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Archive for the ‘Gran Depresión’ Category

La prosperidad económica que caracterizó a la década de 1920 acabó abruptamente  el 29 de octubre de 1929. Ese día los Estados Unidos entraron en una profunda crisis económica que duraría más de diez años y que amenazó el sistema de vida estadounidense.  Para 1932, entre 10 y 15 millones de estadounidenses estaban desempleados, cientos de negocios de diversos tamaños se habían ido a la quiebra  y por lo menos 5,000 bancos habían cerrado sus puertas. Nunca antes la economía  estadounidense había caído tan bajo. Muestra de ello eran los cientos de personas que a diario hacían largas filas para recibir un plato de sopa o una manzana gratis.

Al comienzo de  la crisis la presidencia de los Estados Unidos estaba ocupada por un político Republicano llamado Herbert Hoover, que no entendió las dimensiones del problema económico por el que estaban atravesando los Estados Unidos y, por ende, fue incapaz de tomar las medidas  necesarias. En 1932, fue electo presidente  Franklin D. Roosevelt, quien le había prometido al pueblo norteamericano un liderato activo y eficaz. Una vez en la Casa Blanca, Roosevelt puso en marcha un programa agresivo para enfrentar las consecuencias de la crisis económico. Este programa fue conocido como el Nuevo Trato y se caracterizó por una intensa experimentación  e intervención directa del gobierno federal en la economía.

El Nuevo Trato provocó el crecimiento  del tamaño e influencia del gobierno federal, transformándole en un Estado moderno.  El gobierno federal se convirtió en el proveedor de protección, ayuda directa, trabajo, préstamos y pagos del seguro social de millones de estadounidenses. Además, el gobierno intervino de forma directa en la economía de la nación para sustituir al sector privado como motor económico. El sector privado vio, no sin horror, como el Estado creó una serie de mecanismo para regularle, supervisarle y controlarle. En otras palabras, el Nuevo Trato aceleró el proceso de regulación federal iniciado durante la Era Progresista que buscaba generar orden a la vida económica del país. Por primera vez en la historia estadounidense el gobierno federal garantizó el derecho de los trabajadores a formar y unirse a sindicatos laborales.  Además, el gobierno jugó un papel fundamental redefiniendo las relaciones obrero-patronales al establecer salarios mínimos y máximo de horas de trabajo.

El Nuevo Trato también fue fundamental en el desarrollo de un estado del bienestar o “welfare state” en los Estados Unidos. El gobierno aceptó  la responsabilidad sobre el bienestar colectivo e individual de millones de ciudadanos.  Nunca antes en la los ciudadanos habían recibido tanto del gobierno como durante el Nuevo Trato. Sin embargo, esa ayuda no era perfecta ni incluía a todos. En comparación del estado de bienestar desarrollado en Europa, el Nuevo Trato tuvo serias limitaciones. Por ejemplo, la administración Roosevelt no pudo incluir un seguro medico universal como parte del Seguro Social por la oposición de diversos sectores del país, entre ellos la Asociación Médica Norteamericana. Los trabajadores agrarios y domésticos también fueron dejados fuera del Seguro Social, lo que limitó su alcance.

El Nuevo Trato reconoció la pobreza como un mal económico, no como una falla personal o el resultado de flojera o vagancia. A pesar de ello, los reformistas no encontraron una solución para este asunto. Algunos de ellos creían que con el fin de la Depresión se lograría nuevamente que todos los norteamericanos estuvieran empleados y que ello reduciría la pobreza.  Desafortunadamente, eso no ocurrió y el fin de la Depresión no significó el fin de la pobreza.

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange

Los novotratisas no se limitaron a atender los serios problemas socioeconómicos de su sociedad, pues también le dieron importancia a otras áreas, entre ellas, las artes. Entre 1935 y 1943,   los fotógrafos de la Farm Security Administration (Administración de Seguridad Agraria) recorrieron el país documentando la pobreza. También buscaban dar a conocer un segmento de la sociedad estadounidense desconocido para el resto del país. Una de las fotografas más importantes de ese proyecto fue Dorothea Lange (1896-1965), quien entre 1935 y 1939 produjo una impresionante obra fotográfica que tuvo alcance nacional a través de la prensa. Su trabajo se concentró  en fotos de pobres y marginados: campesinos, familias desplazadas, inmigrantes, japoneses internados, etc.

