Title page for ETD etd-04152004-155709

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Alexander, Toni Ann
Author's Email Address talexan@lsu.edu
URN etd-04152004-155709
Title From Oklahomans to "Okies": Identity Formation in Rural California
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Geography & Anthropology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dydia DeLyser Committee Chair
Charles Shindo Committee Member
Helen Regis Committee Member
Miles Richardson Committee Member
Michael Grimes Dean's Representative
  • exclusion
  • california
  • identity
  • okies
Date of Defense 2004-04-13
Availability unrestricted
Throughout the twentieth century difficult economic circumstances have resulted in reduced employment opportunities. In-migrants have long borne the brunt of these limitations, facing open hostilities from residents who felt that these "outsiders" were undeserving of employment and social services. Within the context of the 1930s Depression in the Central Valley of California, such negative public sentiment was often directed at "Okies," the 315,000 former residents of the "Western South" who crossed the California state line in search of employment in the agricultural fields of the Golden State.

In this dissertation, I examine the changing conceptualizations of Okie identity throughout the twentieth century in California's Central Valley. In the early years after their arrival to the "Golden State," Okies found themselves the subject a public discourse that classified them as socio-spatial transgressors, unfit for inclusion in California society. Denied by social and economic means from easily participating in this discourse, Okies turned to their own venues or expressing their own public identity. Okie migrant constructions of their own public identity developed in direct response to the labels bestowed upon them by Californians. While Californians drew boundaries of exclusion along state lines, Okies turned to notions of inclusion based upon their American heritage.

With the rise of World War II and a rebounding economy, Okies faded from public discourse for several decades. With their socio-economic rise, though, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Okies once again rose to public attention as they sought to reassert their own unique identity. Now a socially, economically, and politically dominant group in California's Central Valley, Okies have gained their own voice and begun to re-establish their own unique public identity. Importantly, however, like the Okie identity of the 1930s, Okies today continue to draw upon the past, but this time that past is 1930s California. Okie identity is culled from a social memory of the migrant experience and has come to represent the diversity of contemporary California identity. Without California, Okie identity would not exist. But without "Okies," contemporary California identity would not exist as it does today.

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