Progress: The Creation of the “‘How about them peaches?’: Puerto Rican Migration to the Upstate” Exhibit

The  “How about them peaches?: Puerto Rican migration in the 1970s” exhibit showcases life for farmworkers and their families in Sunny Slope Farms, Gaffney, South Carolina. This exhibit allowed me curate some photographs from Z.R. (contributor wanted to remain anonymous), a Puerto Rican who grew up in Gaffney, South Carolina, but now resides in Clemson. In an informal encounter, she shared a little a bit about life growing up as the daughter of a farm labor camp leader in this part of the Upstate.

This exchange was an eye opener for me, as much of the scholarship produced on Puerto Rican farm labor that I have come across or written about has dealt more with socio-political relations tied to the agriculture in the island, and not in mainland U.S.  I felt that, in order to carefully create the metadata for the items in this exhibit and to help Z.R. tell a story around Puerto Rican farm migration in the Upstate,  I needed to take some time explore this subject and understand it in the larger context of the U.S..

Learning more about Puerto Rican agricultural labor migration, one that began in the late 1940s and suffered a sharped declines in the early 1970s, is one that I believe will surprise many audience members. In general, Puerto Ricans are more familiar with migration and identity formation in urban communities, but they are not as acquainted with the role they have played in U.S. farm labor history. Many audience members would find this aspect of their history captivating.

Z.R.’s photographs are a representation of an event that was taking place in the mid 1970s, when Puerto Rican farmworkers and family members were invited to settle in southern places like Gaffney, South Carolina. Agro-businesses, such as Sunny Slopes Farms, would hire farm camp managers, who would in turn recruit  Puerto Rican farmers to harvest peaches and apples. What started as a local story, quickly became to me a universal tale.

Challenge #1: No formal interview was made possible

Z.R. provided me with just an amuse bouche of her story, as she promised me an interview in the near future. But due to the pandemic, and to other engagements (she was in the middle of defending her dissertation), we could not formally do the interview. This of course pose some issues with the curation of “How about them peaches”, an exhibit named after the phrase Z.R. used as she texted me with her family photos. But because of the value of these photographs, I insisted on continuing with this curation by bringing the larger narrative of agricultural migration.

Challenge #2: Searching and Locating Digital Photographs of Puerto Rican Farmers in the South

Through the searches I conducted in the South Carolina Digital Library, the South Carolina Department of Archives & History’s Online Research Page, and the  Chronicling America South Carolina Newspapers, I could not locate digital photographs on Puerto Rican farm labor migration to the South.  I would need to visit the physical location of many of these archives in order to properly find and make use of existing photographs.

Solution: Seek the Larger Narrative of Puerto Rican Farm Labor Migration

My recent reading of “Colonial Migrants at the Heart of Empire: Puerto Rican Workers on U.S. Farms” (Garcia-Colon, 2020) helped me locate digital images that portrayed Puerto Rican farmers from the 1930s-1990s.  I will be curating some great images with laborers harvesting peaches, pulled from the Center of Puerto Rican Studies (CentroPR). After a chat session with the CentroPRs librarian, I felt really good about making use of some of the photographs in their collection. Their digital archive situates these workers to the even larger story of Latinx farm migration, with images of Cesar Chavez and the NFWA.


Next: Tying  Z.R.’s Story to the Larger Narrative 

While we obtain Z.R.’s interview, I could still sustain this important and interesting Puerto Rican story with objects that point to the national narrative. Incorporating the CentroPR items would at least allow audience members to make some connections between Z.R.’s story and the larger narrative of colonial migration and citizenship.

I would also like to incorporate scholarly sources that will offer audience members the chance to engage in a more critical analysis on the social and political forces that generated propelled Puerto Rican farm labor migration to the U.S.

I hope that this exhibit generates among audience members a sense of nostalgia and belonging, and a greater appreciation for the way Puerto Ricans, along with other Latinx, have been for a long time helped weaved the socio-economical fabric of the Upstate.


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