While many Americans benefitted from the prosperity in the 1950s, the farmworkers who harvested the food for the country enjoyed very little of the bounty taken for granted by other Americans.
Maria’s family was not alone as it followed an endless circuit of crops. Not only Mexican and Mexican American, but black, Filipino and white families traced the same dusty roads, and crammed into substandard housing. Despite the back-breaking work, wages were so low that families often needed the oldest children to drop out of school and earn what they could.
When emergency food was denied to Maria’s family after a horrible flood, Maria knew she had to speak out.
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The subject today is problems of the farm laborer in California…We’re living today in the richest and most productive agricultural state in the nation. Yet there exists in the fertile interior of the state a sprawling rural ghetto, which some have called the longest slum in the world…
Announcer: Maria, how long have you been in California?
Maria: Since 1940.
Announcer: And you’ve been doing farmwork?
Maria: Farmworker all the time, I’ve been working in all kind of fruits and field.
Announcer: Are you working right now?
Maria: Yes, I’m working, and two of my married sons and my husband and I we earned a hundred and fourteen dollars.
Announcer: You made a $114 for the day for the day for the four of you?
Maria: No, for a week! (she laughs)
Announcer: For a week?
Maria: Yes! No, if I had to make $114 a day, I don’t have to worry about nothing! But we don’t get that much never!
Hearing Maria’s voice for the first time is a revelation, but it’s hard to reconcile the poverty she describes with the postwar abundance that surrounded her. At a time when the shelves of supermarkets were overflowing, farm workers were struggling to feed their own families.
Radio excerpts from Sometimes You Work a Day and field tapes:
…Sometimes you work a day, sometimes you don’t work nothing
…They forget us, we don’t belong in other words. They don’t treat us any better than they do dogs
…They don’t even give them a day’s notice, tell ‘em today’s your last day, take your pickers out…
…How much were people making down there?
…Ninety cents an hour, ninety cents an hour
…Fifty nine cents a bucket first picking
We lived in Woodlake when there was rain, and rain, and rain, and rain, and more rain. So we didn't know when it was gonna stop. When we got out it was ankle deep out of the house. We couldn't take anything. Nothing. Just the car. And when we came back, we couldn't even go in there because the water was inside the house. Beds, everything was gone. Then my mom went to ask, you know, for help. And no one would help.
Ron Taylor (journalist):
Three thousand workers were hungry and the food was sitting in the warehouse. Why? Why don’t you open the door and feed these people? It’s against the rules. The rules are if you can work you can’t get aid—to keep the people from cheating.
1.) View the video to learn more about working conditions for Maria’s family and other farmworkers. You can click on the video transcript to read over the dialogue carefully.
2.) Using what you've watched and read, complete the chart below. You do not need to use complete sentences.