Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to tell us about a time when a different kind of immigrant came to California.
The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.
No, this is not 2021. The year was 1930 and the migrants were American. They came from what is now called the Dust Bowl. An estimated 2.5 million trekked west from Texas to Nebraska seeking work.
Quick synopsis of the Dust Bowl history. During WWI there was a huge need for wheat. Farmers planted nothing else. It wore out the soil. A decade of drought and winds came. With nothing to tether the dirt, dust buried everything, including the spirits of the people. The Great Depression would soon follow.
How bad was it? Photos show the Black Blizzard where for 5 days a cloud of dust 2 miles high flew east for 2,000 miles and covered the Statue of Liberty. People contracted dust pneumonia and starved.
I bring this up because I just finished reading the best seller, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. It’s Grapes of Wrath from a woman’s point of view. Also, I live in a small town with a history tied to the migration.
Lemoore is in the San Joaquin Valley, the vast space between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s mainly agricultural. Rumors spread that California had streets of gold and plenty of farm work. Of the 400,000 migrants, 70,000 flooded into the Valley. What they found was hatred and discrimination.
When I moved here in the 60’s, calling someone a “DBO” was an insult. It wasn’t until I read The Four Winds that I understood it meant “Ditch Bank Okies” because migrant camps sprouted near ditch banks, their source of water. Men, women and children worked the fields in terrible conditions and little pay. Steinbeck wrote their story. The government put together a program to document the era. Photographer Dorthea Lange became famous because of her photos.
My other connection with the Depression is from my father. FDR created the Civilian Conservation Corps to put young men to work. My uncle was sent to the Northwest and worked as a logger. My father, 18, was closer to home in North Carolina. I have his diary from that time. They were paid $30 a month but were required to send $25 home. At the start of WWII, the CCC was disbanded and most of the men went into the military.
To this day, the Dust Bowl has a strong influence in this area. Bakersfield, where oil rigs provided work, roots go deep. Merle Haggard sings of being “An Okie From Muskogee.” Dwight Yoakam sang of “The Streets of Bakersfield.” Buck Owens built the Crystal Palace where country musicians performed.
Growing up, I remember eating at Okie Frijoles. If you’re going to be politically incorrect, why not double down and insult two groups at once? The food was great, fried chicken and gravy, tacos and salsa. It didn’t discreetly disappear like Sambo’s restaurant; they just changed the name to Ole Frijole.
Happily, the people who fled the Dust Bowl were assimilated and became important to the growth and culture of towns such as Lemoore. In fact, in Turlock in 2009, the Dust Bowl Brewery opened up. It’s first brew? “Hops of Wrath.”