Latinos and the Churches in Idaho, 1950-2000

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With its headwaters tumbling out of the snowcapped Teton Mountains straddling the Idaho-Wyoming border to the east, the Snake River churns across the southern Idaho plains, then turns northward before reaching the Oregon border, where it forms the boundary between the two states. An army of engineers descended upon the Snake and its tributaries in the twentieth century, damming its waters for agricultural and industry, building canals, and pumping water onto its arid expanses. Sage-covered plains and valleys yielded to expansive farms that produced an abundance of potatoes, sugar beets, onions, alfalfa, peas, hops, fruit trees, and, more recently, grapes. Sugar beets and potatoes dominated crop production in the first half of the twentieth century, creating a demand for seasonal labor unfulfilled by resident farm families. As early as 1904 with the construction of the first sugar beet rendering plant in southwestern Idaho, plant owners sent recruiters to the Mexican border to entice workers to make the long journey to the state and work in the beet fields. Railroad companies pushed their lines into Idaho, opening up more land to agriculture and commerce and providing work for Mexican and other immigrants. From that time to the Great Depression, Mexicans and Mexican Americans trekked into southern Idaho for the agricultural season, mingling culturally with small permanent Mexican communities in the region's farming towns.

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