There are certain images that have been ingrained onto the consciousness of the past few generations - one of these would be "Migrant Mother." It is not only the most iconic picture from the Great Depression, it is one of the most significant images of the 20th century. I thought until recently that the legendary woman in this photo was still anonymous, but near the end of her life she was identified as Florence Owens Thompson. Until now, I never saw the baby in her arms.
|Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress/Public Domain|
In this same area, even now, Hoovervilles still exist, even if they go by a different name. As my husband was driving us onto a freeway recently, I looked over the edge to a reservoir, to where people go for water, and community, and to pitch tents on the grass. What I saw that day was a man sitting in a red folding lawn chair in a florescent yellow shirt, the morning sunlight falling onto his tired blue eyes staring off into the distance, much like the tired gray eyes of the migrant mother. The man was clearly Generation X. He is probably someone's father. If not, he is someone's son. A man in a neon yellow shirt in front of the backdrop of brightly colored, modern-day camping tents can seem so far away from the black-and-white images of the Depression Era. We see the agonizing images of poverty in America almost a century ago and want to believe this kind of suffering is safely in the distant past. Kerosene lamps have been replaced by solar powered flashlights, and tin pie pans have been replaced by plastic containers. Everything was different between the man in the red folding chair and the image of the migrant mother sitting on a wooden box, yet everything was hauntingly the same.
She responded, "Nope, If I'd'a lost hope, this country never would have made it."
Her words tell us to never give up hope, because your hope sustains not only you and your own family, your own individual hope is what sustains us all collectively.
May we never give up hope that tomorrow can be better, or next year, or that the next decade can be better. May we never stop hoping that our children will have a better life than we did.
Let's not forget the suffering of the migrant mother and her family. Let's not forget the man who sleeps tonight on the cold ground in Silicon Valley, in the shadow of affluence, by the reservoir on the side of the freeway.
Black and white photography by Dorthea Lange, 1936, Nipomo Valley, California
Color photography by Chloe Koffas, 2016, Napa Valley, California
Writing (c) 2017 by Chloe, all rights reserved
Cancer affected the Migrant Mother, and mesothelioma affects a disproportionate number of Native Americans. The outreach of Mesothelioma.net found this blog post after it was published and asked to have their info added here. This link explains why Native Americans have been at higher risk and the web site offers resources such as access to trust money for those affected:
hope, faith, help
The Hidden Life Story of the Iconic 'Migrant Mother" - Mashable
And a book I hope to read sometime soon:
Migrant Mother: The Untold Story
Generational note: A large number of the parents during the Great Depression were from the Lost Generation. A large number of the children were from the G.I. Generation. Being from a generation is partly about the year you were born, though I feel it is much more about your life experiences. Florence Thompson was born in 1903, and while I consider her part of the Lost Generation, by some definitions this would make her part of the G.I. (Greatest) Generation. Either way, she is legendary and I send her my love across space and time.