Production and Propaganda: Scenes of the Interior by Glenna Gray
C.F. Seabrook's obsession with productivity resulted in a strategic use of propaganda in order to justify the efficiencies and profit margins made possible by migrant labor. Scenes of interiors at Seabrook deceptively communicate repose and relaxation and are constructed as a narrative in the photographs. These staged vignettes also communicate the race-based recruitment strategies employed by the company and provide insight into the lifestyles of economically-captive agribusiness laborers.
A photograph of the Seabrook Community House provides an opportunity to examine the propagandistic nature of Seabrook Farms' projected outward image. The peaceful leisure time portrayed in this photograph contradicts numerous first-hand accounts of life at Seabrook Farms. Although the Community House did host events, most workers toiled for an average of twelve hours per day, and frequently worked more hours, without overtime pay, during harvest months. As Seiichi Higashide, a Japanese Peruvian who relocated to Seabrook Farms from Crystal City, Texas, describes in his memoir, Adios to Tears, "[my wife and I] seldom saw each other except for the one free day every two weeks. If we needed to communicate with each other, we left hastily scribbled notes on the kitchen table before we went to work." Leisure, so often depicted in the company's official photographs, was simply not an achievable reality for many workers.
Despite the outwardly generous conditions described to many laborers during Seabrook's recruitment, the demands of productivity made activities like reading in the Community House a privilege and luxury to many. Higashide states that the company denied workers paid sick days and holidays, and "if one arrived at work late that portion would be subtracted from his hours in five-minute units." Indeed, the Community House scene, with the sunbeams illuminating women and children peacefully reading and playing games, conveys a strong sense of stage-crafted idealism or, at the very least, a benefit that only those who did not work for wages on a daily basis could enjoy.
The college students depicted in the photo her present a paradox, being simultaneously included in and excluded from the housewife stereotype of the era. Their role as subjects in the company's image references the ideal female domestic role. However, outside the borders of the photograph, they actively defy this stereotype of unpaid and unnoticed labor. Their work is not only paid, but physical and outdoors, defying the idea that work of this nature was relegated to men alone. While this photograph appears to be a candid shot that captures three young women happily settling into dormitories at Seabrook for the summer, it can also be read as conveying broader themes about African American labor recruitment and Seabrook Farms' attempts to promote itself as a welcoming environment for black Southerners. In a 1946 statement to the Chicago Defender, Jack Seabrook commented on the company's recently adopted strategy of flying Southern black college women to Seabrook: "Now they get here in a decent six or seven-hour ride, without any wear and tear, and are fit to go to work the next morning." Despite such statements, black workers at Seabrook were frequently placed in the worst accommodations; especially migrant workers afforded little in the way of legal protection. The women in this image appear to be strategically posed in the library, their books opened to a random page. The bare shelves to the right of the picture, perhaps included unintentionally, serve as a poignant visual metaphor alluding to a significantly more austere reality. The viewer is left to wonder whether white college students were forced to seek out similar jobs during their time away from school.
The "construction" of the prefabricated houses at Seabrook Farms highlights the need to accommodate the influxes of labor during the war years and the period that immediately followed. This photograph captures the mass-produced nature of the identical houses, which parallels the rapid relocation of thousands of Japanese American workers whose individual identities were reduced to their ability to produce satisfying harvest quotas. The cold, cookie-cutter houses speak to a deeper cultural difference between individualist American business models and community-oriented Japanese traditions. Higashide, for example, explains his confusion at the dehumanized nature of American business, stating that "In the workplace, the complicating bonds such as duty and human affection did not even exist." Indeed, the houses serve as a testament to the Seabrook mindset of productive efficiency, their thin walls bracketing the permissible humanity of the workers.