Again the Covered
by Paul S. Taylor
Associate Professor of Economics, University of California
Photographs by Dorothea Lange
It is hope that draws the refugees to California,
hope of finding work, of keeping off or getting off federal
relief, of maintaining morale, of finding surcease of trouble.
"We haven't had to have no help yet. Lots of 'em have, but we
haven't," said Oklahoma pea-pickers on El Camino Real at Mission
San Jose. "All I want is a chance to make an honest living.""When
a person's able to work, what's the use of begging? We ain't
that kind of people," said elderly pea-pickers near Calipatria.
some few migrants without responsibility, there is hardly more
in it all than adventure. A group of young hill billies, living
in a brush hut evacuated by Filipinos, can take a day off from
the carrot fields of Imperial Valley, lie about barefoot at
a game of cards, and blithely play Home Sweet Home on a harmonica.
course, many refugees do not shun relief. A California border
official reports that refugees say, "People are better cared
for here than in the cotton states," correctly implying one
motive for emigration. Yet many who do not receive relief and
are desperately in need of it for themselves and their children,
avoid seeking it as long as possible. Many who would leave cannot,
for lack of resources. These, like the tenants who write hopefully
from Oklahoma that "If we can make a crop this year, we'll come
to California," await only a good harvest to emigrate.
"God knows why we left Texas
'cept my man is in a movin' mood"
But there is agony in tearing
up roots, even when these have been loosened by adversity. "God
only knows why we left Texas, 'cept he's in a movin' mood,"
said a wife who accepted reluctantly the decision of her husband
families comfort themselves with the thought of return home
when drought and depression are over. Many will return, but
many others will not; they have burned their bridges without
realizing it. Now the movement is west. A pregnant Oklahoma
mother living without shelter in Imperial Valley while the menfolk
bunched carrots for money to enable them to move on, made poignant
request for directions. "Where is Tranquility, California?"
To most of the refugees hope is greater than obstacles. With
bedding drenched by rain while he slept in the open, with topless
car and a tire gone flat, an Oklahoman with the usual numerous
dependents could say, "Pretty hard on us now. Sun'll come out
pretty soon and we'll be all right."
is not generally reached by those seeking refuge on the coast.
Land is not readily available for new farmers nor is the local
reception altogether friendly. Oregonians are already becoming
concerned over the influx of settlers in their midst. California
agricultural workers are restive at the increase of competitors.
And the legislature of that state is presented with a bill to
exclude all "indigent persons or persons liable to become public
charges," and to deport all who enter in violation of the prohibition.
In the spirit of the legislature which sought unconstitutionally
to debar Chinese immigrants from California in the 50's, the
present session is asked to exclude American "immigrants" without
money. "The state," said one of the sponsors of the bill, "has
the power to protect itself from economic disaster. This is
the justification.... It transcends legalistic argument." In
the Los Angeles Times "the Lancer" cries in alarm: "That 5000
indigents are coming into Southern California...leaves one appalled.
This is the gravest problem before the United States...these
tattered migrations." Lamenting good roads he adds: "The Chinese,
wiser than we, have delayed building a great system of highways
for that very reasonto head off these dangerous migrationsindigent
people stampeding from the farms into cities to live on charity.
Incidentally, that was one of the reasons why Rome crashed."
"Pretty hard now. Sun'll come out and we'll be all
drought emigrants, however, have moved into rural California
rather than to the cities. For in agriculture the labor market
is highly fluid, and almost anyone is free to try his hand when
work is to be done; although skill is to bunch some carrots.
So they gravitate naturally into a labor population which moves
incessantly from harvest to harvest, which lives in poverty
under generally unsanitary and inadequate conditions and which
competes for work in a market so glutted that even the farmers
cry for protection because strikes are readily kindled when
great underemployed "surpluses" collect.
the refugees seeking individual protection in the traditional
spirit of the American frontier by westward migration are unknowingly
arrivals at another frontier, one of social conflict. In this
conflict they are found on both sides. An ex-tenant farmer picking
peas in Imperial Valley complains there of the great landowners
who are also the bane of his class in Oklahoma whence he came,
"The monied men got all the land gobbled up." In the sheds of
El Centro the lettuce packers were on strike this spring. A
family of refugees in dire distress naturally helped to break
strike. With the earnings they purchased an automobile needed
badly for family support. They had learned what other laborers
learn quickly in the highly seasonal agriculture of the coast,
"A person can't get by without a car in California, like in