Back to the Bay

This summer I will be returning home to the San Francisco Bay Area after my first year of grad school in Chicago to work as an LHIP intern at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where I was an intern last year. I will be serving double duty, working as a researcher and as an assistant in the Small Boat Shop where they are building a replica row boat, or “yawl” (which I will discuss in my next blog post!). The research I am conducting is based on documents found by Park Ranger David Pelfrey pertaining to cannery workers in Alaska of Mexican heritage. As I type this, I realize a little background is in order for the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, especially considering that I lived in the Bay Area my whole life and never knew this place existed ????…  The park deals with California maritime history. For example, it covers topics from the First Nations peoples’ use of waterways, to colonial and missionary excursions, Gold Rush era frenzy, and modern commercial industry. That’s a large span to cover for such a small park, but there is a Visitor’s Center, museum, research center, and a pier with historic ships that the public has access to. For my research I will be focusing on the modern commercial industry, primarily fishing in the early 20th century. Sail boats were a dying technology as steam took over, but for companies like the Alaska Packers Association sailing was cheaper and got the job done. Especially since they only had to sail twice a year from San Francisco to Alaska in the beginning of the season and back down at the end. Within the organizational hierarchy of a sailing vessel, sailors and workers were segregated by race. Sailors were mostly of European heritage and enjoyed greater privileges such as pay, benefits, unionization, and sleeping quarters, whereas so called “lower skilled” workers were typically of Chinese descent and were known as the “China Gang.” Salmon fishing was a major industry, and for the most part salmon was canned in factories in Alaska before being sent south. This is specifically where my research is based. Ranger David Pelfrey found documents pertaining to an incident in 1919 wherein a number of Mexican workers were arrested. I’m still sorting out the details and chain of events. For the most part the documents are correspondence between the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and the president of the Alaska Packers Association disregarding the claims of the Mexican workers. I’m going to look at the Mexican National Archives to see if I can find anything that the Mexican government might have in regards to these claims. It’s a lot of work, but hopefully we can uncover more of this history and present it to the public.

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