It was hot. And dry. The wind blew and a dust storm raged. People finally just started calling it a dust bowl. The Midwest was overwhelmed with drought, the country overwhelmed with depression.
People got tired. They got hungry. They got desperate. They could not feed their children. But they heard a story, a story of a promised land. A land where you just had to plant a seed and the next day you would be picking fruit. They called the land California.
So they packed up their belongings. They loaded the old truck. They took what they could. What they could not take they left behind. They were going to the promised land.
Some walked, some hitchhiked, some stole away on a train. They slept wherever, under bridges, in alleys, in rough encampments of others like themselves. They had hope. Their journey was long and fraught with danger. But they were proud people; not willing to give up easily. They continued on.
When they reached the border of the promised land they were met by border guards. No vagrants allowed. No money – no entry. Some struck out across the desert. There were other means of crossing the border. They could not give up the dream. They found California. They found despair.
There were too many of them. The landowners took advantage of the labor supply. They paid little for hard labor. But people had families to feed. There were no other jobs. They were camping out of town with the other immigrants. They had come from Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Tennessee. They could not go home – there was no home. Only more despair.
They were immigrants. Immigrants to a new land. Immigrants seeking safety and security and hope for their families. Immigrants willing to work; willing to do the menial work the natives would not do. Immigrants who would do anything for their families. But alas, they found only despair.
These were not Hispanics, not Latinos, not Mexicans. They spoke the language. They were the same color. They sang and worshiped from the same hymnal. They swore an oath to the same nation – that one nation, under God. They found despair.
This was the great migration out of the dust bowl of the depression era 1930’s. Prosperous people then were not so different than prosperous people today. They did not have the excuse of national borders, of race, of language. They did not need excuses – only prosperity for themselves.
The immigration excuses we use today are just excuses. The despair of humanity is the same. The greed of the prosperous is the same. This country was built on the backs of immigrant labor. Anyone willing to work was welcome. Anyone willing to participate was welcome. This was and is the land of hopes and dreams. This is our country, yours and mine. We continue to be proud to be an American.
“This land was made for you and me.”
Where is Woody Guthrie?