Did you know the San Joaquin Valley was named in 1805 by the main Spanish conquistador of California for his father, Jose Joaquin Moraga? And what about the Visalia Saddle that was created by Mexican saddle makers for the cowboy vaqueros?
Those are just a few of the tidbits you can learn about Latino influence in our Valley from a new exhibit at the Tulare County Museum at Mooney Grove.
Most Californians learn about the Spanish mission period in their fourth-grade social studies class. But that is all focused on the coast. What about the come and go, back and forth the history of Mexicans and other Latinos in the Central Valley?
That push and pull is what Alex Saragoza, retired UC Berkeley Latino Studies professor, calls the “Come on over but just don’t live here” history that Latinos have endured in the Central Valley for hundreds of years.
Saragoza, a Madera native born into a farm worker family, was asked to guide a major project taken on by the Arte Americas art center in Fresno to create Caminos Central Valley, an exhibit that shows the many paths Latinos have followed in California from Spain’s takeover in 1772 to the Mexican Revolution in 1822 when Mexico achieved independence and took over Alta California, through the vaqueros, Braceros, UFW and other eras that led up to today.
That exhibit has now come to the Tulare County Museum with a new emphasis—Tulare County. The exhibit comprises interviews, photographs, posters, and maps, many from community participants.
It will be on display through December and features monthly platicas (discussions) by Saragoza and others on different eras of the exhibit every second Sunday of the month.
The original exhibit came about when Nancy Marquez of Arte Americas went to a display of Fresno County’s history at the Fresno Fairgrounds—and found almost nothing included about Latinos. She wondered how they could leave out an entire group of workers whose blood, sweat, and tears are so crucial to what the Valley is today.
Determined to correct that omission, she obtained grants and gathered historians, librarians, educators, and volunteers to put together “Caminos,” which means paths or roads.
The exhibit filled Arte Americas’ galleries during most of 2019. It highlighted the Fresno area, but during the COVID lockdown, more Tulare County history was added, and the museum now takes up much of the Tulare County Farm Labor & Agriculture Museum (the big red barn) at Mooney Grove.
When Amy King, Tulare County Museum curator, was contacted for information, she invited the exhibit to show at the museum. It continues to add information and stories and will move to Merced in 2023.
“Caminos is a story of resilience that has given the Valley its Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx population in all its diversity and stages of culture integration,” King said.
The exhibit integrates the museum’s own exhibits of different pioneer cultures that have transformed the area.
“We have featured some Latino exhibits, such as the horses and saddles of the vaquero period,” said King. “But Caminos takes in 250 years of history.”
The exhibit is divided into eight eras. What is evident throughout is the different waves of Latinos that have arrived and been pushed out since the Spanish rule in the 1700s.
“Unlike other immigrant groups, there was another wave and another wave,” said Saragoza. “And it wasn’t just Mexicans. Other Central and South American groups came. The rate of acculturation was different for each.”
Saragoza did his master’s thesis and Ph.D. dissertation on Latino history and taught for several years at Fresno State before moving to Berkeley. He puts into context how Mexicans, in particular, were recruited at different times to work in Central California’s growing agricultural industry and then kicked out when they were no longer wanted.
The first wave in the Central Valley were the vaqueros working on the large cattle ranches before agriculture became prominent.
The first big wave came at the turn of the 20th century. They were refugees from the horrific conditions in Mexico during Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, ready to work in the emerging agricultural fields.
“Many of those we interviewed for the exhibit traced their roots back to Mexico in this period,” King said. “Juan Valdez’s family photo in Lindsay in the 1930s, selected to represent the exhibit in Tulare County, was one such immigrant.”
There are pictures and stories of local Latinos who fought in World War II, worked in the government’s Bracero Program, and were part of the Chicano Movement with Cesar Chavez.
There are so many influences to the story: Quota acts against Asians that brought in more Latinos. Bandit Joaquin Murrieta was allegedly killed in a shootout near Coalinga. Latino music, art, and food added to the local culture. Anti-Mexican sentiments led to deportations. Finally, more acceptance and achievement.
“There is so much to see,” said Nancy Marquez, who originated the idea of the Camino exhibit. “People might want to visit several times to take it all in.”
How to attend
Caminos: Latino history of the Central Valley. Tulare County Museum of Farm Labor and Agriculture, Mooney Grove, 27000 S. Mooney Blvd, Visalia Open 10-4 Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday. Through December. Platicas (discussions): 1-3 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month. Free to attend, but there is a $6 park entrance fee on Friday, Saturday & Sunday. Contact: 559 624-7326 or www.tularecountymuseum.org Next platica: Sunday, Aug. 14: “Mexicans become the backbone of California agriculture in the 1920s” Presented by Alex Saragoza
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Tulare County Museum exhibit spotlight Latino history of Tulare County