With patience and industry, one can almost always find something noteworthy to buy and read in Booksale. This week, I found a copy of John Steinbeck‘s collection of articles for the San Francisco News in 1936. The articles became the basis of his seminal novel The Grapes of Wrath. Titled The Harvest Gypsies, the collection speaks of the suffering and harsh experiences of migrant workers in California during the height of the Great Depression.
Migrant Filipinos were discussed in some of the articles. According to Steinbeck, Filipinos in California were some of the most discrminated against in America. In turn, they were also the most organized migrants. Because of their organizations, the Filipinos soon suffered brutal state reprisals. In the book, Steinbeck said that foreign labor in California at the time was on the wane. He was wrong, because decades later, Filipinos became among the largest ethnic groups in that country. Nevertheless, Steinbeck had such great appreciation and empathy for migrants. Declared by the New York University as one of 20th century’s greatest works of American journalism, the articles in The Harvest Gypsies are advocacy journalism at its heart-wrenching best.
Here is a part of the an article that discussed Filipinos in California during the Great Depression:
As in the case of the Mexicans, Japanese and Chinese, the Filipinos have been subjected to racial discrimination. They are unique in California agriculture. Being young, male and single, they form themselves into natural groups of five, six, eight: they combine their resources in the purchase of equipment, such as autos. Their group life constitues a lesson in economy.
A labor coordinator of SRA [The State Relief Administration] has said, “They often subsist for a week on a double handful of rice and a little bread.”
They were good workers, but like the earlier immigrants they committed the unforgivable in trying to organize for their own protection. Their organization brought on the the usual terrorism.
A fine example of this was the vigilante raid in the Salinas Valley last year when a bunk house was burned down and all the possessions of the Filipinos destroyed. In this case the owner of the bunk house collected indemnity for the loss of his property. Although the Filipinos brought suit, no settlement has as yet been made for them.