En esta nota publicada en el New York Times, Tess Taylor comenta su “pilgrimage” en algunas de zonas de California, especificamente, del Imperial County, recorridos por Lange hace más de ochenta años. Sus comentarios resultan muy interesantes y las fotos que los acompañan son realmente impresionantes.

Para ver más fotos de Dorothea Lange se puede visitar la sección  que le dedica la pagina web de la Biblioteca del Congreso, seleccionando aquí.


Dorothea Lange.

Credit…Paul S. Taylor/The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

The Californian photographer known for her images of the Great Depression is a guide to the complexity of the present.

By 

HOLTVILLE, Calif. — It’s late when I check into the Barbara Worth Country Club, 600 miles southeast of my home in the Bay Area. Spare rooms border dark fields, a dry golf course and a web of open irrigation troughs that help make Imperial County one of the biggest agricultural producers in California. Holtville calls itself the carrot capital of the world, and even now, after this season’s harvest, stray carrot tops bolt, blooming to seed.

Fifteen miles from my hotel is the border with Mexico, a boundary now marked by barbed wire that loops around the edges of the All-American Canal, an elaborate, 80-mile long aqueduct that diverts water from Colorado to irrigate farmland that would otherwise get around three inches of rain per year.

Migratory field workers pulling carrots in a field near Meloland, Imperial County, Calif., 1939.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Oklahoma migratory workers washing in a hot spring in the desert. Imperial Valley, Calif., 1937.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

“They’ll sleep in the row (to hold a place in the field) to earn sixty cents a day.” — From Dorthea Lange’s caption notes.

Migratory labor housing near Holtville, Imperial Valley, Calif., during the carrot harvest in 1939.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

When I arrive in April 2019, Donald Trump has just visited Imperial County to stump for his wall. But I’m not here to talk politics, exactly. Instead, I’m on a pilgrimage to visit as many of the places Dorothea Lange photographed in California as I can.

 

Ms. Lange came to Imperial County during the late 1930s, capturing a different generation of migrants drawn here from Mexico, the Philippines, Oklahoma and the Dakotas, looking for work in the carrot fields. In 1937, she photographed ramshackle tents lining a canal; a group of Model T’s making haphazard camp in a gully. In other shots, cabbage pickers bend deep and hoist baskets high on their shoulders.

Ms. Lange, best known for her Depression-era photographs of migrant laborers, began photographing bread lines and labor strikes near her San Francisco studio in 1932. In the 1920s, she had made her living as a society portraitist, photographing San Francisco’s wealthiest families — the Levi Strauss and the Haas families among them.

As the Great Depression worsened, she began photographing people she saw on the streets: men curled up sleeping or in line for food. In 1935, she married the economist Paul Taylor; they left San Francisco together to photograph the living conditions of agricultural laborers up and down the state, from Davis and Marysville all the way to Imperial County. The Farm Security Administration supported their work.

Pea pickers in California, 1936.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

“Mam, I’ve picked peas from Calipatria to Ukiah. This life is simplicity boiled down.” — From Dorthea Lange’s notebook

A page of Dorothea Lange’s original caption notes, for the above image of “Pea Pickers,” that also includes her request for a “typewriter.”
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

In 2017, I started reading Ms. Lange’s notebooks, now held at the Oakland Museum of California. On lined 3 by 5 inch pages, in penciled-in cursive, she captures American history in staccato fragments, jotting down what laborers paid for gas, rent and food; how much they could make picking a day’s worth of potatoes. On one June trip following the melon harvest in El Centro, under a heading “The camp,” she notes someone saying: “This is a hard life to swallow, but I can’t just rest here.”

“We come from all states and we can’t make a dollar in this field noways. Working from seven in the morning until 12 noon, we earn an average of 35 cents,” a worker told her in 1937.

