Making the modern migrant : work, community, and struggle in the federal Migratory Labor Camp Program, 1935-1947



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During the New Deal, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) developed what is arguably one of the most provocative and far-reaching programs for farm workers undertaken by the U.S. federal government to date. Through the Migratory Labor Camp Program the FSA promised to efficiently funnel workers to fulfill the agricultural industry’s labor demands while providing migrants modern, up-to-date housing and services to alleviate the well-documented substandard conditions many faced. Most scholars have analyzed the camps primarily as sites of labor, capital, and state regulation. Rather than view the camp program as simply a government effort to more efficiently coordinate the nation’s farm labor market, this study argues that the services, programs, and activities FSA officials administered in the camps sought to regulate and transform significant and often intimate social and cultural aspects of migrants’ daily lives. By examining the role of the camps’ architecture, medical clinics, nurseries and elementary schools, as well as the “self-governing” camp committees and councils, this dissertation engages in a gendered analysis of labor to reveal how the federal camps were unique dual-purpose domestic and labor spaces. Analyzing the camps as simultaneous productive and reproductive sites allows us to see them as part of a contested terrain in which complex issues of identity, community, citizenship, and labor were negotiated on a daily basis, affecting U.S. farm labor and race relations well beyond the perimeters of the federal camps.