Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture

The Grapes of Wrath brought national attention to the lives of California’s migrant farmworkers in the 1930s. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers’ strikes and boycotts captured the imagination of the United States in the 1960s and 70s. Yet today, the stories of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children working in California’s fields—one third of the nation’s agricultural workforce—are rarely heard. This intimate collection of oral histories takes readers to the fields and beyond, chronicling stories of hardship but also of bravery, solidarity, and creativity in making a life built on labor in California’s fields.

Praise for Chasing the Harvest

Chasing the Harvest is a deeply moving tribute to the lives of California farm workers, and their journey from Mexican villages into the cruel machinery of American agribusiness. Herein lie tales of poverty and reinvention, of exploitation and personal triumph. Thompson has given us a deeply empathic work of journalism and listening in the tradition of Studs Terkel and Alessandro Portelli.”

– Héctor Tobar, New York Times bestselling author of Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free

About the Author

Gabriel Thompson is an independent journalist who has written for the New York Times, Harper’s, New York, Slate, Mother Jones, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Nation. His articles about labor and immigration have won a number of prizes, including the Studs Terkel Media Award and the Sidney Award. His most recent book is America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century. Visit and follow Gabriel on Twitter: @G_Thompson1.

Voice of Witness (VOW) is a non-profit dedicated to fostering a more nuanced, empathy-based understanding of contemporary human rights issues. We do this by amplifying the voices of people most directly impacted by injustice in our oral history book series, and by providing curricular and training support to educators and invested communities. Visit and follow VOW on Twitter: @voiceofwitness.

Barbacoa | Barbecue Beef

Recipe courtesy of Rosario Pelayo


  • 10 pounds thin chuck steak or brisket
  • 1 pound Anaheim chilies
  • 3 tablespoons spice mix (such as Adobo seasoning)
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 square of Ibarra chocolate
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 pounds roasted tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons broth
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Grill the Anaheim chilies in a skillet until fragrant. Remove them to a bowl with 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Let the chilies soak for about 20 minutes. Take the chilies out of the water and rinse them, but save the soaking water. Set chilies aside. To make the marinade, mix the remaining ingredients together along with the soaking water from the chilies. Salt the meat and marinate overnight, or for at least four hours. To cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a pot with two cups of water in the oven. Remove the meat from marinade and discard excess marinade. Wrap meat in aluminum foil and place in a baking dish or roasting pan. Cook at 350 degrees for at least 3 hours. Serve with rice soup and beans with pork.

Pipian Mole

Recipe thanks to Rosario Pelayo

Cook a chicken whole or in parts. Set aside.

In a blender, combine:

  • 10 ounces pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 A popular brand of Mexican table chocolate
  • ¼ tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons wheat flour
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 3 tablespoons consommé or beef broth
  • 1 ½ cups chicken broth

Blend well.

Finely chop:

  • ½ onion
  • 3 green tomatillos
  • 3 tomatoes

Sauté the onions, tomatillos, and tomatoes in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.

Gradually add the blended liquid, stirring constantly at medium heat.

Add the pieces of chicken and let mixture simmer.

When fully blended, add seasonings and salt to the taste.

Can be served with rice soup.

Header photo by Bob Jagendorf/Flickr