Okies’ Culture in California Discussion Essay


James Gregory’s study, An American Exodus, looks not at international immigration as in Lisa See’s study, On Gold Mountain but at domestic migration from the country’s centre to the West Coast. How did California change these inland migrants? How did they maintain older cultural manners and mores? How might you contrast their experience with international […]

Okies’ Culture in California

During the Great Depression, California experienced a domestic immigrant influx searching for better livelihoods known as Okies. The impact of the settlement on Okies’ subculture is comprehensively detailed in James Gregory’s study, American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California. The assimilation of Okies into Californian society necessitated them to change some cultural outlooks while retaining some self-identification which was partly used to discriminate against international immigrants, although they had a similar experience in their settlements.

Internal immigrants in California faced significant debasement prompting Okies to change some aspects of their culture to assimilate better. Gregory observes that alienation forced Okies to adopt South-western values such as “Plain-Folk Americanism” and Protestantism to gain acceptance in the Californian community (American Exodus 150). The change in habits and outlooks resulted in a distinct Okies subculture that was driven by populism and fundamentalism, which gained them a position and dignity previously denied to them (Okies and the Politics). Therefore, Okies’ immigration changed their culture to enable better assimilation into Californian society.

However, although Okies changed some mannerisms, they maintained some older cultural manners and mores, guiding some conservative standards and values. Their self-identity, guided by common ancestry and history, enabled them to gather under a common symbol and cultural banner (Gregory, “Okies and the Politics”). Similarly, other groups embraced Okies’ way of life, resulting in a widespread appeal to their culture, thus helping in its propagation and preservation (Gregory, “Okies and the Politics”). Therefore, Okies’ tendencies towards cultural identity helped to preserve some of their mannerism.

Okies considered their treatment under Californian residents as less than ideal. The Californian law treated immigrants the same to encourage assimilation, which the Okies, who were white, resented as they deemed themselves superior (Gregory, “Okies and the Politics”). Therefore, Okies majored in-group identity, thus enabling them to transcend economic stagnation resulting in a better post-depression position than international immigrants (Gregory, “Okies and the Politics”). Okies disdained assimilation with foreign immigrants resulting in a conservative self-identity that mostly worked in their favour.

Okies’ migration into California affected their cultural and social life. Their ability to assimilate while maintaining self-identity enabled them to adapt and thrive in their new environment. Okies’ experiences provide contemporary historians with a better understanding of the early 20th-century challenges and opportunities posed by migration.

Works Cited

Gregory, James N. American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California. Oxford University Press, 1991.

Gregory, James N. “Okies and the Politics of Plain-Folk Americanism.” Working People of California, University of California Press, publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft9x0nb6fg&chunk.id=d0e3540&toc.id=d0e3540&brand=ucpress. Accessed 31 July 2019.

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Published On: 01-01-1970

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