The Migrant Experience

Migrant Workers in the 1930s

As the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression took its toll on the Great Plain states, thousands of families looked to California for a better life. While it is common to think that all of these migrant families were from Oklahoma because they were often referred to as "Oakies", many migrants actually hailed from Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Many had roots in the rural South and were accustomed to a difficult life without a lot of luxuries. They were often conservative in their religion and politics and had little contact with people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups. These families became part of a larger group of workers, usually of Asian or Latino descent, already living in California.

Social Life and Recreation

While much of migrant's time was focused on finding and keeping work, there was time for recreation in the form of music. Singing, dancing, and performing music were popular past-times in the camps. Music often portrayed migrants’ experiences with traveling, hardships, and the desire to return home.

Struggling with Low Wages

California struggled to accommodate the large influx of displaced families and workers. The current labor pool and the available job openings were very disproportionate. Even if migrants were able to find employment, the low wages could not properly support them.

"'Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world . . . They got nothing to look ahead to'" (Steinbeck 14).