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Interpreting the Evidence

Home of Mexican Migrant Worker, 1937

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Home of Mexican Migrant Worker, 1937 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Migratory Mexican field worker’s home on the edge of a frozen pea field in California, 1937. Dorothea Lange, photographer.
Historical Context
Mexicans have a long history of farming in the U.S.  Some accounts suggest that Mexican farm laborers have been here since the land in our Southwest was taken from Mexico.

More than one million agricultural workers migrated to the U.S. in the early twentieth century.  The majority of them found work on small family farms in California because the white owners of these farms welcomed cheap labor.  Most migrant workers in California today are of Mexican descent.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Mexican immigrants especially hard.  Along with the job crisis and food shortages that affected all U.S. workers, Mexicans and Mexican- Americans had to face the additional threat of deportation. As unemployment swept the U.S., hostility to immigrant workers grew, and the government began a program of repatriating immigrants to Mexico. The farm workers who remained struggled to survive in desperate conditions. Bank foreclosures drove small farmers from their land, and large landholders cut back on their permanent workforce.  As with many Southwestern farm families, a great number of Mexican-American farmers discovered that they had to live a migratory existence and traveled the highways in search of work. This photograph, taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936, is part of the Farm Security Administration collection that documents conditions of farm workers during the Great Depression.
Essential Question
Why do people migrate?
How does migration affect the migrants and the communities into which they migrate?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the impact of migration on this family.
Historical Challenges
During the Great Depression, the government employed many artists, writers, and photographers to document the lives of migrant farm workers. Dorothea Lange was one of these photographers. Find more of her photos and compare the conditions she documented to those in this photo.
Research the effect of the Great Depression on farms, farm prices, and migrant labor in New York State.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Imagine the small joys this family might have. Draw a picture that the child in the doorway might have drawn for her father. Use images appropriate to the family’s lifestyle.