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The Grapes of Wrath and Undocumented Students

Undocumented students were brought to this country as children. This is the only country they know. This is their home.

I was ten years old when I first read the Grapes of Wrath. I am now sixty-five years old, but I clearly remember how upon reading the novel I immediately connected to the story. I understood the oppressive experiences of the “okies” because at that time I was the daughter of Mexican farm laborers working in the strawberry fields of Watsonville and we were very poor. The oppressive conditions as described by Steinbeck have much improved, but oppression of certain groups still exit. One of those groups is undocumented immigrant youth. For a year now I have had the privilege of assisting undocumented students from Cabrillo College in their scholarship applications. I have heard their stories of oppressive conditions in education, health care, and labor. Grandpa was quoted, “This is my country. I b’long here…I ain’t a-goin” (p. 142). Undocumented students were brought to this country as children. This is the only country they know. This is their home. They’re not going anywhere. Consequently, immigration reform is needed to support them.  

All parents want their children to have a good education. However, in schools today many educators lack the skills to teach second language learners. This has been an obstacle for success for many of the undocumented students. In Santa Cruz County most undocumented students are Spanish-speaking. Undocumented students have felt the humiliation of not being able to speak the English language; not being able to read English correctly or not able to write English correctly. Consequently, as young adults they now lack the confidence and skills of being able to write personal essays for their scholarship applications. Some of these students have been in the United States for six years or longer and they have not yet learned the English Language. The lack of English development affects them academically.  They may have graduated from high school or received their G.E.D., but they are not prepared for higher education. The educational system has failed them.

Most undocumented youth come from families that cannot afford medical insurance and health care. Consequently, when ill they often revert to herbal remedies such as yerba buena (spearmint) for fever, manzanilla (chamomile) for vomiting, clavo (cloves) for tooth-aches and many others. Often these remedies do not suffice and they are unable to get medical care because of lack of insurance.  For citizens who lack health insurance, Obamacare will now take care of them. However, undocumented youth will not be eligible for Obamacare. They will not be eligible for diagnosis or treatment of illness or disease. The lack of health care and insurance is an added stress for them as they attempt to attain a degree.

On June 15, 2012 President Obama initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This initiative will protect undocumented immigrants 30 years and younger from being deported for two years. It will also give them a work permit. However, for those who do not apply or are denied, the oppressive work conditions will continue. There are Cabrillo students who on the days they don’t have class work very long hours in the fields. There are others who have been given work in restaurants and will work up to ten hours without overtime pay. And there are those who clean houses or do gardening work for very little pay. This is because the employer knows they are undocumented and they will not complain of their working conditions. It is against the law to give employment to undocumented residents, but sometimes employers turn a blind eye to these workers. Undocumented youth are held hostage in the labor system.

Immigration reform is needed to relieve undocumented students from the oppressive conditions as described above. One of those reforms is the D.R.E.A.M. Act.   The D.R.E.A.M. Act would permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military. Students with this conditional permanent resident status would be able to work, drive, go to school, and otherwise participate normally in day-to-day activities on the same terms as other Americans. The D.R.E.A.M. act would legitimize their “Americanship”.

