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The Children's Journey to the West
In the beginning of the large migration, children were excited to venture out to the Wild West and explore their new environment. The handbills painted a beautiful picture of pretty little white houses and acres of orange trees filled with scrumptious fruit ready to be picked. During the summer, children imagined themselves playing in the vast orchards and snatching fresh fruit when they became hungry. In the fall, when the leaves were beginning to change, visions of themselves starting school again and making new friends ran through their dreams. Their fathers would find work right away, their mothers would tend to the houses, and all would be well. Each day they would have three full meals and plenty of delicious snacks available to them.
As the journey commenced, they began to realize that things might be a little different than expected. At night, as they pretended to be asleep, they listened to their parents’ hushed conversations. They heard the stress in their parents’ voices as they talked quietly about whether or not they would make it to California with what little money they had. Another uncertainty that often appeared in the conversations was whether or not jobs would be available. Their legs started to twitch with restlessness, and their backs ached from being crunched up in the back of the car. Their skin that had been exposed to the sun became pink and red with sunburn. As it burned and stung, the children cried out in pain. A wave of joy overcame the children whenever they stopped alongside the road to camp.
The children hopped out of their cars and stretched their aching muscles. Their growing bodies needed the exercise. They ran about the makeshift camps and when their mothers asked them to walk to the gas station down the road to get water, they happily took on the chore. Any excuse to get moving and stretching was worth it. They would spray themselves with the watering hose to wash off the layers of dirt and grime that had formed on their skin during the long drive. The water trickled down their little bodies, and soon the soft breeze began to soothe the aching sunburn. They would return to the camp in comfort and get a long night’s rest. At the crack of dawn, it was time to hit the road again. The days of travel became almost a routine to the children: sitting in cramped, uncomfortable positions all day and then later, at the campsite, stretching, running, and playing.
After what seemed like years, the families arrived in California only to discover that it was nothing like what the handbills showed. The newcomers were directed to camps that were located on the outskirts of the cities. The children gazed in wonder at these large campsites. They saw other children running about and playing. After helping their families set up camp, they joined the playing children. They could no longer hold back their curiosity about this new, strange land. The newly arrived children would shyly approach those who had already spent some time in the camp. They had dozens of questions about life in California that needed to be answered. Unfortunately, the answers they received were not what they expected. The experienced children told them how they would eventually have to work alongside their parents in the fields and that their situations would likely become much worse.
Fathers, brothers, uncles, and anyone old enough to work set out on the road each day to find jobs, like hungry animals scavenging for food. Each night the men came back empty handed and each day the children had less and less to eat. After several days, the children began to realize that the beautiful place they had imagined was only a fantasy, and they would never be able to live in the place
shown on the handbills. They started to believe that the older children had told them truth about life in California. They started to believe that they had been deceived and that all hope was loss.
As jobs became more and more scarce, families became increasingly desperate. The children were now forced to work. They spent long, hot days working with their parents picking cotton or putting fruit in baskets. As their stomachs began to grumble, they would start to feel weak; however, they would continue because they had no choice. They clung to the hope that when autumn came, school would begin and they would be freed from everyday drudgery.
After a small of amount of time, the fruit would be picked and the job would be over. The families had to pack up their few possessions and move on. They had no choice but to keep on moving towards the next possibility of employment. The children became weaker and weaker. Their stomachs growled and ached with starvation. The tension amongst the families boiled over and made it hard for them to stay together, which caused them to break apart.
If it was not tension tearing apart the families it was illness. The cold winters and lengthy rainy seasons brought malicious viruses that were ready to ravish their weak hosts’ bodies. The elderly were the first to be taken by these infections because they were the weakest. Children lost parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. Apart from the elderly, the malnourished children were hit the hardest by these violent diseases. They would lie in their tents feverishly writhing in pain and crying out for help; there was little that could be done for them. Mothers gave them milk and tried homemade remedies, but money was tight so they could not afford a doctor. All they could do was wait it out and pray that the children would recover. The unfortunate ones were overcome by the infection which slowly spread throughout their bodies, causing them to shut down and drift away in their sleep. Although some did not survive, most of the children recovered.
Worry was like a contagious illness that was spread quickly from parent to child. Once the first symptoms appeared in their parents, they soon were infected with anxiety. This increased anxiety, along with malnutrition, weakened the already fragile immune systems of the children making it more likely for them to fall ill.
Weeks passed quickly, turning into months. Toys and other luxuries became sparse for these poverty stricken children. Their clothes became dirty and tattered. They were bullied, harassed, and teased by the other the children at school for looking the way they did. If it was not their appearance that caused the bullying, it was the fact that they were outsiders. When they could no longer tolerate the abuse, they dropped out of school and worked with their families. Money and food were more important than an education.