Photo Taken By: Edward Fahman
This is a photo of a happy, light-hearted man who my class and I came across during our trip in Los Angeles. He is one of the many people living in poverty just as the “Okies” were.
When you live your everyday life, you probably don’t think about the Dust Bowl and how it has shaped some of the smallest things that you pay little to know attention to.
We’ve all probably heard about the Dust Bowl before, whether it was from your history class or by reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. In case you don’t know what the Dust Bowl is, it was a historical event in which a series of dust storms occurred over a period of time in the Oklahoma region of the United States in the 1930s. This created a lot of damage especially to the agriculture. This left many of the “Okies” in an economic struggle in which they turn to migrating to California for hope.
How could this event affect our very only lives even today?
Well, let’s look at our economy for example. When was the last time you shopped at a small, locally owned business? When did you last stop by the farmer’s market? Did you grow your own food for the meal you just ate? Exactly.
Today, many of what we purchase are from big company owners: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway, Jamba Juice, Taco Bell, etc… When we see a small business trying to start up around the block, we usually expect them to be gone within the next couple years, because, let’s be honest, not many people would like to spend a couple extra bucks at the farmer’s market when they can buy pretty much the same thing for a bulk price at Costco.
This is exactly how it was back when the “Okies” we coming to California. They tried to establish new business but simply couldn’t keep up with the previously established big companies.
Dust Bowl Legacies: The Okie Impact on California 1939-1989 by James N. Gregory states “The changing occupational and income profiles of white Southwesterners can be followed in the Public Use Microdata samples recently issued by the U.S Census Bureau. The starting point is the 1940 census. taken just one year after publication of ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ Southwesterners who had arrived in the previous decade were predictable concentrated at the low-end of the socioeconomic scale. This was true in the Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where their rates of unemployment exceeded other whites and where almost three-quarters of those employed worked in blue-collar positions. It was much more true in the San Joaquin Valley, where in 1940, well over two-thirds of Southwestern males worked as unskilled laborers, mostly as farm workers. A similar percentage of the recently settles families in turn earned less that $790 annual income that experts termed a “subsistence” budget.
Gregory links this data to The Grapes of Wrath. He shows how the working lives of the big companies and the small workers are drastically different just as Steinbeck shows it in his novel. Growing up in Southern California and making frequent visits to Los Angeles and the Bay Area, it’s definitely not what they pictured it as it’s portrayed in the movies. Yes, you have the celebrities and the CEOs and the private-schooled kids with their latest iPhones and the people going way above the speed limit in their Porsches, but that’s not everything. In fact, that’s only a small portion of what makes up these areas.
When you walk along the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, what you see the most aren’t the celebrities, but the homeless people. These cities are the richest yet poorest cities out there at the same time. About 254,000 experience homelessness and in Los Angeles at least once throughout the year, according to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center.
This weekend, I took a trip with my broadcast journalism class to Los Angeles. As we walked along the streets, a homeless man approached us and we all felt a but uncomfortable. He said “My name is “Uh-Oh.” Don’t worry about me; I’m not going to hurt you. Everyone here knows who I am; I’ve been on these streets for years. If I ever did anything to you everyone would be like ‘That’s Uh-Oh starting trouble.'” This man is representative to the “Okies.” He calls himself “Uh-Oh,” because he knows that’s what the Californians think of him. He’s been there for years and the locals all know him, yet they don’t help him, rather they give him such a title. They’re reluctant to help him because he is different and not as fortunate as them. But when I think about it, my class and I didn’t do anything either. We walked by him and laughed as he said a few humorous words and continued about our day living our comfortable lifestyles.
Sometimes we look back at history and think that we do be better than the Californians who didn’t help out the Okies, but the truth is, we’re in the same situation today and we’re only repeating history.