California Cultural and Historical Endowment funds agricultural history center in new Watsonville Library

At its May 18, 2005 meeting the board of the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, a grant program hosted by the California State Library, awarded a $300,074 grant to the city of Watsonville for the construction of the California Agricultural Workers’ History Center (CAWHC) in Watsonville’s Public Library.

Watsonville’s Public Library and its internal CAWHC branch will be part of Watsonville’s new, centrally located, multi-use civic center which will include the county courthouse, the city’s administrative offices, and the library. It should be complete in 2007.

Watsonville’s CAWHC will focus not on the industry or economics of California agriculture but on the lives of the men, women, and children who have worked in the region’s fields, orchards, and packing sheds. The center’s name intentionally includes “agricultural workers” instead of “farm workers” to illustrate the center’s inclusive purpose. Agricultural workers include fruit pickers, tractor drivers, apricot cutters, irrigators, cannery workers, packing-shed workers, produce planters, apple and strawberry fruit pickers and packers, cowboys, railroad loaders, farm cooks, farm workers, and others.

Historically, California’s agricultural workers have been indigenous peoples, migrants from other states, such as Oklahoma, and immigrants from Europe, such as Azoreans, Irish, Danes, Basques, English, French, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Manxmen, Scots, Swedes, and Swiss. Workers also came to this area from China, Japan, the Philippines, and Mexico. Former slaves and African-Americans from the southern United States have also added to California’s agricultural story.

The Endowment grant will help the CAWHC illustrate this multicultural California history by preserving, demonstrating, and interpreting the contributions of individuals and groups through time and by highlighting personal stories from within the various cultures. The CAWHC will use materials representing the folk life of agricultural worker communities, such as song recordings, texts from plays, and posters advertising festivals.

The CAWHC will have two main components: an integrated display component throughout the library and a prominently located self-contained research and display room in the library that includes the physical protection and preservation of archives.

The center will provide a variety of services and programming, such as multi-media displays, large-scale representations of the diversity of agricultural workers and their roles, and artifacts that help to tell the workers’ stories. The CAWHC will collaborate with other local entities, such as the University of California, Santa Cruz Oral History Project, the Pajaro Valley Historical Association, the Agricultural History Project at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, the Davenport Resource Center, the Santa Cruz County Museum of Art and History, and others. In addition, the CAWHC will provide materials in a variety of languages, including reference materials, books, periodicals, photographs, CDs, and videos. Materials will include forms of self-expression such as family stories and information on folk rituals, festivals, and myths.

  

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