Manuel Ortiz held out his hands to the camera, revealing decades of toil — callouses, scars and creases embedded with soil that multiple hand washings wouldn’t scrub clean. Photographer David Bacon first saw him in 2015 as he pushed a shopping cart full of cans and bottles through an alley in Yakima, Washington. Ortiz first came to the United States in the 1950s under the Bracero program and continued working the agricultural fields of California and Washington for six decades.

But when he met Bacon, Ortiz was in his mid-80s and too old to work in fields, so he redeemed cans and bottles to cobble together enough money for rent and food. With a single photo in Bacon’s signature style — an uncropped black and white image set in a hard black border marking the edge of the full frame — he captured decades of hard labor that provided food for millions, but more importantly he reveals the continued strength Ortiz’s hands hold to survive in a society that had continually undervalued his work.

“It’s a powerful image,” said Roberto Trujillo, associate university librarian and director of Stanford Libraries’ Special Collections. “An elderly man’s hands, just his powerful hand, scarred and worn from working in the fields day in and day out for probably all his adult life.”

The photograph of Ortiz, entitled “The hands of Manuel Ortiz show a life of work,” is one of 200,000 images spanning three decades shot by Bacon that are now housed in Stanford Libraries’ Special Collections, which acquired Bacon’s archive in the winter of 2019. The collection was launched this fall under the exhibit title Work & Social Justice: the David Bacon Photography Archive at Stanford, after more than a year of cataloging the images, original film negatives, color transparencies and digital files.

Read more…

In the following months the politically liberal, yet agricultural, Sonoma County in Northern California passed resolutions to protect undocumented immigrants.

The sheriff promised to restrict cooperation with ICE agents at the county jail but never did. My reporting on that fact forced the Sheriff’s Office to moved quick, getting ahead of the “Sanctuary state” bill in Sacramento. The Trump Administration took notice and repeatedly attacked the county in both rhetoric and action for months.

Sonoma County law chiefs steer clear of state and federal feud (March 7, 2018)
Trump administration threatens to subpoena Sonoma County (Jan. 24, 2018)
Sparring between California and feds reaches new level (Jan. 20, 2018)
ICE chief slams Sonoma County sheriff’s immigration policy on Fox News (Jan. 3, 2018)
ICE statement about recent arrest ‘misleading and inflammatory’ (Oct. 19, 2017)
‘Sanctuary state’ law doesn’t spell significant change for law enforcement (Oct. 5, 2017)
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office watchdog under scrutiny (Sept. 16, 2017)
Recent killing by immigrant puts Sonoma County & ICE at odds (Aug. 30, 2017)
ICE flagged Santa Rosa man two weeks before he allegedly killed girlfriend (Aug. 21, 2017)
Sheriff’s Office to limit ICE cooperation at Sonoma County Jail (Aug. 13, 2017)
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office still notifying ICE on inmate releases (Aug. 5, 2017)
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office still notifying ICE on inmates (May 10, 2017)
Hundreds march in Santa Rosa in honor of Cesar Chavez (April 2, 2017)
Sonoma County law enforcement chiefs detail immigration policies (Feb. 25, 2017)
1,000s skip school, work to support ‘Day Without Immigrants’ (Feb. 16, 2017)
‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest to counter President Trump (Feb. 15, 2017)

The face of the United States is changing rapidly. To look at the face of the future, look no further than public schools. Kids and teens have fewer hang-ups about the identities of their peers. Yet, there is a troubling national trend at hand. While the U.S. is growing more diverse as a whole, its schools are becoming resegregated. Children from different racial, ethnic and income groups are now less likely to find themselves in a classroom with each other than they were two decades ago.

In Monterey County, the changing demographics of schools are more nuanced than the national picture, with schools in the Salinas Valley becoming almost exclusively Latino and Monterey Peninsula schools growing more diverse.

To see how local schools have changed in the past two decades, the Weekly collected and analyzed data from California Department of Education for the 1995-96 and the 2015-16 school years, as well as U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2015 for seven county school districts (see graph, p. 22) that account for the majority of students countywide.

After compiling spreadsheets and crunching numbers, three main trends emerge: White populations are aging faster in comparison to other ethnic groups, in part because their adult children no longer live in the area; many African-American families have left for other regions; and the Latino population continues to increase across the board.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

A flatbed truck converted into a bus carried 55 braceros – farm workers on temporary visas – from labor camp in Chualar to celery fields in the Salinas Valley on September 17, 1963. The bus collided with an oncoming train, killing 32 and leaving the rest mangled and injured.

The tragedy in Monterey County garnered national headlines and the bracero program, which was maligned by Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement that rallied around him, was soon killed by Congress. The legacy of the braceros has remained in a cloud since, often remembered by the painful conclusion.

In the narrative of social justice in the fields, the bracero program – which brought more than 2 million men from Mexico to work the land in the United States from 1942 to 1964 – has long been one derided as one that exploited immigrant workers. It was also viewed as bad for domestic workers, who saw their wages decline.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

56b2978e2a190.imageOn June 8, 2015, several men left port in Punta Banda, a peninsula just south of Ensenada in Baja California, and motored out to sea in a 30-foot skiff called a panga.

