California farmlands have long served as a popular symbol of America’s natural abundance and endless opportunity. Yet, from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart to Helena Maria Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus, many novels, plays, movies, and songs have dramatized the brutality and hardships of working in the California fields. Little scholarship has focused on what these contradictory cultural productions tell us about who belongs in America and in what ways they are allowed to belong. In The Nature of California, Sarah D. Wald analyzes this legacy and its consequences by examining the paradoxical representations of California farmers and farmworkers from the Dust Bowl migration to present-day movements for food justice and immigrant rights.
Analyzing fiction, nonfiction, news coverage, activist literature, memoirs, and more, Wald gives us a new way of thinking through questions of national belonging by probing the relationships among race, labor, and landownership. Bringing together ecocriticism and critical race theory, she pays special attention to marginalized groups, examining how Japanese American journalists, Filipino workers, United Farm Workers members, and contemporary immigrants-rights activists, among others, pushed back against the standard narratives of landownership and citizenship.
“Wald skillfully shows how social constructions of race and citizenship have been intertwined with constructions of nature in representations of agriculture in California.”
-Douglas Cazaux Sackman, author of Orange Empire
“A fascinating analysis of the ways in which farming the land has been connected to U.S. citizenship. Wald delivers brilliant new insights from a reading of literary, archival, and popular-culture objects and adds innovative ecocritical and environmental justice lenses to earlier scholarship on farming, citizenship, and labor.”
-Noel Sturgeon, author of Environmentalism in Popular Culture
“By focusing on the work of Mexican, Japanese, and Filipino writers and artists, Wald attributes not only labor but environmental conscientiousness to those who have borne the burden of exploitation in California fields. Here we witness people of color fighting back in the most eloquent way possible-art and the written word.”-Matthew Garcia, author of From the Jaws of Victory
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