            John Steinbeck expressed his social and political views in the Grapes of Wrath. We as citizens of this great country have the responsibility of continuing his fight. We must eliminate the oppressive conditions of our undocumented youth. We must have immigration reform and support the D.R.E.A.M. Act.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David H. Perez February 26, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Rebecca, as usual I disagree with you. You speak of these children who are illegal aliens as "oppressed", yet as illegals I don't see how they are entitled to anything. The fact is, they are here illegally, plain and simple. Yes, it is unfortunate that they could not choose parents who had respect for our laws, and now they suffer for their parents' transgressions. Sad. But as children, we all experienced consequences, good and bad, that resulted from decisions made by our parents. This is the reality, and sometimes reality is cruel, but we have to deal with it. As far as comparing what is happening now with what John Steinbeck wrote about (I have read nearly all of his books, some of them several times), these are different times involving different circumstances, so you are comparing apples and oranges. And unlike the "Okies" of the Great Depression (my mother was one of them), illegals don't "b'long" here like Grandpa in the Grapes of Wrath. In these times our own children are experiencing a greater and greater struggle to get a college education, and jobs are not there for them like they used to be; and the resources to help them have dwindled. To me, it is unreasonable, if not immoral, to take resources from our own young people who are struggling and give them to others who have no business being here. Just my opinion. BTW - for me this is NOT a matter of race, so hopefully the usual the usual trolls will not begin with their racist remarks.
Sylvia Lazo February 26, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Very well said David, and as usual, boggles my mind that so many people confuse the real issue, which is not poor or rich, educated or not, purple or orange, female or male, kids or no kids, dogs, cats, or elephants, but simply stated, legal or illegal? That is the question, and SHOULD be the determining factor.
Wire February 27, 2013 at 03:08 AM
As families came to America to Ellis Island if a family member was sick that member was sent back to nation of origin. Broken families and legal. Read about it. Get back to us.
Xitlali February 27, 2013 at 05:19 AM
I actually have to agree with David about the fact that the connection between the grapes of wrath and today's immigrants. I think Ms. Garcia is trying to hard as usual. Not a very good article BUT, let's not forget why "illegals" are here. NAFTA anyone? U.S. corporate havoc down south. When immigrants came from Ellis Island they weren't called illegal, but no way was that because it was a race reason. The "color blind" laws were set up for racially motivated reasons. "Okies" migrated to California "legally" because they were privileged to live in "legally conquered" land. I might be a troll but "I swear I'm not a racist," it's the law and laws are always lawfully lawful even if you have to "illegally" migrate because your being exploited in sweat shops and corporatized countrysides to the benefit of "legal" people. Race has nothing to do with it! I swear! Neither do cats or elephants! I'm fair and its the truth, fair and balanced!
Wire February 27, 2013 at 02:44 PM
weedpatch - Huell Howser Productions | California's Gold www.calgold.com/calgold/Default.asp?Series=600&Show=49 California's Gold #601 - WEEDPATCH. Huell learns that many "Okies" fled the Dust Bowl in their jalopies with signs reading "California or Bust." Out of options
Rebecca Garcia February 27, 2013 at 02:57 PM
I do not write to attack one's alternative point of view. I write to share my point of view. This ed/op piece won First Place in the Santa Cruz Reads writing contest on John Steinbeck's Grape of Wrath. I will be reading this Friday at the Santa Cruz City Council Chamber. There is a month long celebration of the Grapes of Wrath. You may want to attend some of the events to hear other perspectives on the Grapes of Wrath.
David H. Perez February 27, 2013 at 06:08 PM
@Rebecca Garcia - Funny how you consider the differing points of view of others as "alternative" points of view. What makes you think your point of view is not the "alternative?" No one is accusing you of attacking the points of view of others, but when you post a blog, aren't you thereby inviting comments, whether they are agreeing with you or not? My mother, her brother and sister, and her parents LIVED the Grapes of Wrath. I have also read Steinbeck's book at least a half a dozen times, and actually wrote a research paper on the novel in college. I have attended events at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas over the years and think I have seen The Grapes of Wrath from a number of different perspectives. In my opinion, you have chosen the perspective you have to suit your own interests. That is your freedom, as I am free to have my own perspective. But congrats on your first prize anyway. Thanks for the invitation, but I'll pass and just visit the Steinbeck Center again soon.
Rebecca Tait February 28, 2013 at 02:11 AM
