AMERICAN EXODUS: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California by James N. Gregory

AMERICAN EXODUS: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California

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April 1989 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, the novel that became the symbol of the Dustbowl experience of the prior decade. Gregory (History/UCal, Berkeley)now updates how ""Okies"" affected the culture of California, both short- and long-term. Though the term ""Okie"" became generic for the over one-million settlers in California, migrants actually came from not only Oklahoma, but also from Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Gregory shows how they brought with them deep-set social, political, and religious traits that rendered them one of the most difficult groups to assimilate into the social fabric of their adopted state. Indeed, the author convincingly demonstrates that the settlers chose not to assimilate, but to carve out a version of their old life back in the Southwest. Settling in separate neighborhoods called ""Little Oklahomas,"" they created a distinct subculture lifted whole cloth from their home regions. Gregory argues that the subculture survives to this day, most apparently in the San Joaquin Valley, in towns such as Bakersfield (where Steinbeck's Joad family settled). There, white Anglos still carry Oklahoma and Texas accents, patronize Pentacostal, Southern Baptist, or evangelical Protestant churches, and sport distinctively Southwest regional tastes (e.g., Dr. Pepper, country-western music, and chicken-fried steak, chili, and biscuits with gravy). Politically, the people of this region mirror the conservative Democrat orientation of their home regions. Gregory quotes one Dustbowl emigr‚ who a half-century later says, ""We won--we took over. . .when I go there. . .I feel I am in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas."" A revealing, well-documented portrait of a neglected side of this famous American diaspora.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press