The 1930s was not the best time period for California, the U.S., or the world. When the stock market crashed in 1929 in the United States, it set off the most severe economic depression in the Western world. On top of all of that, a severe drought hit the Southern and Midwestern plains in 1931 just two years after the stock market crashed. This became known as the Dust Bowl. In the Dust Bowl, crops literally blew away in “black blizzards” as years of poor farming practices and over-cultivation combined with the lack of rain (Calisphere, 2013). As a result, many farmers were put out of business. It seemed that things were getting much worse because now farmers were not getting any source of income since their crops were destroyed. They needed to try to find some other way to make a living.
Therefore, in the early 1930s, thousands of Dust Bowl refugees packed up their families and migrated west hoping to find jobs. Entire families migrated together in search of a better life (Calisphere, 2013). There were about 200,000 out of 2.5 million immigrants that left the Midwestern states that migrated to California. They joined a population that was already facing massive unemployment and low wages, so these migrants were made employment even more difficult, and more strikes occurred. Many of the 200,000 migrants have heard that California had better working and living conditions than other western states.
One of the migrants, Edgar Combs, mentioned that he first moved to Washington but then he moved to California because of the working conditions. He said, “I lived in the state of Washington for ten and a half years, and I didn’t like the climate. It rained too much there and I had to work outside all the time so I came to California…” (Walter W. Stiern Library, 2006). He did not like the working conditions in Washington, and he heard that the weather in California was better because it did not rain so much.
Another migrant named Oleta Belezzuoli had a sister that lived in California for a while before her family decided to move there. She had heard from her sister that California was a better place to live in than in Oklahoma, where their family had originally lived. Belezzuoli said, “…you didn’t have to depend on rain for farming. There was water irrigated which was quite different from Oklahoma. We moved to a house on an orange and grapefruit orchard” (Walter W. Stiern Library, 2006). Her family was able to live in a house that surrounded by fruit. She thought that even though life in California was not that glamorous, it was still better than how life was in Oklahoma. There were migrants like Belezzuoli who already had relatives living in California before they decided to migrate to that state, and many of those migrants moved to California because of their relatives.
Like Belezzuoli, another migrant named Elizabeth Day also had a relative that lived in California before her entire family decided to move there. Her brother convinced her family to move to California She stated, “He urged us to come out which is why we came to California because he had a job and he was contributing” (Walter W. Stiern Library). Her family saw that her brother was able to get a job, and he mentioned that California had “plenty of food and citrus” (Walter W. Stiern Library). When she and her family saw that her brother was working, they decided to come out to California.
From hearing the voices of these three migrants, it seemed that many migrants had high expectations for California. They heard that people were able to get jobs even though California’s economy was not that excellent. They also heard that the living and working conditions there were better than the conditions of other states. These migrants wanted to able to work so that they could provide for their families. Some of them were able to get jobs even though they did not get paid very high, and California’s agriculture was still great overall, so people were not starving every single minute. For the most part, many migrants were satisfied with their lives in California during the 1930s. They did not live luxuriously, but they were able to survive.