The Dust Bowl Migration

The impact of the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s is manifest in the American way of life to date. Although disastrous, the event is much revered amongst the American policymakers due to the lessons it presented regarding poverty and public policy orientation. Research into the Dust Bowl migration and its long-term impacts can offer a better understanding of the same through the questions: How did the Dust Bowl migration take place? How did life transform for the migrants? Why is it still of great significance to date? How do generations memorize the challenging event? Although this was only one depression event in the 1930s, the Dust Bowl migration became something of synecdoche, the single most common image that later generations would use to memorialize the hardships of that period.

The Dust Bowl migration was an unfortunate event in which American-born persons were internally displaced in their motherland. According to Gutmann et al. (2016), the migration started after several factors demanded its incidence. Among the main triggers was a severe drought in the Great Plains. For several years, the inhabitants of the region struggled with inadequate rainfall. Instead, dust storms were facilitated by strong winds and the fine topsoil of the farmlands. The communities who lived in the expanse, predominantly farmers, could hardly produce cotton and wheat. As a result, they could barely handle the immense hunger and instead chose to search for better areas. The Great Depression was equally of significance in prompting the mass movement. According to McLeman et al. (2014), people in North America faced economic difficulties in the 1930s.  Issues such as an escalating level of joblessness were commonplace during the challenging decade. For this reason, some people embarked on a journey to California in a quest for economic welfare.

The journey involved the mass movement of people from Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. According to Long and Siu (2016), California was their state of destination. There was a higher chance of the affected lot to move to California than it was for any other group of migrants to move to the same endpoint. The westward push caused by the Dust Bowl was the main reason behind it.  According to long, the number of people who migrated during the event was about 300,000 to 400,000. The overwhelming majority of persons in the moving group was comprised of Whites. There were, however, African Americans within the group. Both urban-dwellers and farmers embarked on the journey, with the former being the majority.  The journey was characterized by desperation, owing to food inadequacy to sustain them during the migration (Gregory, 2004).  The journey’s challenges were further elevated by the cross-border policies that restricted the immigration of people into California. Police tried to block the migrants from entry into the state.  Further challenges awaited the group upon arrival.

The inhabitants of California snubbed the migrants. Upon arrival, the migrants faced hostility from their fellow Americans. The local populace viewed them as uninvited intruders, who would take away their jobs (Boustan, Fishback, & Kantor, 2010). The Great depression primarily fueled the negative perception.  People in California and the country at large faced intense joblessness. The arrival of immigrants posed further competition for the already inadequate jobs. The available job openings were by far less than the available labor. The immigrant communities comprised of people who previously had favorable employment in both the rural and urban settings. However, the new state of affairs was different since they had to endure joblessness and subsequent poverty. Worse still, they were associated with crime. The people of California spread the word that the immigrants would increase the frequency of criminal activities, owing to their economic disadvantage compared to the locals. For this reason, potential employers shied away from offering them jobs.

Life changed for the worse upon migration. The people of California viewed the immigrants as disease-laden people who would deprive the resources of the government (McLeman & Hunter, 2010). The local people of California associated the poverty of immigrants with diseases. For this reason, they spread the word that the locals should minimize their contact with them since the diseases would spread to the inhabitants. The dissociation caused the rise of shanties that were located outside towns. The lives of the immigrants were also different from the norm in that they faced hostility in their motherland. The local populace referred to them as Okies (Hornbeck, 2020). The derogatory term used for all immigrants, despite their states of origin. The outright disdain was also as a result of the perception of the local people who hated the idea of the immigrants benefitting from the resources of their government. Unlike in their places of origin, the immigrants faced hatred from their fellow Americans.

The plight of California immigrants has proven its relevance many decades after the mass migration.  According to Gregory (2004), the poverty witnessed during the migration may have been a temporary issue, but its impacts have proven their permanence. One of the impacts is on the understanding that people have regarding poverty. People in America have continuously gained lessons regarding poverty in terms of its effects in various states and across the country at large. It is for this reason that the policies being developed in different places consider the lessons. Policymakers continuously integrate poverty-related policies in their rulebooks. It is especially so in matters regarding migration from one state to another. This dimension considers the lessons learned from the negative reception that the migrants faced from both police officers and the local populace. The contemporary policies seek to provide free movement of American citizens across different states while promoting equal rights with the local communities in the places of destination.

The effects extend to various affected systems. Farm labor and other systems have subsequently undergone change following the lessons taken from the Dust Bowl immigrant farm systems. In the 1930s, the system favored farm owners but deprived farm workers of some fundamental labor needs (McLeman et al., 2014). Farm owners, for example, enjoyed protection from customs and labor unions. Being so oriented oppressed farm workers in that, they lacked the necessary bargaining power they needed to improve their welfare. Policymakers have, however, in due course, learned of the ignorance within the system that results in oppression of some parties. Current policies seek the creation of a fair balance of rights for both farm owners and their employees.  The changes are also being implemented in other systems that have a similar orientation.

Generations acknowledge and memorize the Dust Bowl migration in numerous and diverse ways.  Among the most conspicuous is addressing the plight of the poor in relation to the existing systems.  The news media has been especially of importance in seeking positive changes in reference to the Dust Bowl migration. Both print and television journalists expose the plight of the people of California in terms of their level of poverty of farmworkers.  The ‘Harvest of Shame,’ for example, was a documentary aired in the 1960s (Gregory, 2004). It exposed the migration of state of affairs as it was during the period of the Dust Bowl. People also inscribe the history of the Dust Bowl era through photography (Gregory, 2004). John Steinbeck and Dorothea Lange, for example, snapped children donning rags and their parents looking miserable in farm labor camps.  By so doing, they preserved the memory of the era. The journey is also depicted in fictional films that are produced to show how the hope of the refugees faded upon arrival in California, the place they thought would bring them relief.

The history of the Dust Bowl migration offers a small glimpse of the challenges of the era. It paints a bleak picture of the lives that the people who lived through it faced. Of special interest are the factors that led to the occurrence of the challenge-laden event. The history shows that people faced the wrath of both the Great Depression and drought at the time.  The lives of immigrants changed for the worse, mainly due to the two factors. Despite its negative nature, the Dust Bowl migration formulated lessons that were previously hard to learn. It impacted the policymaking process by improving it to offer a better situation for the people of America, especially in matters of interstate movement and farm labor. The high value of the lessons learned makes it worth preserving in memory. It is for this reason that generations have been preserving it through media exposes the filmmaking, photography, and other ways of preserving history. Deeper research into the era of Dust Bowl migration may offer more lessons for application in the policymaking process.

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