Short-Handled Hoe

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The Short-Handled Hoe Think Piece
“The short-handled hoe brings back memories of back-breaking labor for generations of Mexican and Mexican American migrant workers who sustained California's booming agricultural economy” (Smithsonian’s History Explorer). The short-handled hoe was the principal tool used by farm laborers for thinning and weeding crops. Growers claimed that it was more accurate and efficient than the long-handled hoe. The short-handled hoe had a wooden handle that ranged from 8-24 inches, because of this size it required workers to stopover for long periods of time in order to perform any tasks. Numerous physicians and medical experts pointed out that use of this tool over long periods caused a degeneration of the spine, leading to permanent disabilities. This tool was introduced to workers in the late 1800’s, and was the main tool used until the state abolished the short-handled hoe in 1975, ruling it an occupational hazard after a seven-year legal battle. “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” (Ricardo Sandoval). When the use of the short-handled hoe was abolished in 1975 with the help from “Librado Hernandez Chavez, father of civil rights leader and farm worker organizer, Cesar Estrada Chavez” (Smithsonian’s History Explorer) it was a huge step forward in farm laborers civil rights and well being.

The long process of abolishing the use of the tool was a drawn out battle because growers continuously pushed the idea that “without the control the short hoe offered, thinning and weeding would be mishandled, crop losses would mount, and some farmers would go bankrupt” (Ricardo Sandoval). To some extent that may have been truth, but in reality the reasons were mainly to prove power. “It was flat-out a symbol of oppression—a way to keep control of workers and make them live...
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