c. 1950
16 in HIGH x 5.5 in WIDE x 4 in DEEP
(40.64 cm HIGH x 13.97 cm WIDE x 10.16 cm DEEP)
Gift of Spreckles Sugar

Tool. Description: short-handled hoe (cortito); metal hoe-head, wooden handle. Used to weed and thin sugar-beet plants in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Salinas and Imperial Valleys in California during Bracero program, ca. 1950s. (From The San Francisco Examiner Magazine, April 13, 1997, Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval) "The Death of the Short-Handled Hoe. In early 1968, California Rural Legal Assistance lawyer Maurice "Mo" Jourdane was shooting pool in a smokey cantina in Soledad, California, when a small band of farmworkers approached him, a couple of them walking with a rigid gait that spoke of constant pain. The men stopped to talk with Henry Cantu and Hector de la Rosa, Joundane's billiards partners, who were outreach workers with CRLA. Cantu then translated a simple challenge from the the workers to Jourdane: "If you really want to help the compesino, get rid of el cortito - the short-handled hoe." "El Cortito, "The short one," was a hoe that was only twenty-four inches long, forcing the farmworkers who used it to bend and stoop all day long - a position that often led to lifelong, debilitating back injuries. The pool room meeting with a handful of its victims led Jourdane to try working in nearby fields for two days. Within weeks of experiencing firsthand the pain el cortito caused, he and other CRLA attorneys began a seven-year battle to outlaw the most insidious tool ever used by California agriculture. "For Cesar Chavez, who played a pivital role in the long drama, there were few greater moments than when el cortito was finally banished from California's fields in 1975. In his youth, Chavez knew the hoe well, having used it to thin countless rows of lettuce and to weed sugar-beet fields along the Sacramento River. Later he would say that he never looked at a head of lettuce in a market without thinking of how laborers had suffered for it from seed to harvest. "(Growers) look at human beings as implements. But if they had any consideration for the torture that people go through, they would give up the short-handled hoe," Cesar said in 1969. "In the late 1960s and 1970s, el cortito was the most potent symbol of all that was wrong with farm work in California. The tool was unnecessary, and farmers in most other states had long switched to longer hoes. Growers argued that without the control the short hoe offered, thinning and weeding would be mishandled, crop losses would mount, and some farmers would go bankrupt. As he prepared to take on California farmers, Jourdane quizzed many physicians - including Cesar Chavez's back specialist - who said that without a doubt, the hoe was responsible for the debilitating back pain experienced by many of their farmworker patients...[A compaint was submitted to the state's Division of Industial Safety.] The lead plaintiff was 46-year old Sebastian Carmona. "I came from Texas in 1959 and had never seen a short-handled hoe," said Carmona in his legal battle. "It surprised me but I thought I'd be able to handle it because it was smaller than normal. The first day, when I needed money for my family, I felt a tightness, but I was ok. The second, third, fourth days, it got worse and worse" - so much so that Carmona would feel a hot pain in his back each time he'd stand erect at the end of a row." [The battle continued as the Division of Industrial Saftey rejected the claim but was over-ruled by the California Supreme Court. Finally in 1975, with the help of Governor Jerry Brown, regulations were written to ban el cortito from the fields.] From the History Information Station: In 1951, an agreement between the governments of Mexico and the United States was signed to permit American farmers to recruit contract labor in Mexico to work on American farms. These men were known as "braceros," or "the strong-armed ones." These migratory workers were the principal source of agricultural labor in the state until union protests ended the program in 1964. The braceros used hoes like this one to weed sugar beet fields.

Used: Bracero | Sugar-beet ~ Sacramento | San Joaquin | Salinas | Imperial Valley

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