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Down in the Salinas Valley

As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington D.C., Need to Know offers an inside look at the lives of Latino farm workers. With the continuation of our “Main Street” series, correspondent John Larson reports from Salinas, California — home to John Steinbeck and some of the richest farmlands in the world.

Read the transcript.

(This episode was originally broadcast on March 1, 2013.)


Web exclusive: Taking on poverty in Salinas

Poverty trends in Salinas may be an important case study for the United States, as shifting demographics create new challenges for policy-makers across the country.

Steinbeck’s The Harvest Gypsies

Before he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck was commissioned by The San Francisco News to write a series of newspaper articles on the migrant laborers of the Salinas Valley.

Slideshow: Steinbeck’s Salinas

John Steinbeck’s hometown came to worldwide notice through The Grapes of Wrath. Not all city fathers were pleased by the portrait. Explore what has changed and what remains the same in Salinas.

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    Dying to get back
    For those coming into the country illegally, it is now more deadly, more lethal, than at any time in recent U.S. immigration history.
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      Searching for answers
    19-year-old Gladys Dominguez shares her search for information about her father who was lost crossing Arizona state's border desert.
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    The significance of May Day
    On May 1, 1886, approximately 35,000 workers walked off their jobs, demanding the standardization of eight-hour workdays.


  • Bill Christofferson

    I just watched “Down in Salinas Valley” from our PBS station. These families are an inspiration and a beautiful example of the human spirit. I hope our country can fix these immigration problems by replacing them with respect for humanity. We should recognize what is in our Declaration of Independence, the God given right to all mankind to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine (Thank you John Lennon) all the people living with liberty and the ability to pursue their dreams. These people are trying. I wish them God’s blessing.

  • Eagle

    Any person that comes to this country to be proactive, work and improve the social economic of this country is Welcome. I rather have a group of people that work hard everyday to improve their families than having people sitting around doing anything. I hope the best for them and I am very proud for those students that are working very hard to improve their family situation. Yeah we can do it!!!!! Thank you PBS for showing all the things that this beautiful culture has to go thru and all the benefits that we are getting from them. :-)

  • rainbird

    Loved the program. Been there, fone that, Hollister, Eatsonville, San Jose pre-silicon AND also have a second cousin (now retired) who wad white and one of the most exploitive ranchers sround-notorious

  • BL

    Excuse me.. the migrant workers in the Grapes of Wrath were legal American Citizens….Many migrant workers are Illegals they drain our social services. I feel awful for them… Coe here legally. they only make $25,000 a year Oh Poor babies. Many of our seniors on Social Security make much less than that … Myself included at only $12,000 a year after years of working underpaid. So, do I feel bad for them? Not really!

  • MC

    Do you purchase your vegetables at a supermarket? Do you purchase your fruits at the supermarket? I believe that they are working very hard and deserve to be treated as human beings. You can’t receive benefits unless you are a citizen.

  • Anonymous

    Deport the illegals and give the legal immigrants increased wages.

  • Linda Stevens

    In other words, some human beings are not equal to other human beings when there’s any question on who deserves fair and humane treatment? John Steinbeck didn’t ever mention whether every migrant farm worker was legally in the United States.. After having read four of his books, I strongly suspect that little detail was not of any particular importance to him.
    There didn’t used to be, outside of the west and the southwest, much hostile talk about “illegal aliens” [insert the word Latinos] as their has been during the past twenty or so years. I’m sure some cynic will choose to believe I’m making up a tale to prove a point. That’s your issue and not mine. So anyway, when I was growing up there was a certain rental house about four blocks away from my parents’ house. Everyone knew various people would arrive at that house in a car with usually a Mexican license plate. They could speak little or no English. But within less than six months time they would learn enough English to get along and so forth. Then hose people would leave and others would arrive. It was discussed casually by some of their near neighbors but I never heard any anger or anything about them breaking the laws or taking advantage of the system. They simply didn’t see any of that activity as a threat.Basically it simply was as it was. It was nothing to do with the economy or any of that rubbish. Most of the people living nearest to that house were just working class and lower working class people. Politics have changed the public attitude to open hostility over what was innocuous in most of the United States. It might be a good idea to ask why.

  • Joseph

    The so-called documentary was a slanted, bias, propaganda story to get sympathy for illegal aliens. Ilegals were always referred as “undocumented”. and the white rich man was blamed for the poverty of low-income Hispanics! Strangely there was no mention of the many successful, and professional legal immigrants. The rich white man is blamed for the economy and academic failure of Hispanics. I noticed a picture of a quincenera dressed in her expensive dress. These quincenera celebrations costs thousands of dollars, and these people cannot afford the basic needs? The Salinas story was an insult to viewersm, especially Hispanic viewers