33 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1936

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Article 6Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Article 6 Summary

Steinbeck’s next article painted a grim picture of the history of agricultural labor in California. An influx of Chinese workers immigrated to California during the 1800s seeking construction jobs in the booming railroad industry. After the railroad lines had been built, Chinese workers shifted to agricultural labor. These Chinese immigrants were able to work at lower wages and a lower standard of living, which Steinbeck said put white farm workers—accustomed to higher wages—out of work. Angry white workers rioted against Chinese immigrants; these riots, combined with new immigration restrictions, led to fewer Chinese workers in the fields. The Japanese followed the Chinese in working in the fields, and they faced the same fate as the Chinese. Thereafter, farmers imported large numbers of workers from Mexico whom they could garnish with cheap wages; about 80,000 Mexican immigrants resided in the state in 1920. When the idea surfaced for a quota system to restrict the number of Mexican workers, small farmers were in favor, but large-scale farmers opposed the measure; not only could they pay Mexican workers more cheaply, but they also could deport them if the workers put up any resistance to their low wages or lack of medical care. Mexican workers began to organize for better working conditions, but strong opposition by police and local Californians suppressed their efforts.