Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900-1940

Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900-1940

Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900-1940

Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900-1940

Synopsis

Power and Control in the Imperial Valley examines the evolution of irrigated farming in the Imperial-Mexicali Valley, an arid desert straddling the California-Baja California border. Bisected by the international boundary line, the valley drew American investors determined to harness the nearby Colorado River to irrigate a million acres on both sides of the border. The "conquest" of the environment was a central theme in the history of the valley.

Colonization in the valley began with the construction of a sixty-mile aqueduct from the Colorado River in California through Mexico. Initially, Mexico held authority over water delivery until settlers persuaded Congress to construct the All-American Canal. Control over land and water formed the basis of commercial agriculture and in turn enabled growers to use the state to procure inexpensive, plentiful immigrant workers.

Excerpt

Benny Andrés has produced a very well researched and written manuscript that will find itself in good company with the already robust, but continually growing, literature on the history of the US-Mexico borderlands. Here we have a case study of one valley—an important valley in the history of US and Mexican irrigation and one that straddles the border with both similar and different aspects on each side of the line. This is an important and needed work, especially as it deals with so many historical issues within that geographical setting (labor, environment, agriculture, business, government policies) to tell a complete story.

For all of these reasons, Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900–1940 makes an essential addition to the Connecting the Greater West Series. Number three in this new series, the book adds to the ongoing works that explore the changing and growing way historians and others are starting to view the North American West—a region that includes not only the American West, but also northern Mexico, western Canada, the Pacific Rim, and the borderlands between these regions.

Power and Control in the Imperial Valley represents some very sound and competent scholarship. What sets it apart from other similar works is its detailed attention to one specific region and how Andrés connects the valley contextually to US and Mexican policies in general, spending equal time on both sides of the border. There is a multifaceted set of objectives in this book, but they all revolve around the idea of how settlers in the Imperial Valley “sought to impose order on the environment and eliminate social and economic challenges.” In many ways, their efforts were to ensure a “conquest of the environment”—working with an understanding that “Mother Nature’s grip on the desert wilderness had to be loosened for agribusiness and civilization to flourish.”

By using a wide assortment of archival materials (on both sides of the border), newspaper accounts, business records, interviews, and a thorough run on the secondary literature, Andrés pieces together a compelling story that needs to be told. While the story is about one valley, it has much broader implications for borderlands, transnational, agricultural, and environmental history. Note especially Andrés’s discussion of the development of the border cities . . .

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