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Hard Times In The Migrant Labor Camps

Page history last edited by andrew.bocchi@... 9 years, 5 months ago

Esperanza Rising: Hard Times in the Migrant Labor Camps


"They only get seven cents a pound for picking cotton. They want ten cents a pound. It seems like such a small price to pay, but in the past, the growers said no. And now, more people are coming to the valley to look for work, especially from places like Oklahoma, where there is little work, little rain, and little hope. If the Mexicans strike, the big farms will simply hire others. Then what would we do?" (Ryan, 134-135).



Immigration plays a fundamental role in the story of Esperanza Rising. Esperanza's life seems to mirror that of mainstream America during the Great Depression, as she comes from a lifestyle of wealth and luxury and is suddenly cast into the depths of poverty and despair. When she arrives at the migrant labor camp she struggles to redefine herself given her new identity. Her experience serves as a sort of archetype of the immigrant experience, because regardless of the ancestral nation, all immigrants go through a period of adaptation.


Life in the migrant worker camps was ruthless, typically requiring workers to work long hours with little compensation. Shelter and the fulfillment of basic needs was minimal. Essentially, the migrants were caught between two opposing forces: on the one hand they wanted to form a union and protest against worker exploitation, while on the other they feared that speaking out would surely result in deportation and the division of family bonds.


So how can we bring the past to life so that students can understand it? Well, the acquisition of the skill to critically analyze primary sources is a crucial component of any quality social studies curriculum. In light of the topic at hand, I have collected a series of interviews conducted back in the early 1940's of real migrant farm workers in California, which are perfect examples of primary sources you could use with students to teach this critical skill.


1. Voices From The Dust Bowl


The link will guide you to one of my resource pages. There you will find the audio clips of four interview segments conducted between 1940-41. I would suggest teaching this by putting students into cooperative groups of four. Each member of the group will be assigned to analyze one of the four interviews. Think of this like a jigsaw activity. . . each student will extract the critical components of the interview they are assigned to, and then report back to their group. Together, they will use the information that each member has extracted and piece together the puzzle of the past to reconstruct the human condition at that particular time and place. Most importantly, I want the students to determine what the key issues these farmers were dealing with at that time.


Next, I want the students to read p. 139-214 (Chapters 8-11).


This portion of the book really gets into life at the labor camp, and some of the political issues that the workers were dealing with as well. Have students create a Venn Diagram using the information they extracted from the primary source interviews and the information from Esperanza Rising. What differences and similarities are there?


2. Next, have students create their own short-stories using Storybird.com. Have them create a story describing the migrant experience, detailing what their lives are like, and some of the issues they face on a daily basis. While the story is fictional, it must be historically accurate. In other words, their descriptions of their conditions must be in alignment with what they learned from their primary sources and Esperanza Rising.


Below is an example of a Storybird I created related to the topic of the Great Depression:


A Tale of the Great Depression by Bocchi on Storybird


Now head back to the Lesson Ideas page or go directly to the final section entitled Growing Up. 




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Comments (1)

Siri said

at 2:07 pm on Apr 25, 2011

You should share your example of a Storybird here along with a few sentences about how to do that as a teacher.

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