For many people, the quintessential image of a forest worker is that of Paul Bunyan: white, male and a U.S. citizen. Yet, Mexican immigrants constitute the vast majority of forest workers in the Pacific Northwest today. They perform manually intensive activities such as piling and thinning brush, fuels-reduction, pest control, and reforestation. These immigrant workers (or pineros) also face unsafe working conditions, with little recourse against workplace exploitation, even on federally owned lands.
In her book Pineros: Latino Labor and the Changing Face of Forestry in the Pacific Northwest (University of British Columbia Press, 2011), Brinda Sarathy provides a social history of Latino forest workers in Southwestern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. She details the multiple processes that produce their marginalization as workers and as community members. In doing so, Sarathy aims to make the concerns of pineros more central to debates over natural resource management, labor standards, and immigration policy in the United States.
The theoretical engagements of Pineros are relevant to scholarship in environmental studies, and studies of immigration and labor in the United States. In particular, Sarathy asks what led to the rapid transformation of the forest labor force in the Pacific Northwest, and how Latinos have created a different type of “new immigrant destination” in rural areas where forestry is important. She also asks why Latino forest workers today experience far greater marginalization than Anglo contract workers did in the 1980s, and why pineros seem to be far less organized than Latino agricultural workers in Oregon and California. Brinda
Sarathy (Ph.D. UC Berkeley) is Assistant Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.
Her research on pineros has been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Rural Sociological Society, the Morris K. Udall Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
To contact the author, email brinda underscore sarathy at pitzer.edu.