Rebecca, I agree with you 100%. This is their home..the only one they have really ever known if they are children. Children do not have to pay for the "sins" of their parents. We do the right thing and give them a good education...but that is not enough; otherwise, they will end up like their parents. It really annoys me that on one seems to mention the ag companies that hire all these people. They have something called "agricultural exception" that allows them to hire people that come here from Mexico to earn a living and to eat and to feed their families. I have worked with some of these young people and they are so smart and they are trying so hard to do the "right" thing. How dare any of you say the "right" thing is to get deported to mexico. These children have done nothing wrong....they are part of the system that need taking care of.
David H. Perez February 28, 2013 at 03:15 AM
@Rebecca Tait - Too bad our own children who have had a tough time do not get the same preferential treatment.
Xitlali February 28, 2013 at 04:34 AM
"OUR children" - its not about race i swear - get preferential treatment whenever they stuff food in their mouth and receive the benefits of feudal labor around the world. Despite it all OUR children still have it pretty damn good. I do agree that okies had it rough though - and don't all perspectives benefit an interest, like say, "color blind imperialism." Santa Cruz reads probably likes to hear there token brown story here and there because it makes them feel good. Its not like they come to visit though. Too many "color devoid" illegals, (but nothing to do with race).
Wire February 28, 2013 at 07:14 AM
"Grapes of Wrath" folk had no federal hand outs, they hoped the churches could help. Wonder why the 14th had never been tested for non-Americans having babies in the USA.
Pablo Villagran February 28, 2013 at 02:21 PM
ah estos viejitos!!! It is amazing how classical literature has the power to fit in different contexts. It is besides a beautiful analogy a very accurate one. Los tiempos han cambiado y van a seguir cambiando jejeje. About the dreamers I see them as well our laws as refuges. "I woke up, and the dinosaur, was still there"
Adela Najarro March 01, 2013 at 03:09 PM
I have often wondered how anyone can disregard any child, how anyone can deny basic necessities to any child or any person, how the call for "fairness" and following laws and legality is more important than alleviating human suffering. It is fear? The fear that if we do create a more equitable world, then our personal share of the pie will lessen? Is it arrogance? An arrogance within the self-concept that mandates that the self be the most important, have the final say, and the "right" say? Is it some sense of moral indignation? A moral belief that it should be part of the human condition to suffer and that one only learns through the hard knocks of life? Whenever I read these discourses, I am left with sadness centered on so many writers willingness to cast aside those most in need.
Wire March 01, 2013 at 07:43 PM
I have no fear, let them work off their families criminal record debt by five years in the US military service, this way their cost of education is paid back. Then they can become a endured legal slave, with US SSI number. quote: Whenever I read these discourses, I am left with sadness centered on so many writers willingness to cast aside those most in need. Quote: JFK,: Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country. I recommend you can sponsor a family, so you can be a responsible citizen in your belief, while we still need to pay for freeing the slaves hundred and fifty years ago. Then we stole the land from the Japaneses agricultural farmer's of WW TWO. Yes I see what the two have in common, Grapes of Wrath and Undocumented Students .
sweetcakes June 08, 2013 at 08:55 PM
The oppressive conditions of the undocumented youth are no ones fault except the parents of these youth. They were the ones who stole into the US for whatever reason and it is no one fault except theirs. They are also the ones responsible for the quantity of children they have and supporting them. Birth control is free at PLanned Parenthood. The kids that are being discriminated against in the educational system are the non Latino students who aren't getting the same education as the latinos (who are educated to be bilingual and bi-literate). When a non Latino person applies for a job and they're asked if she or he speaks and writes Spanish they don't get the job or they get the job and get paid less than the Latino student who was educated to read, write and speak in two languages. The school system is failing the non Latino students for not giving them the same opportunity to learn two languages while they are young and easily taught. In another of Ms Garcia's blogs she mentions that Latino youth are more often to be arrested and placed in jail or prison. Again, good citizenship starts in the home and if parents don't take the responsibility for raising good citizens, don't blame society or say it isn't fair that more Latino youth are being arrested. Last time I looked at the paper, the majority of crime is being conducted by Latinos and this is why there are more Latinos in jail. If you want to stop crime, start finding out why the parents are neglecting their responsibilities and having more children than they can manage. The parents of minor children arrested for gang and other crimes should also be charged with child neglect.
David H. Perez June 08, 2013 at 09:17 PM
@sweetcakes - Well said, and I couldn't have said it better. If I knew who you were, I would want you as a good friend!

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