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California is notorious for our thriving and booming agriculture industry, captivating landscapes, diverse populations and housing plenty of immigrants. California quickly became the destination spot for immigrants from all over the globe due to California’s promising economy. However, fierce discrimination lurked below California’s glistening surface and many immigrants faced difficulties adjusting to their new homes and competing with Caucasian people who were often favored by the economy and society alike.
Immigration in California really began to pick up in the early twentieth century with the emergence of the Braceros program. With the first program from 1917-1921 proving to be more of a failure due to discrimination and unfair wages, the Braceros program reemerged in 1942 until 1964. This session saw more than four million Mexican enter the U.S. looking for work and were mainly given farming jobs. Additionally, the process called “drying out the wetbacks” allowed the U.S. government to locate illegal immigrants working (mostly on farms) and take them back to the Mexican-American border where the immigrants were legalized and sent back to their working place. This helped thousands of Mexicans become legalized but the process stopped shortly after the number of wetbacks exceeded the number of legal Braceros.
While the Braceros program did help Mexican workers find jobs, it shed light on a largely ignored issue: racial discrimination and prejudices. The Mexican immigrants-turned-workers were often handed jobs that American workers didn’t want or found to be too difficult and when performing these jobs, the Mexican immigrants usually received less pay than their American counterparts.
Immigration wasn’t solely based on Mexicans, immigrants from all over Asia populated California. Once immigrants from Asia received the go sign from America, they flooded in. However, prejudice still existed (more than ever) and arrived in the forms of unequal pay (compared to white people) and more famously, in the Japanese internment camps. The government rounded up Japanese citizens and immigrants after the attack on Pearl Harbor and forced them into camps, whether the families committed any crimes or not. Once released, these families often found their homes and belongings gone. With the Japanese internment camps based on hysteria and racism, Asian Americans faced racism and prejudice alongside the Mexicans.
Shifting from immigrants to migrants, the situation does not get better. African-Americans and Native Americans faced brutal oppression and degradation. Most African-Americans found themselves barred from higher paying jobs and positions and also segregated in terms of school, housing and public areas and venues. Treated as lower than the white population majority, African-Americans couldn’t reap the same benefits as the majority could in this promising nation and state. Meanwhile, Native Americans had been the subject of oppression for hundreds of years now. Forced out of their homes almost instantaneously upon America being discovered, Native Americans were put on reservations and many didn’t not receive any form of governmental support or success through jobs and education. Their only triumph came when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of their casinos and any profit the Native Americans made off of the casinos they could keep.
Another form of migrants came to light as a result of the dustbowl situation. This horrific weather forced many farmers out of business and drained them of any hope of succeeding in the mid-west so hundreds of migrants from states like Kansas and Oklahoma traveled West, with many arriving in California looking for work. While these groups did not face oppression or racism, the dust bowl migration portrays how powerful migration could become in America with citizens seeking relief from natural disasters. The U.S. and Californian government sought to assist these refugees and did so through the use of photography in order to illustrate how real the plight was for these people. And while the same courtesy didn’t extend to other immigrants, the dust bowl gently paved the way for bringing awareness to how other groups of people needed assistance and support from those who surrounded them.
While history presents a bleak outlook on how we treated immigrants and migrants alike due to racism, the future does appear promising. With programs such as DACA created by President Obama, immigrants whether illegal or not, are welcomed in America and encouraged to become part of the country. It is easy to get caught up in the logistics of immigrating and the legalities of it all but in the end, all immigrants are simply people and seeking the path for the best life for them and their families. And isn’t the goal for everyone?
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