Pangas don’t attract much attention in Baja, as they are common for local fishermen to use.

Only Juan Antonio Rojo, Jose Burgueno Sanchez, Victor Sandoval, Jesus Isrealas Carrion Corrales and likely a few others weren’t in search of fish. They were looking to land something much more lucrative: a $2 million-plus payout for a successful shipment of marijuana.

Their destination: Big Sur. With extensive wilderness and minimal law enforcement, the region lends itself to clandestine activity. The pangas’ low profile and two high-horsepower engines make them hard to spot and speedy in case of pursuit.

Few people who make land in Big Sur with a cache of drugs ever get apprehended. Not so for this group.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

Silvia Plath once noted, “[n]othing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” If this is the case, I have amassed quite the stinky pile. For a little end-of-summer cleaning, I’m freshening up my closet (aka hard drive), mixing metaphors and  posting a few stories I like but for which I have yet to find suitable homes.

Photo by  Jonathan McIntoshThe U.S.-Mexico border; for many it can be hell. It where the national sins of both the United States and Mexico combine to create an ever-increasing mass of displaced people, broken families and death. The political border, built on blood and dollars, is guarded on the U.S. side with more than a billion dollars of militarized manpower and surveillance equipment.

Every day more than $800 million dollars in goods and services are legally exchanged across the border. Every day between $20 and $68 million of illicit drugs—mostly marijuana—enter the U.S. from Mexico, and an unquantified, yet large, amount of handguns and assault rifles legally purchased in the U.S. are shipped to Mexico. Every day people working in the U.S. send roughly $68 million to their families in Mexico. And, every day around 2,000 people are detained by the Border Patrol for crossing the vast and varied expanse from Tijuana to Matamoros without papers—only to be sent back to Mexico where they will more than likely attempt the trek again.

“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta (is an open wound) where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture,” wrote Gloria Anzaldúa in her landmark book Borderlands/La Frontera. Many claim the bi-national land as their familial home for generations, starting with the indigenous peoples, then to mestizo, Chicanos and finally to whites who have been settling the region for the past 150 years.

Continue reading “Closet Cleaning Part 2: Bordering Hell”

3K8A2871As the sun rose on the damp, cold winter morning nearly 200 hundred people gathered outside a chain-link fence in the Port of Tacoma quietly chatting with heavy suitcases and duffle bags in hand. The dark silhouettes of large ships finally filled in with color and detail, but I was still unable to determine which one we’d be boarding later that day. I was nauseous with apprehension. Things hadn’t gone as planned, other jobs had fallen through and I was stuck with my last resort of working as a seafood processor on the Bering Sea.

When the gate finally opened there was a mad rush to be in the front of the line, myself and a few of newcomers didn’t realize just how long the wait would be if we were caught at the end. We were abrasively ordered to form a single-file line; yellow caution tape was then used to create our pen. Forklifts buzzed back and forth unloading a few months worth of food for the 250 or so people who would be living aboard.

I looked around and saw a veritable United Nations of low-wage workers: Somalis, South Sudanese, Filipinos, Samoans and other Pacific Islanders, francophone-Africans, a few Arabs, a smattering of Mexicans, and a handful of Americans among others. We were all ready to give our labor for $7.75 an hour, but for that we had to give up our lives for the next four to six months. All free time would be spent sleeping, eating or fraternizing onboard a large floating factory on the Bering Sea. We’d be lucky to set foot on land four times in the coming months.

Continue reading “Jumping ship, before getting on: A brief encounter with the underbelly of the fishing industry”

Thousands of people mobbed the streets when I arrived in Skagway, Alaska in mid-September. Nearly all were nicely-dressed older folks taking pictures of the historic false-front buildings and the powerful snow-capped mountains that lined the horizon. I wanted to hike the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail then head up to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory for a night or two and back to catch a ferry out. I had less than five days, and to my dismay public transit ended service a week prior. I weighed my options as I sat observing scores of gray-haired cruise ship tourists wondering the streets of the historic gold-rush boomtown—most of whom would only walk the main street of town in search for a souvenir to take back to their luxurious ship.

A little more than a hundred years prior, tens of thousands of men and women came through this tiny outpost in Tlingit country attempting to escape high unemployment—as high as 14.5 percent—and a depressed economy brought on by a heavily indebted public, erratic monetary policy, foreclosures and the bursting of market bubbles unleashed by the wild animal spirits of Wall Street during the Panics of 1893 and 1896. No other time since then had the gap dividing the nations richest and everyone else been as large—that is until today.

I was like most stampeders, adventurous, highly indebted, educated and yet without great job prospects. I could have easily been one of those who struck mad with the prospects of quick riches outside of Dawson City, in the Canadian north. Like them I did go to the north to settle my financial problems, but instead of chasing gold I was chasing fish.

Continue reading “The Chilkoot Trail: A walk through history illuminates the present”