Does the short-handled hoe mean different things to different people?
The notion that artifacts mean-- really are perceived of differently by different folks is really a smart question and as an historian, that's constantly what we should be asking--how do different people think about this, that when we come up with easy answers, when we know what the truth is, when we know what the answer is, we're almost always wrong, that history is all about context, about complexity and understanding that the same thing is known to be true in different ways to different people at the same time. The short-handled hoe I think is probably a good example of that, that within the Latino community it would be seen as a symbol of oppression.
In terms of the growers' community and growers are important people, I think that the reaction would be a lot different. Their perception would be that they're just trying to do a great job, that their understanding of how to grow lettuce properly required this careful kind of cultivation, that they're really not trying to enslave a group of people and they're misunderstood and that to them this become a red flag of perhaps unfair attack on them. It would be interesting. I haven't talked to any growers specifically about this, but it would be an interesting point.
In terms of political history, the hoe should actually have some significance. It became the part of an important legal case. Mo Jourdane, of the California Rural Legal Assistance Group is the person who led the attack to have the hoe taken out of the arsenal of tools to be used and they had to use a very narrow interpretation of the law, that it was an unsafe tool and they had to prove that this was an unsafe tool. Now, you can't really imagine this hoe being very unsafe. Even at 60 miles an hour, it's not going to fall apart. You're not going to stand on the hoe like this and the only way that you could say it's unsafe is that by using it requires you to bend over and it ultimately breaks your back and, of course, that was what won, but it required a pretty sophisticated campaign. A group of poor people lawyers that didn't have a lot of funding going up against corporations that had lots of funding with really affluent lawyers and compiling statistics, creating this case that eventually led to a suit.
The California Industrial Safety Board initially heard the testimony and turned it down because it was an industrial health issue and so it was tried in that court. It was appealed to the California State Supreme Court and that's where on appeal it was ruled to be unsafe and eventually forbidden from use, so from an industrial history perspective it would represent a totally different kind of story that would be interesting for a small group of people.
Interview with Peter Liebhold, National Museum of American History, May 31, 2006.