Packinghouse Daughter, just published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, merges personal memoir and public history to tell a compelling story about family loyalty, small-town life, and working-class values in the face of a violent labor strike in 1959. The daughter of a Wilson & Co. packinghouse worker, Cheri Register recalls the ...
Packinghouse Daughter, just published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, merges personal memoir and public history to tell a compelling story about family loyalty, small-town life, and working-class values in the face of a violent labor strike in 1959. The daughter of a Wilson & Co. packinghouse worker, Cheri Register recalls the meatpackers' strike that devastated and divided her hometown of Albert Lea, Minnesota. The violence that erupted when the company "replaced" its union workers with strikebreakers tested family loyalty and community stability, and attracted national attention when the governor of Minnesota called in the National Guard, declared martial law, and closed the plant. Register skillfully weaves her own memories, historical research, and first-person interviews of participants on both sides of the strike into a narrative that is thoughtful and impassioned about the value of blue-collar work and the dignity of those who do it. The more Register researched and wrote about the strike, the more she had to admit that she could no longer divide labor issues into the simplified terms of her youth. As part of the first generation of her family to attend college, much less attain a Ph.D., Register struggles to acknowledge such complexities without dishonoring her working-class roots. Packinghouse Daughter also testifies to the hold that childhood experience has on personal values and notions of social class, despite the upward mobility that is the great promise of American democracy. Register's journey reflects the inner conflict felt by a generation that came of age in the 1960s, propelled into the middle-class by post-war prosperity, people like herself who feel"caught between the blue-collar values of the communities we left behind and our new status as the 'rich' people we used to scoff at". Cheri Register is a freelance writer and teacher of creative writing, living in Minneapolis. The opening chapter of Packinghouse Daughter was cited as a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 1996. Other excerpts have appeared in Hungry Mind Review, the University of Chicago Magazine, and the book, Is Academic Feminism Dead? Her work on this memoir earned her a Jerome Travel and Study Grant, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship Grant, and a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society. Her other books include Living with Chronic Illness: Days of Patience and Passion and "Are Those Kids Yours?": American Families with Children Adopted from Other Countries.
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