Okies Were Immigrants
The whole issue of the immigrants that have come into the United States of America, who they are, and what to do with them, reminds me of 1935 when the Okies became immigrants.
Not only was the nation in the throes of a deep economic depression, but Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the Ozark regions were enduring a devastating drought. At that time, the state was predominately rural, with most of the people living on family farms and living off the land. That year my brother, Russell, and Dad put in a crop, worked hard to till it and destroy the weeds and pests.
But when harvest time came, there was no harvest. There had been very little, or no rain and instead of the plants growing and producing, they sat there shriveled and dead in some spots. This was also true of our neighbors. We had no harvest to get us through the winter and into the next season.
What was worse, our Dad became ill and was bedfast for a few weeks. The Doctor came and told him that it was his heart, and that he had only a short time to live. He died in November. My brother tried to be the provider for our family, although he was only 16 years old at that time. He tried to find feed for our animals and hunted squirrels and rabbits for food. He tried to find possums and coons and tanned the hides and sold them. It was all pitifully inadequate. But we survived.
Our neighbors had the same problems. But we had heard that there was a chance to get work in California in the harvest of cotton and fruits. So, many of the men went out there to work just for that season. Our neighbor, John Souders, invited Russell to go with him and some other men to work in the cotton fields that fall. It was a long, hard trip but they went. They saw no other choice to preserve their lives and their families. They were called “migrant workers.” Actually in the class of slaves, with no rights.
Farmers are notably hopeful. They believed that surely the next year would bring rain and abundant crops. So again they sowed and tilled the land. But again there was no rain and no harvest. So many of them loaded their families and all of the necessities they could haul and made that long, arduous trip to California. Our local school enrollment dropped from about 95 down to thirty-something. Only we who were too poor to go remained. Several other men in the neighborhood died, probably from overwork and starvation.
We heard later that they were being stopped at the border and at times, in certain places, they would not allow “Okies” to cross. They were illegal immigrants. Those who did get in were hired at a minimum wage and lived with their families in tents in the low, flood-prone areas around the rivers.
What would you have done if you had been a cotton farmer in California?
The story has been told since then in the book and the movie, “The Grapes of Wrath,” which is all too true to the facts. The migrant workers had no power to demand fair wages and working conditions. They were sometimes forced to leave the area after the harvest without their pay and no place to go. They were only “immigrants” and had no rights. As the book describes, they were ready to organize the Farm Labor Unions, but not without a long and difficult struggle, with many casualties.
What would you have done if you had been owner of a large fruit orchard in California?
My brother, 17-18 years old, worked and sent as much money home as he could, living on the barest minimum himself. Our Mother lived, worked and prayed and taught us to do the same. By God’s mercy and grace, we all lived through it.
Indians Forced To Migrate
I would be unfaithful to my heritage to fail to mention the atrocities of the forced migration of the native Indian populations in the history of the United States of America. Some tribes, consisting of men, women and children as well as the elderly, were driven by the US militia on horseback for hundreds of miles.
Having Cherokee Indian blood in my ancestry, I still find repugnant the history of the forced migration of the tribe from their homes and lands in the east, to Oklahoma and the Ozark area in Missouri and Arkansas. Their journey was so strenuous and so many died that it is remembered as “The Trail of Tears.” Throughout the American West, Indians were forced onto reservations, treaties were made and broken; they were demonized in the media and so “good, Christian” people thought they were doing God’s service by the atrocities they forced upon them. They were ‘immigrants.’
What would you have done?
There were just such times in the Bible record. In fact, the whole tribe of Jacob and his twelve sons suffered a drought and famine in Palestine that forced them to migrate into the land of Egypt where Joseph, their brother, Jacob’s son, had become a powerful man in that empire at that time. They were immigrants, but because Joseph could help them, they were well cared for. That is, until another Pharaoh arose, “who knew not Joseph.” Then they became slaves, typical of immigrants with no rights.
They were slaves for 400 years. God delivered them and gave them the land of Canaan, but He told them: “Ye shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Exodus 22.21; 23.9.
What would you have done if you had been an Egyptian?
Another story in the Bible is found in the Book of Ruth. It is a familiar story. There was a great famine in Judea and a man named Elimelech with his wife and sons migrated to Moab. They were immigrants. There Elimelech and his two sons died, and Naomi, his wife, was left with the two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi later returned to Bethlehem with Ruth. She probably saw no hope for a good life in Moab as an immigrant, a stranger.
What would you have done if you had lived in Moab at that time?
I suppose it is because of my past experiences that I am biased, but it seems to me that God allows people to go through immigration, not only to prove His mercies in bringing them through it, but also to test those who are aware of their need and are merciful to them. Not only does the Bible record their great worth as human beings, known and loved by God Almighty, but also that circumstances beyond their control can force people to migrate.
In our present world, we know that there are literally millions of immigrants who have fled from famine, diseases, and wars, living in whatever they can find to survive, in refugee camps, in crowded slums, in the homes of their kindred. God is working through His saints to provide for these souls.
Do we, in the richest nation in the world, as Christians, have a problem with immigrants? Will we pass the test?
We wring our hands and commiserate over these past atrocities and injustices. But we are not responsible for what happened then. We are responsible for what is happening now.
What are we doing about the injustices, the inhumanities, the atrocities that are happening in our own time? We will not be judged for what happened back then; we will be judged for what we do now, on our watch. Think about it.
What if it is we who are the ‘immigrants’ of tomorrow?