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Why did so many of the refugees pin their hopes for a better life on California?One reason was that the state's mild climate allowed for a long growing season and a diversity of crops with staggered planting and harvesting cycles.
California was emphatically not the promised land of the migrants' dreams.
Although the weather was comparatively balmy and farmers' fields were bountiful with produce, Californians also felt the effects of the Depression.
Soil conservation practices were not widely employed by farmers during this era, so when a seven-year drought began in 1931, followed by the coming of dust storms in 1932, many of the farms literally dried up and blew away creating what became known as the "Dust Bowl." Driven by the Great Depression, drought, and dust storms, thousands of farmers packed up their families and made the difficult journey to California where they hoped to find work.
Along with their meager belongings, the Dust Bowl refugees brought with them their inherited cultural expressions. Todd and Robert Sonkin captured on their documentation expedition to migrant work camps and other sites throughout California.
Finally, the country's major east-west thoroughfare, U. Highway 66 -- also known as "Route 66," "The Mother Road," "The Main Street of America," and "Will Rogers Highway" -- abetted the westward flight of the migrants.
A trip of such length was not undertaken lightly in this pre-interstate era, and Highway 66 provided a direct route from the Dust Bowl region to an area just south of the Central Valley of California.The bulk of the people Todd and Sonkin interviewed shared conservative religious and political beliefs and were ethnocentric in their attitude toward other ethnic/cultural groups, with whom they had had little contact prior to their arrival in California.Such attitudes sometimes led to the use of derogatory language and negative stereotyping of cultural outsiders.This increase in farming activity required an increase in spending that caused many farmers to become financially overextended.The stock market crash in 1929 only served to exacerbate this already tenuous economic situation.Todd and Sonkin also held recording sessions with a few Mexican migrants living in the El Rio Farm Security Administration (FSA) camp.Unfortunately, the glass-based acetate discs on which the Spanish-language musical performances were recorded did not survive.Voices from the Dust Bowl illustrates certain universals of human experience: the trauma of dislocation from one's roots and homeplace; the tenacity of a community's shared culture; and the solidarity within and friction among folk groups.Such intergroup tension is further illustrated in this presentation by contemporary urban journalists' portrayals of rural life, California farmers' attitudes toward both Mexican and "Okie" workers, and discriminatory attitudes toward migrant workers in general.At the same time, the increase in farming activity placed greater strain on the land.As the naturally occurring grasslands of the southern Great Plains were replaced with cultivated fields, the rich soil lost its ability to retain moisture and nutrients and began to erode.