Update on Project Activities
This week, we began by reading about the history of Salinas and the economic, political, and social forces that influenced its development. The two pieces of background reading, excerpts from Lori A. Flores’ Grounds for Dreaming and Carol McKibben’s history of Salinas, made it clear that the narrative of race relations in twentieth century Salinas is highly contested.
We also met with our project collaborators, a diverse group of students, government workers, and academics, and set a date for our first meeting in Salinas. Before that date (October 14th), we plan to discuss our research goals with David Medeiros, of the Geospatial Center, and Kris Kasianovitch, a research librarian. Even planning a one-day meeting proved difficult due to the size and schedule variances of our project group. We were restricted by our classes and the time it takes to drive to Salinas, and many of our collaborators had to find time outside of their work schedules, classes, and family obligations as well. To address this issue, we all shared our contact information and chose student liaisons for the Stanford and Hartnell groups.
What We Observed and Learned
As previously mentioned, we realized that Salinas’ history, especially in regards to settlement patterns and race, is very complex. Salinas, like much of the American southwest, is located on Native American lands that were seized by Spaniards, later to become part of Mexico, then the US. Farmers used the area’s rich soil to grow a wide variety of crops, including lettuce, which helped Salinas prosper even as the rest of the country plunged into the Great Depression. The huge growing and packing operations that once made Salinas one of the richest cities in America depended on a diverse community of laborers. These workers came from China, Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, and the Dust Bowl in several distinct waves of migration. This information is what our sources could agree on. They disagreed, however, on the issues of community integration and discrimination.
Flores’s paper presented a fairly simple historical narrative: all these groups were subjected to legal, social, and economic discrimination. The government and community may have used different laws or acts of violence to harm each group, but ultimately the mechanisms and motivations for discrimination were the same. Flores also described Salinas as a segregated city, which jibes with the reports of our colleagues at Hartnell College. However, Dr. McKibben’s research suggested that the historical picture of Salinas was more nuanced. She described many instances of social integration (some forced and some chosen), from Mexican men going to bars in Chinatown to the whole city celebrating a Filipino hero. She acknowledged that racism still had (and has) a significant impact on life and settlement in Salinas, but she also added that some aspects and members of minority communities were widely appreciated and celebrated. At first glance, the historical maps of Salinas seem to support both Flores’s and McKibben’s arguments, showing both seemingly segregated areas and prominent minority-owned businesses and land plots.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Out of all the URBANST 164 projects this year, ours initially seemed the least connected to sustainability. After reading Miriam Greenberg’s discussion of justice-oriented sustainabilities, the role of this project has become clearer. In order to address issues of inequity in present-day Salinas, it is critical that we come to understand the historical roots of those issues. By examining settlement patterns and their influences, we will hopefully be able to see if and how certain groups have been restricted and others have been encouraged to prosper. In order to do this, we next need to narrow the scope of our research.
While this project has a fairly straightforward set of deliverables, our initial instructions are rather open-ended. Dr. McKibben referred to the first phase of our research as an “exploration” of our data in which we will have to select a few drivers of settlement patterns and geographic areas of interest. Even with the maps and census data we already have access to, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by this amount of data. Dr. McKibben suggested that we might select a geographic area of focus within Salinas, and this would allow us to immediately screen out a lot of data. Also, we would like to select a few of the most important drivers of settlement distribution and delve further into those. For instance, we could focus on economics and chart demographic changes in relation to lettuce sales and key events like the onset of the Great Depression. No matter what we decide to focus on, it will be crucial that we continue to critically examine our sources and ask ourselves how different authors are trying to portray the city of Salinas. Even seemingly “neutral” sources like maps and census documents have their own subtle biases that we must evaluate with caution. As we continue to examine the references we have been given, we will also consider which GIS and graphic design techniques we should use to analyze and present this information.