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Ecological Perceptions of the Latin American Migrant Worker

Celeste Ledesma's picture

Ecological Perceptions of the Latin American Migrant Worker


“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”

- Cesar Chavez



Consuelo Soto-Murphy                 Eroy Franklin


General Course Information:

This is a half-credit, quarter-long course offered through the Bryn Mawr College department of English. It is cross-listed with Sociology.

Course Description:

What is the relevance of environmental justice in the lives of Latin American migrant farm workers in the U.S.? What is the nature of the connection between efforts toward social justice among underrepresented farm laborers and ecological awareness? With these questions in mind, this course will explore the ecological relationship between Latin American immigrant farm workers in the U.S. and the fields in which they work. Through the study of literary, creative, and non-fiction works, we will aim to comprehend the Latino perspective on environmentalism as a structure in the U.S.

Course Objectives:

We will begin each week of this quarter-long course by posing a different question and proceed to address this question through the analysis and critique of varying materials. The goal is not necessarily to be able to explicitly answer the question that is posed, but to gain perspective. As a final project for this course students will be given the opportunity to apply what they have learned and interpreted in a research paper.


Week by Week Overview:

Week 1: What does the migrant worker experience look like in retrospect?

Macho! (1973)by Victor Villaseñor – novel

NOTE: read summery here

This novel is a fictional account of a young man’s experience as he journeys from his home in Mexico to work in the U.S. Macho! provides factual information about the nature of immigration laws during the 1950s and 1960s. We will be reading this text for its historical content but also to evaluate the main character’s perception of the land he leaves, the land that he works, and his expectations of the transition.

Read this brief history on the Bracero Program to gain perspective.


Week 2: Whose voices are being heard, and what are they advocating?

1984 Cesar Chavez Address to the Commonwealth Club of California

1989 Address by Cesar Chavez, on the Perils of Pesticides to Pacific Lutheran University

As the president of The United Farm Workers of America, Cesar Chavez (1937-1993) was and still is one of the most well-known advocators for the rights of migrant farm works. He made it his life’s mission to speak out against the injustices that, for years, went unacknowledged by the U.S. government. In these two speeches by Chavez, we will be analyzing the ways in which he uses environmental issues as a vehicle to instill social change.


Week 3: What can be said about the modern creative works that are reminiscent of generations of migrant work?

Conflict: A Poem for America’s Migrant Workers by Jordan Chaney

NOTE: Read the poem and listen to the recording in order to better grasp the tone and essence of the poem.

When Living Was a Labor Camp (2000) by Diana Garcia – collection of poems

NOTE: selected poems - TBD

The Migrant Series by Don Coen – a collection of paintings

NOTE: Read the brief artist bio and explore the collections.

Artistic depictions of migrant work by Consuelo Soto-Murphy

NOTE: Skim content on and watch 3 min video, and explore the gallery on

Take into account who the artist is and what their connection is to the immigrant culture in the U.S. For example, both Coen and Soto-Murphy can vouch a connection to the Latino migrant farm workers toiling over fields in the 1960s, but how do their perspectives differ? How are their differences reflected in their art? Generally, what do all of these creative works have in common? In reading and analyzing these creative works, we are going to pay special attention to the ways in which the artists reference the earth.

Keep in mind the following characteristics/elements while we study these works:

-          Words such as toil, spirit, skin, justice, dirt, hands, culture

-          Descriptions of crops

-          Depictions/examples of contentedness or strife

-          What you think the artist is trying to foreground


Week 4: What role do Latin Americans play in the U.S. environmental justice movement?

Amercias Latino Eco-festival website

NOTE: Explore the website! Learn what the mission of the event is and who’s involved.

“Climate is Big Issue for Hispanics, and Personal” (2015) by Coral Davenport

“The Connection Between Latinos and the Environment” (1993) by Jose Morales

Through the evaluation of these materials, we are going to be making comparisons between the Latino stance on environmental issues from the past and present. What has changed and what has stayed the same? This is the point in the course that can be considered the intersection between ecological awareness in relation to Latino migrant work.


Week 5: How do you want to represent this prevalent connection between immigration and environmental justice issues and/or, more specifically, the nature of the relationship between farm worker and earth?

This is the week in which each student is given the opportunity to select and study a text or creative work of their choosing that best reflects an aspect of this course that they found most concerning, enthralling, or underrepresented. The aim for this final assignment is to address a specified topic through the lens of the selected work and show the student’s comprehension of the varying perspective cover throughout the course.


Anne Dalke's picture

I like it that you start with two striking images, Celeste, each collective in a different way--but they are hard to see. Go back to your text, please, open it to edit, and re-size your thumbnails to something more visible (460 px, maybe?) Also center the images…

these visuals matter!

I’m pretty excited about this course plan; it seems a contribution towards the independent major we’ve been discussing…and where might gender enter in here?--your texts seem almost entirely focused on the experiences of men... Do you know about the work of Helena Maria Viramontes? Her first novel, Under the Feet of Jesus, might be a good addition to the course. Here, too, is some additional information inviting you to think about Women Migrant Workers in the US. See also Chicana and Mexican Women at Work: The Impact of Class, Race and Gender on Occupational Mobility.

I’d also like to hear a little bit more about the rationale for the course—an invitation to students that explains why they might be interested in it: what’s the reason it might be needed, both in the BMC curriculum and in a student’s individual trajectory? What gap are you filling, by proposing it? Is this a deficit-based or desire-based initiative? (See Eve Tuck’s essay on Suspending Damage for an explanation of these different orientations towards problem-solving…)

I expect that the next stage in this project is pedagogical. You’ve assembled a list of texts here, but how then to access them “ecologically”? How connect to students’ own identities and interests (and how to expand these…?)

Abby, Celeste & Aquamarine –you should check out one another’s work on course design.