Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Harvest Gypsies of Then and Now

The “Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath” is a collection of pieces which appeared in the San Francisco News between October 5th thru October 12th 1936.  These pieces were written by John Steinbeck and are a great read for anyone wanting to understand the United States in the 1930’s.  

Although this book is about an America that many have never seen, it is very relevant in today’s world.  Not only does this book give you an insight to the Dust Bowl migrant workers, it also gives you an insight of some of the things current migrant workers have to deal with.  Although the Dust Bowl workers and current Latino Migrant workers have different histories, their stories are very similar.
      I do not believe the current economic climate in United States is as bad as it was in the 1930’s but I feel that if the people in our government don’t understand the Depression of the 1930’s and how we got there, we will be doomed to repeat it.  One of the many reasons the United States was thrown into the Depression was the lack of regulation in the banking industry; this country deregulated a lot of its banking industry under the Bush administration and I am afraid that if we don’t correct those measures we will fall back into an eerily similar situation, the same as the people in this book.
      So back to the similarities between the Dust Bowl and the Latino migrant workers.  The plight of the migrant worker throughout time is a similar one.  The majority of migrant workers become migrant workers because the economic condition of their home land is not sustainable; migration is the only solution and remedy for survival.  Migrant workers in this book came from the American Midwest; they came from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Texas and other regions that were located in the Dust Bowl.  Their homeland was no longer suitable for farming so they moved to a different area so they could survive, that area was California, Oregon, and parts of Washington.  They were predominantly white, protestant American citizens, like those in California, the only difference was that they were poor. 
      Latino’s who migrate to this country in modern times for work opportunities have come here for the same reasons as their Dust Bowl predecessors migrated to the West Coast; they cannot support themselves let alone their families in their home regions.  Although violence is an issue in a lot of Latin states, violence is a byproduct of poverty; economically successful societies don’t have major issues with violent crime. So again, poverty is the issue. 
      Both migrant workers from the Dust Bowl and current Latino workers are discriminated against.  Latino’s in this nation are treated as second class citizens. In many instances regardless of their citizenship, the Dust Bowl migrants were not treated much better, Steinbeck writes:

“The migrants are needed, and they are hated.  Arriving in a district they find the dislike always meted out by the residents to the foreigner, the outlander.  This hatred of the stranger occurs in the whole range of human history, from the most primitive village form to our own highly organized industrial farming.” (pg. 20)         
      Although the ethnicity, religion, and other factors have changed over time in regards to migrant workers in the United States, some things always remains the same; the need for migrant workers and the bigoted views towards them.  Migrant workers then and now are treated as second class citizens despite the fact those are the very same people discriminated against that keep our society running; without migrant workers many of the crops raised on our farms would go to waste because they would merely rot on the vine or tree.  Cheap labor sustains this economy and puts food on American tables, it may not be an easy fact to digest but it is a fact none the less.
      In closing I feel that “Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath” is a very good book to read and is very telling in regards to American views towards migrant workers and even the poor.  In the present time many on the right view illegal immigrants as some disease whose sole purpose in life is to bring down the American economy and its way of life; this is simply not true.  Migrant workers come to this country because it is known as the land of opportunity, anyone with a great idea and a hard work ethic could make a fortune.  Why would anyone living in poverty and dealing with all the things poverty breads (disease, violence) not want to try to start over in a land where anything is possible?  The truth of the matter is that this is the very mentality that the United States was built on; that drive to success has sustained the American economy for over two centuries.   
      I also feel this book tells us a lot about how we treat our poor in this country.  When speaking of these things I think of phrases like “being your brother’s keeper,” or “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  Although these phrases may be blown off as cheesy clichés I feel that there is some truth in them and this topic backs them up.  If the Great Depression taught us anything it is that anyone can become poor in an instance; we should all make peace with that and strive to do what we can to lift people up from those situations because you never know when and if you may be there as well.  I think the sooner we can stop looking down on our poor and needy and give them a ladder out of the deep hole of poverty, only then will we be able to strive for greatness. 

Works Cited
Steinbeck, John, and John Steinbeck. The Harvest Gypsies: on the Road to the Grapes of Wrath.           Berkeley: Heyday, 1988. Print.

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