Ken Burns’ lastest documentary: ‘The Dust Bowl’

The award-winning film maker Ken Burns has put together a four-hour documentary called “The Dust Bowl.” It will run on the Valley PBS station Nov. 18 and 19 beginning at 8 p.m. each night. I have a personal interest in the subject because my family has Dust Bowl roots, fleeing Oklahoma in the early 1930s to seek the California Dream.

My grandparents, and their children, including my father, headed for California looking for work and a better life. It was a difficult trip west, but they finally reached the California border looking for work. They picked crops in the San Joaquin Valley — mostly cotton — and lived in farm labor camps along the way. They faced hostility and prejudice at a time when “Okie” was a term said with great anger by those looking at these new immigrants to California. The family rule was to ignore the insults and prove you belonged by making your own way.

My family eventually ended up in Fresno and later found work in the construction industry. My grandparents and my father instilled an ethic of hard work — you make your own opportunities by working hard. They didn’t have much, but it was deeply appreciated. That philosophy has guided me from the days I picked grapes and cantaloupes to make summer spending money, through dozens of fast-food jobs in high school, and finally finding a career in the newspaper business. I have been blessed with opportunities, and I’m thankful for a family that lead the way from Shawnee, Oklahoma.

I’m looking forward to Ken Burns’ history of the Dust Bowl. It’s good to be reminded of where you came from. Sometimes we forget what it took for our parents and grandparents to allow us to have so much today. Here’s ValleyPBS’ description of the program:

“The Storm is coming! This Sunday night tune in to watch The Dust Bowl. It is the newest film from award winning director, Ken Burns. The Dust Bowl is a two-part, four-hour documentary chronicling the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history in which the actions of thousands of individual farmers, encouraged by their government and influenced by global markets, resulted in a collective tragedy that nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation.

“The decade-long natural catastrophe of Biblical proportions encompassed 100 million acres in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. During this time, the skies withheld their rains, plagues of grasshoppers descended on parched fields, bewildered families huddled in dark rooms while angry winds shook their homes and pillars of dust choked out the midday sun.

“In this documentary hear the compelling stories of 26 survivors sharing what will likely be the last recorded testimony of a generation that lived through the Dust Bowl. You’ll also see rare film footage and previously unpublished photographs.

“Experience the magnitude of this ecological disaster. Tune in to watch The Dust Bowl, Sunday and Monday starting at 8 p.m. only on ValleyPBS.”