Yuba College history professor David Rubiales, in a 90-minute lecture sponsored by California Council for the Humanities at the Yuba County Library, described the social plight of the American migrant worker during the Great Depression. On October 29 every seat in the Community Room of the Yuba County Library was filled with local mid-valley residents. Most had also attended the two previous lectures on October 3 and October 15 by history professor Rubiales.
The lecture series was held to commemorate John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and promote interest in the American migrant worker during what would have been the late author’s one-hundredth birthday.
Professor Rubiales described the long hard plight of what the Oklahomans experienced when they initially migrated from Scotland and Ireland and landed in America with nothing but the clothes on their back. Hard working, conservative, religious people moved from frontier to frontier, until finally they arrived in California where they found themselves dispossessed and working out of their cars in the fields.
Rubiales characterized the terror these families faced at the California border-San Bernardino county line, when the Los Angeles police were illegally dispatched throughout the state to keep the “Okie” out of California.
Professor Rubiales delivered a clear and concise chronology of the social and economic struggles experienced by the American migrant workers and their depth of loyalty to family. He opened the forum with a lively question and answer discussion period with the audience that focused on past historical events during the “Great Depression.” At that time, according to Rubiales, the worst word in the English language in 1935 was ” Strike.”
Also in attendance at the “Grapes of Wrath” presentation was Yuba College professor Sujan Bergeson and her World Mythology class.
The superbly written work by the late novelist John Steinbeck describes the tremendous hostility experienced by the descendants of mid-valley residents in 1935. They had the police to deal with.
“Sheriffs deputies were patrolling the back roads of California. Farmers and regular workers were deputized to arrest the Oklahomans; they had authority to burn down their camps; they could and did hold guns on them; they did it over and over and over again,” said Rubiales.
“The Oklahomans were Americans; they spoke the English language,” said Rubiales. “Yet they were different, in that until 1949 the Yuba county policy considered a Oklahoma accent, as to be a speech impediment and took children and put them in special classes to get rid of the accent.”
Professor Rubiales focused on the uniqueness that Steinbeck saw in the Oklahomans, emphasizing that they were people of the soil. He explained the outrage that Steinbeck obviously felt on behalf of the Oklahomans and noted that America was founded on rural agrarian values, on Jeffersonian values.
At the conclusion of the lecture Professor Rubiales and a grateful audience celebrated and divided John Steinbeck’s Happy Birthday cake.