Document 7: Excerpts from Interview with Alberta Snid, ca. 1978, Texas Labor Archives, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington.
As Roth points out in her introductory essay, women's activism within social movements is often not driven by feminist objectives. The 1938 Pecan Shellers strike in San Antonio provides an example of women's social movement activism which was intended to benefit women but did not seek to alter gendered institutions. Despite excessive police repression of strike activities, pecan shellers, mostly Mexican women, held a successful six-week strike in February and March of 1938 in response to a 15 percent cut in wages in January. The following excerpt from an interview with a Mexican immigrant woman involved in the strike, which also appears in "Mexican Working Women in the 1938 Pecan Shellers Strike," illustrates the shape women's activism could take outside of an organized feminist movement. Alberta Snid noted that during the strike workers did not greatly improve their conditions "money wise" but did learn that "being united is power." For Snid the strike represented one of the many ways in which "Mexican women have been involved" in protests seeking social change.
"Interview with Alberta Snid," 1978
Since 1927, I believe she [my mother] was shelling pecans at that time. It’s at this place that I told you the last time you were here on Colima where Sept is right now, just off Salsa Mora. I can recall her working there because I was still in school at the time and then the three of us, three sisters, we were going to school up until the time the depression set in, then we just couldn’t, we just couldn’t afford to go to school any more. The depression just came in and it seems like there was nothing else we could do but help work. Of course, my father, being a laborer, he always used to tell us that he was going to teach us what he knew. So in a way we were migrants also, we migrated also. The first time that I remember going out of the city of San Antonio we went to Michigan and they were harvesting beets, sugar beets. Of course, I was very young. I wasn’t doing it. That was in 1924, the first year and the second year was 1925 and thereafter we used to go out pick cotton. But like he used to say, he wanted to teach us what he knew, since he didn’t have education, he never went to school and of course he was not a rich man to endow us with any money. So we worked and we learned.
Can you describe the working conditions that you worked under for the pecan shelling?
The conditions were poor, naturally, very poor because when you get fifty, sixty persons all in one place, you know, sitting side by side. Really sitting in on wooden benches, you know, mind you not chairs, wooden benches, makeshift benches and being there for eight hours, maybe nine, ten hours a day, you know. It’s a very bad situation. Of course, we had no sanitary conditions at all, no sanitary conditions period. Oh, I mean the places were, naturally the places where the pecans were being shelled, they had to be cleaned, O.K., but other than that, that’s all and inspector, I assumed that inspectors used to come every once in a while to inspect the places, but the conditions were very bad. Just as bad as they were when yeas back when, people were, we were migrants and we had to go leave wherever we could sometimes you were, if you were lucky to find a tree to stay under it, it was very good because those conditions were bad also, very bad ‘cause you did not have a place to live, they would not give you a place to live. If you were lucky you would get a couch, chair, or maybe hard shed and I lived in them, believe it or not, like I also lived in a tent. My father used to carry a tarp and whenever there was no place to live, he’d put up a little tent and we’d live in it. So conditions, they might have improved now, I don’t know, but they were never nothing to brag about.
What were the majority of the workers that you usually worked with? What were they?
Mexican Americans, Mexicanos, majority were woman and later on as the depression progressed men had to come in and sit next to their family to do the work, too. You take for example, my father, I think that as a last resort he had to go in and shell pecans, a very proud man, but he had to leave his pride behind him and go in their and sit next to us, to earn a living cause there was nothing else. You know going out to the field to work, to pick cotton for thirty cents a hundred pounds and then the cotton wasn’t any good at all, uh, there wasn’t very much that you could earn, you couldn’t earn, nothing to live on and we worked for that price, at thirty cents per hundred pounds of cotton. So can you imagine how much cotton you had to pick to make a dollar, or two dollars?
What were the salaries for pecan shelling?
O.K., the best I can remember was eighty-five cents a pound and from there it went down, and I mean all the way down. To the point where some people were not getting paid with money any more, but with beans and potatoes and staples, you know, rice, shortening, salt, baking powder, coffee and I don’t mean that there was a whole bunch of it, you know, just a pound of this and a pound of that. Maybe five pounds of beans, a sack of flour, a twenty-five pound sack of flour, maybe ten pound sack of flour, whichever they felt like giving you. We never, we never, my mother never allowed that though. Oh no, she fought for her money. If it was a dollar she was gonna fight for it and she was gonna get it. We never got to that point but some people did, a lot of people did that.
How was management in your shop? How did they deal with the workers? How did they treat the workers?
Some were nice, but very few. Others, I would say, would take advantage of people, especially if they didn’t like you, they just say, don’t, don’t have a job for you and we used to, I remember that I used to hear people, not fighting but sort of arguing about the type of pecan they would get, you know, if whoever was giving you the pecans, you know, like your good friend, they would give you some of the softest, the biggest pecans, you know, cause you know they’re all different varieties and sizes of pecans, O.K., and if they didn’t like you, they would give you the worst of the pecans to shell. Some were very soft, some were every hard and it’s hard to believe, but it’s true, they would give you the worst because they didn’t like you.
Did your salaries shelling pecans, did that also depend on the kind of pecans you got?
No, no but they would pay, uh, the whole, the heart, you know, the whole pecan. They would pay better than the piece. Piece was cheaper and you had to clean it, you had to shell it and then you would have to go over it several times so it there wouldn’t be any shells in it and even the piece, you know, the little pieces, you would have to take every bit of that shell out of there so that it won’t have any, so at the time, evening, whatever time you were getting ready to leave then you would have to go out to the front where the men was and they would weigh this pecans, you know, see how many pounds you have shelled for the day and then they would inspect it, sort of inspect it and if you have any shells left in it, they would give it back to you and you had to go and do it all over again, two or three times, as many times until there was not a single shell left in it.
You were doing all this by hand on the table?
Yes, not an open table. They would make a long table and then they would sort of put, like, little boxes, you know, divide em in little boxes, so everybody had a little, a little box, but one long table. Do you understand what I mean? O.K.
In your shop, were there a lot of single women, married women? If they were married, did they have there children come into the shop with them, to help them?
Yes. Families, whole families used to go in there. Not just one person or two, but whole families used to sit there and work together.
Were a lot of people around you burned out by that experience [the strike and union organizing efforts] or did you see that it did some good?
Yes it did some good at the time because I think we learned, we learned that through organization we could do something. Maybe we didn’t win that much as far as money wise was concerned, O.K. but we learned that being united is power, regardless it is power. A single person cannot do anything, alone we cannot do anything. People are power. Yes, I think we learned a whole lot. I think we learned how to even defend ourselves more. I think we forgot a little bit of the fear that we had because before we couldn’t say nothing, we couldn’t talk, period. Afterwards it was entirely different and this part about Mexican women never being involved, that’s far from the truth, very far from the truth because even from the very beginning, even from the war in Mexico, women were involved in that war. O.K., maybe we have become or maybe we were in a sort of apathy because of our ignorance but we have always been involved in one, some sort of ways, whether it’s labor, whether it’s defending our families, whichever way--but Mexican women have been involved in many things. Not because our men were afraid but because we were afraid of what our men would do.