Still can’t say the “M” Word in Dubious Battle
Rudy Acuña: In the 1970s like most Chicanas/os of my time I was intrigued by huge agricultural strikes of the 1930s particularly the 1922 San Joaquin Cotton Strike involving 18,000 strikers and their families. The state in collusion with the growers intentionally starved nine Mexican babies and short down Mexican strikers on the picket line. The strikers in their majority were Mexican. Similar strikes took place throughout California. In reading John Steinbeck and other authors the general impression was that the strikes were generated by white Oklahomans. Steinbeck was a political man who loved Mexican History so he knew better. However, he was also an author who wanted to sell books and above all sell a message. He feared that white readers would not relate to Mexican protagonists. In Dubious Battle was based on the Tagus Ranch peach strike in August of 1933 and a cotton strike throughout the San Joaquin Valley that October. The protagonist was Pat Chambers, the lead communist organizer of both strikes. Pat was a short man who is probably one of the most sincere and dedicated men I have interviewed and whose insight of the strikes I used in my book Corridors of Migration. He along with Caroline Decker were the lead organizers of the San Joaquin Strike. (Also see Loftis, Witnesses To The Struggle, 2, 45-65. Jamieson, Labor Unionism, 15, 19-21, 36, 93. Pat Chambers interview, April 19, 1978—the latter available in my papers in special collections CSUN). My point is that last year James Franco made a movies titled In Dubious Battle and could have gotten it right and given Mexican workers and their families their due. But again the role of Mexican workers and families don’t sell.