Texas woman in a carrot pullers’ camp, Imperial Valley, Calif., 1939.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

“Not enough money for cotton sacks” reads another note; “All I’ve got is right here.”

“2 children 4-6.”

“Sold everything little by little.”

“We said we came from,” she writes in a note that ends in an eerie, indecipherable smudge: “They said, “Why don’t you go back there then?”

“This country’s a hard country” one woman told Ms. Lange. “If you die, you’re dead — that’s all.”

As a poet, I was drawn to the chorus of voices Ms. Lange recorded, which call across time. Her notebooks catalog concerns that feel sharply relevant eight decades later: the search for shelter, a fair wage and stable work.

Last year, from January to October, I drove across California, following routes Ms. Lange noted in her travels from 1935 to 1942, by which time she had been hired by the Office of War Information to document the process of Japanese internment.San Francisco residents of Japanese ancestry in 1942 at a civil control station for registration where they would then be interned in war relocation camps.

Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
The quarters at Manzanar, Calif., War Relocation Authority Center where people of Japanese ancestry were interned by the U.S. Army during WWII.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

As I visited encampments, internment centers and small agricultural towns, I used Ms. Lange’s images and words as a lens to help refract the messy complexity of California’s present. I grew up a mile from where Ms. Lange lived in Berkeley. My town, El Cerrito, populated quickly in the early 1940s by an influx of shipyard workers, has neat cottage bungalows with lemon trees on tight plots. Ms. Lange photographed these in 1942 as a hopeful emblem of the New California: an emergent middle class.

But the Bay Area today is no picture of middle class stability. My once modest neighborhood has skyrocketing home prices — a small three-bedroom that eight years ago cost $500,000 now lists for $1.3 million, while roughly 28,000 homeless people sleep on the streets in the Bay Area each night. Vacant lots, industrial blocks and underpasses nearby fill with semipermanent encampments. I bike my children to school each day through a maze of tents and trailers.

Following Ms. Lange’s images and notes has become a study in uneasy juxtapositions: rifts between enormous wealth and unsettled poverty, some of which feel new, some like a continuation of the past.

Farm Security Administration emergency migratory labor camp established for the 1939 spring pea harvest, Calipatria, Imperial Valley, Calif.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

In Imperial County, which now has the highest unemployment rate in California, Eddie Preciado of Catholic Charities holds beds at the county’s one homeless shelter for men, offering shelter to migrant laborers who cross the border to pick corn.

“There’s still no dedicated housing for agricultural workers,” he told me. Down the road, a detention center run by Management Training Corporation for ICE holds 782 beds.

“Most middle-class jobs are in border security,” Mr. Preciado said.

In Nipomo, where Ms. Lange pulled over near a frozen pea field to make her famous photograph “Migrant Mother” in 1936, a new community of $1.2 million tract homes overlooks rows of factory-farmed strawberry fields edged with workers’ trailers.

A Mexican mother in California in 1935. “Sometimes I tell my children that I would like to go to Mexico, but they tell me ‘We don’t want to go, we belong here.’”
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, Calif., shows Florence Thompson with three of her children in the 1936 photograph known as “Migrant Mother.”
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

I asked a bartender at Jocko’s Steakhouse where I could find the spot where “Migrant Mother” was photographed.

“I don’t know,” he said “but people are still always coming through.”

Last spring, walking a section of Route 98 in Imperial County just after dawn, I remembered Ms. Lange’s images of Model T’s camped in arroyos. Those gullies are now lined with border security officers in shiny trucks parked at quarter-mile intervals to police those who make their way north.

Ms. Lange often said, “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” I wonder what details she’d notice, what notes she’d take now.

A store owned by a Japanese-American who was sent to an internment camp in Oakland, Calif. The store had been closed the day after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Credit…Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Tess Taylor (@Tessathon) is a poet and author. Her book of poems “Work & Days” was named one of the best books of poetry of 2016 by The Times. Her new collection of poetry “Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange” is part of the “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.


 

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