Skip to content
Interpreting the Evidence

Road Sign "Cotton Pickers Wanted" in English and Spanish, 1938

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Road Sign "Cotton Pickers Wanted," in English and Spanish, 1938 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Photograph of side-by-side roadside employment signs in Spanish and English, 1938.
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.

In later years, the Bracero Program allowed Mexican immigrants to work on U.S. farms when the country had a shortage of laborers due to involvement in World War II and the Korean War.
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
What periods of time in U.S. history were Mexican workers used for harvesting cotton? In what states did they farm? How many workers became citizens? How many were sent home?
Compare the need for Mexican workers in the past with the controversy today over Mexican immigration, both legal and illegal.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a classified ad for the local newspaper advertising this job.
Science: What climatic conditions does cotton need to grow? Where in the world can these conditions be found?
English as a Second Language/Spanish: Translate the Spanish sign into English and the English sign into Spanish. Why aren’t the two signs identical? Explain what differences exist between them.
Foreign Language: Translate the English sign into another language.
Art: Imagine that the people who see this sign have many similar jobs to choose from––so add to the sign and make it colorful and attractive to “beat out” the competition for laborers.