Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991 Page: 25
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with the urban sprawl below. Within a few
minutes drive, or within a moment's reflection,
the Franklin Mountains preserve the wildness
of the native landscape. This book is a local
tribute to the preservation of the natural and
cultural features of the mountains, and a guide
to their appreciation. It is also an invitation for
those who share that affection to participate in
the master planning of one of the most unique
urban parks in the country. As Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department is conducting the plan,
public input is encouraged by the authors.
The Death of Ramon
Gonzalez: The Modern
Angus Wright, University of Texas Press, $29.95
There are rare moments that single books
freshen our vision and provoke new bursts of
understanding. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
was one of those in recent history. As she
documented the effects of pesticides in the
environment, she triggered a global awareness
of how technology and industry were fouling
our nest, and how they could instead be harnessed
to serve our needs as well as our greed.
While the use of pesticides is controversial and
deeply embedded in our agricultural technology,
no one denies their poisonous potential.
But we are addicted to quick fixes in our
commerce, and confuse short term profits and
long term erosion of our land and our people.
Since Silent Spring, the debate on national
priorities for the environment continues, but
has not been resolved. Unfortunately, political
sloganism mixed with economic interest has
sullied the dialogue. On the one hand, a zealous
environmental movement often uncritically
attacked, while on the other the pesticide
industry dodged the controversy by simply
slipping quietly into the fabric of third world
modernization, like drug dealers in reverse,
selling fixes in rural communities that often
supply the drugs of choice for Americans.
Angus Wright injects new energy into the
debate with this remarkable book which clearly
inherits the mantle from Silent Spring. Wright
portrays the plight of rural Mexican farmworkers
who are subjected to uncontrolled or
cynically neglected pesticide application. He
tells of workers without respirators or protective
clothing who are doused with aerial and
backpack sprays; he writes about the pollution
of water supplies and foods in the camps of the
workers; he documents the medical effects and
the epidemiology of pesticide poisoning.
Wright has produced a chilling account of
industrial abuse in the third world.
While the use of pesticides within our
boundaries is somewhat regulated, we still have
not faced up to the problems of pesticides. That
aside, multinational corporations face little or
no regulation in developing countries. Wright
discusses the history of the export of modern
agricultural technology following World War II
when chemical companies developed the first
herbicides and insecticides, many of which
have subsequently been found to be dangerous.
But their use has been so entwined in the
package of instant modernization that we
purvey that they have been used willy-nilly
around the world.
The effects are disastrous not only to the
natural but also to the cultural environment.
Industrial agriculture displaces people from
traditional communities. We lament about that
in our own country as well as around the planet.
Wright reports the tremendous social costs paid
by rural workers, displaced from their homes in
Oaxaca, as they travel north into Culiacan as
well as across the border, into the United States,
for seasonal employment as farmworkers. There
are also personal tragedies, as heads of
households and as sons and daughters die or
sicken from exposure to pesticides.
This is an intelligent and provocative account.
It is also a captivating narrative. It is an
environmental study, but also a culture critique
that cuts across third world and industrial
boundaries. It is polemical at times, but with
penetrating insight and concern for nature and
culture. The text alternates between hard data
and human context. As Wright conducts an
inquiry into the death of one farmworker and of
the effect on his family and community, he
travels from California through the tomato
fields of Culiacan to the Mixtec village of San
Jer6nimo Progreso in rural Oaxaca. His
narrative spans a community meeting in the
village, the scientific debate on pesticide use
and abuse, the political and economic
consequences of industrial agriculture, the
prehistory of the New World, and the quest for
a sustainable agriculture.
This is an extraordinary book which in its
thoughtful and provocative account places
environmental problems in the thick of their
human context. Regardless of one's personal
perspective or position on pesticide use, this
book will be appreciated for its depth of
knowledge as well as its compassion. As Wright
recounts in his introduction, none of us like to
think of ourselves as environmental villains:
"A group of critics of the pesticide industry went
to visit the Ciba-Geigy plant near Basel in 1985.
Ciba-Geigy executives tried to put the minds of
the critics to rest, and one way they did so was
to show the visitors the organic gardens the
executives themselves tended in their yards and
to show that the executives' children attended
the strongly environmentally minded Waldorf
schools founded by Rudolf Steiner. But, one had
to understand, agriculture was not yet ready to
make the transition, especially in the Third
World, where the population explosion and
dire poverty created an unusually strong need
for the production miracles that only pesticide
use could bring."
Living human communities produce the
artifacts and buildings and art that we
appreciate and preserve. Without insight into
their creation and use and tradition, the
buildings are empty husks and the artifacts are
literally "shards." This remarkable book invites
us to look into the way our present actions affect
the lives and well-being of living human
communities. The future of our planet and its
people is as vital to our heritage as our past.
John Peterson is a professional archaeologist and
the book review editor of HERITAGE.
Write for our latest catalogue
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991, periodical, Spring 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45424/m1/25/: accessed June 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.