Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

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Mission brand yellow cling peaches label

View a database that includes artifacts, photographs, and documents in the History San José collection which relate to Del Monte Plant #3 in San José, California.

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In Their Own Words

Beatrice and Friends

Learn about Del Monte Plant #3 from the people who worked there.  See videos of former Del Monte employees sharing their memories.

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Labor: Ethnicity

The ethnic make-up of the Plant #3 labor force reflected the ethnic diversity of San José as a whole.  During the 1910’s, immigrants from southern Europe arrived in the Valley in great numbers to work in the booming agricultural industry.  In 1920, almost 50% of the city’s cannery workforce was foreign born, with the bulk from Italy and Portugal.  By the 1930’s, these immigrants and their descendants held responsible positions in canneries throughout the Valley; Mario Bonicelli managed Plants #3 and 4 in the 1930’s.

Women Cannery workers canning peaches, 1949.Plant managers preferred that female cannery workers be supervised by members of their own ethnic group.  Managers relied on forewomen to communicate with seasonal female employees who often could not speak English.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Italian-American and Portuguese-American women often were promoted to the position of forewoman. 

Lydia Sanchez and the car the Sanchez family drove to California, 1960.The 1930’s brought a distinct type of ethnic conflict to the canneries, as “native Californians” competed with “non-natives” for precious seasonal employment.  “Native Californians” were those who had lived in California since before the Depression, even if they were immigrants from Italy or Portugal.  “Non-natives” included Dust Bowl migrants (even if they were white and English speaking), African-Americans and Mexican citizens.

Though Mexican-Americans have always had a strong presence in the Valley, they did not become dominant in the cannery workforce until after World War II.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the cannery workforce transitioned from ethnically southern European to ethnically Mexican and Latin American.  Mexican-American workers keenly felt discrimination during this transition.  Italian-American and Portuguese-American forewomen did not speak the same language as their workers or share extended social connections of family and church.  Spanish-speaking workers were unable to report grievances or learn about promotion opportunities.  But as the Italian- and Portuguese-Americans retired, Mexican-Americans were promoted to supervisory jobs.

“We worked until September because I remember the sixteenth of September… what Mexicans celebrate.. And God the floor ladies were all wild over there because the sixteenth of September would come and they would miss a lot of people because they would all go to the dances.”  Plant #3 worker Carmen Villareal