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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.Many independent farmers lost their farms when banks came to collect on their notes, while tenant farmers were turned out when economic pressure was brought to bear on large landholders.
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.
Soil conservation practices were not widely employed by farmers during this era, so when a seven-year drought began in 1931, followed by the coming of dust storms in 1932, many of the farms literally dried up and blew away creating what became known as the "Dust Bowl." Driven by the Great Depression, drought, and dust storms, thousands of farmers packed up their families and made the difficult journey to California where they hoped to find work.
Along with their meager belongings, the Dust Bowl refugees brought with them their inherited cultural expressions. Todd and Robert Sonkin captured on their documentation expedition to migrant work camps and other sites throughout California.
California was emphatically not the promised land of the migrants' dreams.
Although the weather was comparatively balmy and farmers' fields were bountiful with produce, Californians also felt the effects of the Depression.
Those who did cross over into California found that the available labor pool was vastly disproportionate to the number of job openings that could be filled.
Migrants who found employment soon learned that this surfeit of workers caused a significant reduction in the going wage rate.
Voices from the Dust Bowl illustrates certain universals of human experience: the trauma of dislocation from one's roots and homeplace; the tenacity of a community's shared culture; and the solidarity within and friction among folk groups.
Such intergroup tension is further illustrated in this presentation by contemporary urban journalists' portrayals of rural life, California farmers' attitudes toward both Mexican and "Okie" workers, and discriminatory attitudes toward migrant workers in general.