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A complex set of interacting forces both economic and ecological brought the migrant workers documented in this ethnographic collection to California.
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.
However, photos from El Rio and interviews with Jose Flores and Augustus Martinez provide a glimpse into the lives and culture of non-Anglo farm workers.
This material illustrates that Mexican immigrants had long been an integral part of agricultural production in the United States and were not newcomers on the scene even in 1940.
Local and state infrastructures were already overburdened, and the steady stream of newly arriving migrants was more than the system could bear.
After struggling to make it to California, many found themselves turned away at its borders.Although the Dust Bowl included many Great Plains states, the migrants were generically known as "Okies," referring to the approximately 20 percent who were from Oklahoma.The migrants represented in Voices from the Dust Bowl came primarily from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri.In fact, when the Dust Bowl families arrived in California looking for work, the majority of migrant farm laborers were either Latino or Asian, particularly of Mexican and Filipino descent.Voices from the Dust Bowl is particularly relevant for us today since it demonstrates that living and working conditions of agricultural migrant laborers have changed little in the intervening half century.Most were of Anglo-American descent with family and cultural roots in the poor rural South.In the homes they left, few had been accustomed to living with modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing.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.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.