups as “uniquely equipped to carry out field labor and repeatedly denied the right to form labor unions,” preventing them from expressing discontentment. Cruz’s work offers an analysis of the farmworker’s movement through a lens of racial divisions and unity. His work lacks a lot of the details that McNamara’s work offers, however I think when viewed together, McNamara’s work provides a look at how smaller scale acts of labor organization can fit into the greater narrative of the importance of racial unity presented by Cruz.
Allyson Brantley looks at the history behind the decades long boycott of Coors beer during the 20th century in her article “‘Shouldn’t You Be Boycotting Coors?’: Ephemera, Boycotting Counterpublics, and the Campaign against Coors Beer.” Her work doesn’t focus on Chicano or Latino American labor activism exclusively but does offer interesting insight on the importance of ephemera/memorabilia to labor activism, and particularly how it can unite specific marginalized groups. The article covers the ways in which memorabilia such as posters or buttons were used in the Coors boycott to organize community activism as well as how memorabilia serves as an effective form of organizing. Brantley argues that memorabilia/ephemera were key to the long-lasting success of the Coors boycott despite the overall decline of labor activism and unionization during the late 20th century.
Brantley uses several pieces of ephemera as primary sources throughout her work. She specifically looks at pieces that strongly cater to the marginalized groups involved in the Coors boycott, including Chicanos. Much of Brantley’s work focuses on both Ephemera and Latino or Chicano American activism, and she draws clear connections between the topics in this article. She notes the use of memorabilia targeted towards specific marginalized groups in the movement, including several posters and flyers dedicated to demonstrating the ways in which Chicanos were impacted by the Coors company. Brantley’s work offers a strong argument for the importance of smaller pieces of memorabilia to community organizing in labor movements. However, I found that the article could have provided more context on the boycott and shown the other ways in which the movement advocated to have something to compare the memorabilia-based activism to. I think Brantley’s work fits into the works by McNamara and Cruz well as it provides a look at how physical media also fits into both cross-community activism and Chicano/Latino American centered activism.
All three scholars’ works can be used to demonstrate how activism centered around marginalized communities, particularly Mexican-American communities, require activism and materials catered to their specific needs. McNamara’s look at the work of Luisa Moreno, looks at the importance of movement leadership taking a community’s needs and ideology into account. Cruz’s work on the United Farm Workers shows how activism across racial lines is important for building a community around a movement. Finally, Brantley’s work demonstrates how physical media can be tailored to the needs and cultures of specific communities.
Sarah McNamara. 2019. “Borderland Unionism: Latina Activism in Ybor City and Tampa, Florida, 1935-1937.” Journal of American Ethnic History38 (4): 10–32. doi:10.5406/jamerethnhist.38.4.0010. 17-20.
 McNamara, 2019. “Borderland Unionism” 13.
 Timothy Paul Bowman. “Migrant Labor.” In Culture Wars in America: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices, edited by Roger Chapman, and James Ciment. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2013. https://wooster.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sharpecw/migrant_labor/0?institutionId=4607
Adrian Cruz. “The Union within the Union: Filipinos, Mexicans, and the Racial Integration of the Farm Worker Movement.” Social Movement Studies 15, no. 4 (2016): 361–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2016.1149057.
 Cruz, “The Union within the Union”
 Cruz, “The Union within the Union”
 Allyson P. Brantley. 2019. ““Shouldn’t You Be Boycotting Coors?”: Ephemera, Boycotting Counterpublics, and the Campaign against Coors Beer.” Radical History Review 2019 (134): 142–67. doi:10.1215/01636545-7323444.142-45.
 Brantley. “Shouldn’t You Be Boycotting Coors?” 152-55.