Racial minorities have been in this country for as long as whites. In fact, when Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, there were already about one million people living on this continent. Today, minorities in general occupy the bottom rungs of the economic ladder; their unemployment rates double that of whites. Levels of pay and years of education are also lower. Few minority women have the option of becoming housewives; work is a clear economic necessity for them and their families. It must be noted, though, that each of the minority groups has its own distinct experience.
Both blacks and Chicanos have historically been rural farmers. In the early twentieth century, 75 percent of all blacks were rural, Southern tenant farmers. This changed dramatically during World War II when blacks migrated north to work in the war industries. Now only 2 percent of blacks are rural farmers. Chicanos, or Mexican-Americans, had traditionally been farmers in those Southwestern states ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1844. Now, however, many are urban industrial workers while only 2 percent remain as farmers. The stories of Katie Murray and Lydia Vasquez capture the transition from rural farm labor to urban industrial work.
Sylvia Lange talks about the disruption of traditional native American fishing. As these people are driven out of salmon fishing, will they too be forced into urban industries?
Asian-Americans have not traditionally been quite as dependent on fishing or farming for their livelihood. Their education and income levels have been somewhat higher than other minorities’, although the degree of difference varies among specific ethnic groups.
While cultural differences among minority groups are important to note, it must be recalled that all non-whites are viewed by the majority as something different from the norm. This sense of being different is a common point among minority groups. Amy Kelley, who views herself as quite assimilated, says the racial discrimination she experiences is the same as that experienced by all racial minorities. And yet neither Amy Kelley nor Geraldine Walker experiences racial discrimination as the dominant factor in her work life. This is in sharp contrast to Katie Murray and Lydia Vasquez, who feel the racism they encounter overshadows everything else about their jobs. For non-white women, it is clearly a case of double discrimination. Even the sexual comments, as Amy Kelley and Katie Murray point out, have racial overtones.