The Southwestern Culture of Rural California

Most people might not know this, but there is a very foreign culture in the center of California. An area that feels oddly like it was in the middle of Oklahoma or Texas. I initially figured that this was a result of the farming lifestyle that exists in Central California, but this culture has its own historical background. In an article titled “Dust Bowl Legacies: The Okie Impact on California, 1939-1989,” James N. Gregory looks into the origin of this cultural bubble in the heart of California.

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To understand where this came from, we must look all the way back to World War I. Following the war, the Nation faced an economic crisis due to the international debts that each nation owed each other. Furthermore, the war built up a heavy demand for agriculture that collapsed once the war ended. This forced many farmers to abandon their farms in search of new opportunities. Gregory briefly touches on this as the first wave of migrants. But what he never noticed is that this first wave is what set a precedent for later migrants. Following this wave, farmers have constantly been moving to California, and they claimed the San Joaquin Valley as their own. And thus, our story begins.

It is these waves of Southerns that created the unique culture of the San Joaquin Valley. In one of the more liberal states in the US, you might find towns of people in pick up trucks blasting country music and dining on biscuits and grits. These towns are where those migrants have taken root. Generation upon generation has strengthened this foreign lifestyle and has helped isolate it from the rest of the state. Gregory’s essay looks at how San Joaquin Valley has impacted the rest of California, but in reality it hasn’t done much outside itself. It remains a fairly well contained culture that, to be honest, I never really knew about until I actually drove through the area. Yes, these people make new music and churn out countless works, but these product are only big within their local area, and in the Southern parts of the US, skipping over the rest of California entirely.

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What is most notable is how strong this culture is. It has, over the past 70 plus years, managed to evolve with the rest of the South. As though the barrier between the two areas was purely geological, having no effect on the social changes that occurred between the two territories. Even between the 27 year separating this report and Gregory’s, it still feels as though the San Joaquin Valley has kept its strictly Southern roots; albeit the area has started to become home to a Latino population as well. The culture still shares the conservative views it did during Gregory’s essay. They still listen to the same music, worship the same faith in the same manner, produce the same writings. In short, between the 1940’s and now, the land of the San Joaquin Valley has preserved a strangely foreign culture in California.

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