I led the in-class discussion Thursday, February 6. The discussion question of the day was:
What is the impact of migration on American life in the 1930s?
There were two major themes that I felt were important to address: American migrants fleeing the devastation of the Dust Bowl and Mexican immigrants who faced dramatically shifting policy. Because my first assigned post covered the Bracero History Archive, I wanted to incorporate the information I found researching that program as well as Operation Wetback and the strange (to me) shift in perception of Mexican agricultural workers.
Initially I tried to work with my group-mates to make a cohesive presentation, but we had some difficulty connecting so I planned to focus my attention on about 10 to 15 minutes’ worth of material. Given the trouble we had I anticipated that I might have to contribute more time, and I wish I had gone a little broader rather than deeper in preparing my questions. Since I ended up being the only discussion leader to attend class that day it doesn’t seem worth spending time reflecting on our (limited) group planning.
Our two readings were from The American Yawp and the Library of Congress. The most important takeaways from these concerned the causes of the Dust Bowl, the people impacted by it, and their reception in California as they migrated there en masse, as well as changing perception of immigrants, especially of Mexican immigrants who had previously been a vital population in the agricultural south.
From these I led questions to ensure basic comprehension of the material covered: Who were the Okies? Where were they going? Why were they going there? Where were they from and why did they leave? What were the causes of the Dust Bowl?
Then, transitioning to immigration: What was the status of the Mexican-American border crossing in the early 1900s? Why did that change with the Great Depression? When and why did this policy reverse, coercing immigrants back into the United States?
The discussion about Mexican immigrants led into a more nuanced conversation regarding the assigned podcast, from Backstory. The podcast focused on a significant side effect of changing perception of immigrant workers–perception of American citizens with Mexican heritage. Several of these people and their families “voluntarily” departed for Mexico, with encouragement and financial support from the United States. We had a great conversation about the nuance of the U.S. government managed to find a way to legally technically-not-deport hundreds of Mexican-American families.
I wish I had been able to incorporate The Atlantic article I found comparing President Trump’s proposed immigration policies to Operation Wetback. I think with a bit more preparation on my part, more of the class would have felt comfortable contributing to that portion of the discussion. I’m very grateful to Professor Dauterive for helping fill in the blank spaces. I also wish my fellow discussion leaders had been able to expand on the slides they made with images of popular music and literature from the time, because I’m not sure what point they were trying to make but I feel like it would have been an interesting thing to discuss.