The Migrant Experience
The largest migration in American history was the Dust Bowl exodus. “Between 1935 and 1939 nearly 300,000 southwesterners migrated to California” (Rice 407). Family farmers, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers, were the people that were displaced during the 1930’s; there were multiple reasons behind the exodus of the people whose families had worked the land for many generations. Severe drought in the Great Plains region, particularly western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, coupled with over cultivation of the farmland led to crops withering and dying. This area, which became known as the “Dust Bowl”, would suffer winds that would sweep down the plains and pick up the arid topsoil, creating large, unpredictable dust storms; these dust storms left large areas of farmland barren. In addition to the drought, The New Deal Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), which was a part of the New Deal, paid farmers not to grow grains or cotton; this enabled landowners to evict the sharecroppers since they were no longer necessary to work the land. Since the owners of the land could use machinery, known as “cats”, one man on a ‘cat’ could do the work of 12-15 workers, they saw no need to keep tenants on the property with which they had to share profits. Between the Agricultural Act and the use of machinery in farming, it was difficult, if not impossible, for small farmers to make ends meet. Being unable to pay their mortgages or to ‘earn their keep’ on tenant farms, many families were driven from their land; this marked the beginning of the end of small family farms. In The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, the Joads were a tenant family that were forced to leave the land that their family had worked for generations. With a lack of choices, the Joads decided to migrate to California, mainly due to a handbill that expressed a need for farmworkers in the state; additionally, there were many fanciful stories that circulated about the Eden that...
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