Archived: The ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Today

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I have never watched the movie “Grapes of Wrath” from beginning to end. I ran across it this afternoon and watched some of it.

Not having lived through the 1930s most of us have no idea what it was like for the “Joads” (the family portrayed in the movie) to be displaced from their sharecropping land in Oklahoma or for small town Arkansans to lose their little bits of land, stores and jobs picking cotton. Most of us don’t know what 25 or more percent unemployment was like or what life after 65 was like with no Social Security.  Most of us don’t know what it was like to only have ten cents budgeted for a loaf of bread when it cost 15 cents.

There are some people who are experiencing relatively hard times today that come close to the 1930s. Some are losing their homes, their jobs, or dropping out of college because tuitions are rising as a result of shrinking state budgets and growing state budget deficits. Professor pay is shrinking and some are being laid off.

Most people, though, are not “suffering.” At the coming unemployment peak, 88 or 89 percent of American workers will still be working no matter what. Billions of state and federal dollars will be cycled through unemployment offices to those who have lost jobs. Many will turn to part time jobs and cash jobs paid under the table. Some, as in every recession, will start their own businesses.

Americans will continue to hold on to precious dollars for a while and businesses that shed workers will tighten up more and more until they reach a survival level permitting them to build energy enough to start the long climb up to normalcy. This is the way it has always been, even after the 1930s. Yes, but this time we don’t have Hitler and Tojo to thank for bailing us out, though certainly Japanese and Germans are integral characters in the international economy.

The American consumer and our international customers will bail us out and people will return to jobs as they always have.

The Obama “Stimulus” will not have worked as his bureaucrats simply couldn’t produce the cash fast enough to affect much.  A Federal tax collection holiday would have worked from day one with billions upon billions of dollars left in paychecks of millions of families instead of government bank accounts.

Here in California – the “Land of Milk and Honey” that the displaced Oklahomans in the “Grapes of Wrath” came to – crops need to be picked, streets need to be swept and children need to be taught. New houses won’t be built for a while but millions of jobs must continue.

Reportedly, there are 650,000 farm workers in California. They are used to sporadic work and traveling from county to county. Little has changed for these workers since the 1930s. Unlike the 30s, however, these aren’t Oklahomans or Arkansans, this time and since World War Two, these people are Mexican.

Most of these are men know what it is like to be displaced from their land. Most know when ten cents won’t buy 15 cents worth of tortillas. Most know when their children go to bed hungry, really hungry. Most know poverty, real poverty, the kind faced by so many in the 1930s.

Like the Joads they come to California to work. They can make more than what the Joads made (5 cents a box of picked peaches) in the 30s. Like the Joads they take what work they can get; like them they must look over their shoulders constantly because law enforcement stands by in some places to harass and arrest anyone looking Mexican.

Ersatz “Minutemen” patrol the border and places where Mexicans gather looking for casual labor jobs. The San Diego Sheriff Department announces a “middle road” practice of holding suspected illegals for an hour for Border Patrol officers to take them off their hands.

The San Diego Police don’t hold any suspected illegals unless they have committed a Penal Code violation, a crime.

On the other hand, Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio – America’s toughest sheriff – orders his men to illegally sweep streets in his county to look for Mexicans who have committed no crime in Arizona but who may be here illegally by expiration of visa or lack of papers attesting to their legal presence in the country.

His sweeps are illegal and unconstitutional and will eventually lead to conflict with the federal government. Federal judges, not local yokels, will make that determination.

Meanwhile, men and women suffering the 1930s in 2009 in Mexico and Guatemala will continue coming to California to pick our crops, sweep our streets and to start building houses. They always have and they always will, for California is the Land of Milk and Honey.

Contreras’ books are available at amazon.com

Posted - Copyright © 2022 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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