Chapter 19

Men have ferociously wanted land in California.  American squatters took the land from Mexicans and broke the grants, fighting over them: “Possession is ownership.” From squatters they became owners “and they guarded with guns the land they had stolen”.

With abundant Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Filipino labor, the new farmers became businessmen, more interested in making or losing money than growing crops. Only the best “businessmen” became owners of the big farms.

Steinbeck describes how the owners and their workers hate the 300,000 dispossessed people on the road to California. They consider them as foreign, despite the fact that they are seventh generations Americans, and beyond that Irish, Scottish, English, German, and on both side of the Civil War.

It seems that nobody foresaw the drought and the economy changing: no plans existed to deal with the great number of displaced people, “frantic people running like ants to pull, to push, to lift, to work.” Owners are afraid that migrants become the new squatters, trying to take their land. Furthermore, faced with the wave of hungry newcomers, the owners decide to use repression to destroy their revolt, instead of considering the causes of the revolt. 

Steinbeck highlights the different needs: “things, accumulation, social success, amusement, luxury, and a curious banking security” for the owners and “land and food” for the migrant men.

In the light of the problems created with this massive exodus, the government created a federal agency, the Resettlement Administration. Between April 1935 and December 1936, it relocated struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government. It became the Farm Security Administration and operated until 1942.

 Map of Proposed Location of Initial Camps

 

Poster from the Rehabilitation Administration

 

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