Table of Contents
My first job in Imperial Valley was that of foreman of a cotton-picking gang at a ranch belonging to some Indian friends. My job was to stay near the wagon to which the pickers, who picked the cotton by hand, brought their sacks to be weighed. There were more than a hundred pickers and it was up to me to weigh each sack as it was brought in. Each man had a number, and I had to keep a record of the number and each weight in my master book as well as to give each man a receipt for each individual sack he brought in. At the end of the week I had to calculate the total weights for all the pickers and make up the pay roll.
I took advantage of the spare time I had on my hands. All day, while waiting for the pickers to come in, I read books on literature, poetry, drama, early American history, etc. Back at camp, late at night and again early in the morning, I continued my studies by the dim light of a kerosene lamp. My bosses, never having had a chance to go to school themselves, gladly afforded me every opportunity to continue my studies.
Mrs. Bigelow, who was then head librarian of the El Centro library, was my particular friend at that time, and I owe her a great debt of gratitude. El Centro was the county seat of Imperial County. Whenever my boss went to El Centro, which was at least once a week, I managed to get a ride with him and spent my time getting new books from the public library. When some of the books I needed were not available Mrs. Bigelow would order them from the state library in Sacramento. She must have gotten scores of special books for me during the period I was working as a cotton foreman.
My pay was based on the amount of cotton picked at the rate of ten cents a hundred pounds, and sometimes I made as much as eighteen to twenty dollars a day. This was a great deal of money then and to me it seemed a fortune. By the end of the season I had managed to save quite a sum. I borrowed a little more from my friends and ventured into the growing of lettuce in a partnership with another man in an eighty-acre field.
Two years previously lettuce growers had hit the jackpot and had made good money, but unfortunately the year I tried it was one of the worst in the history of lettuce growing in Imperial County. The crop was excellent, the weather was warm, the size of lettuce was big, but the demand was almost nil. Together with scores of other farmers, I had to sit and watch entire fields of lettuce go to ruin without being able to ship any of it. I had had great hopes, and naturally this was a tremendous blow. The entire crop was a complete, total loss and I had acquired a debt that took me some time to repay. Three years later, in 1930, I grew lettuce again. This time I was more fortunate and was able to clear up the rest of my debts.
During the hot summer months, when work was practically at a standstill, I used to go to Los Angeles. Here I again spent most of my time in the library, reading and studying and eventually in research, and finally in writing my book, My Mother India.
Mother India by Katherine Mayo had just been published. It was a sensational book and soon became a best seller. The author had been in India only a very short time and she described an India that no native of that land could possibly recognize. The Indians in California particularly resented the book's unjust and false interpretations of Indian culture. Gandhi called it a "drain inspector's report," and it was just that. We thought that a rebuttal was certainly due and I was delegated by the Sikh Temple in Stockton to write one.
When in Los Angeles my headquarters were near the public library. Although most of my time was spent in writing, I continued my interest in Mahatma Gandhi and in India's efforts toward independence. I took advantage of every opportunity to speak, debate, and present India's side.
One evening I spoke at the Unitarian Church in Hollywood, and at the end of the meeting a young man came up to me, introduced himself as Emil J. Kosa, said he was an artist, and invited me to visit his home sometime. He said his mother and father were students of world politics and greatly interested in India. It was a casual invitation and I did not take it particularly seriously. Then a few weeks later I happened to meet Emil in a downtown restaurant. We recognized each other and he renewed his invitation, and this time I accepted. I was introduced to his parents and during the course of conversation Mrs. Kosa told me that when she was returning from Europe a few years before with her daughter she had met a young Indian student who was going to study fruit canning in the United States. I had no knowledge of any other Indian student besides myself who had been even remotely interested in this field. We compared notes and soon found that we had been passengers on the same boat, the S.S. Philadelphia, in 1920. Mrs. Kosa had been my shipboard friend, but her then eleven-year-old daughter Marian was now a beautiful and talented student of U.C.L.A.
I soon became a frequent visitor at the Kosa home and a friend of the whole family. Kosa, Sr., was an artist as well as a philosopher. He always enjoyed having friends drop in to discuss art, politics, philosophy, and the problems of the world. He was very much impressed by my seeming knowledge of literature and world affairs. One day Emil mentioned that I would make an interesting subject for a portrait and asked me to pose for him. To give the portrait more atmosphere he asked me to wear a turban. I was glad to oblige even though I had given up wearing a turban shortly after I came to the United States.
It took several sittings to finish the portrait. By the time it was finished I was practically one of the family. The following year, when Emil left for Europe to continue his studies at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, I was still a constant visitor at the Kosa home whenever I was in town.
One evening I was invited to speak before the Masaryk Club of which Mr. and Mrs. Kosa were members. Emil's sister, Marian, was at that time a leader of a small dance group of U.C.L.A. coeds known as the Kosa group. They used to perform folk dances before various civic, diplomatic, and college groups. As the girls danced that night at the Masaryk Club, my eyes never left Marian. Suddenly I knew I was madly in love. I found myself in a terrible dilemma. Providence had brought me to the home of this spritely, winning blonde and I knew I was desperately in love. But here I was, twenty-eight years old, without a home, without a secure job, and no clear future in sight--a foreigner in a country that I loved and in which I had made my home, but where the laws even forbade me to become a citizen. I had fallen in love with the daughter of a well-known artist, a very beautiful and talented college girl at U.C.L.A. Also I knew that I had many rivals and that I could not possibly match their physical or material attributes. But once again luck was on my side. All through life I had been faced with many turning points and I had always been lucky. In this particular case my salvation lay in the fact that my future father-in-law and mother-in-law liked me. I carried on my courtship with persistence and unsurpassed devotion. These were all I could offer at that time. I had plenty of nerve and plenty of love.
Our courtship was not very long. I think the most persuasive weapon I had was the fact that I knew many passages of English, Hindu, and Persian poetry. I used to recite them to Marian and she would laugh and find great delight in them. She was remarkable in memorizing, and can recite many of those poems to this day. I recall one passage from an Indian poem that struck her fancy: "I tremble at the tyranny of the shining sun, I am like a dewdrop on a desert thorn."
I proposed to Marian by writing this sentence, word by word, in the sand at Laguna Beach one Sunday afternoon: "If I prove myself worthy, will you become mine?"
This was one time when I obtained an invaluable prize on the American installment plan of a "promise to pay." I have been working to fulfill my promise ever since, but the obligation will never be completely fulfilled.
Our marriage in 1928 was the big turning point in my life. It was then and remains so to this day.
My father-in-law and mother-in-law were not wealthy, but they were able to give us a sound start in life. They built us a house immediately below their home on a hillside property they owned on Sunset Boulevard. It was a beautiful home. It gave us great pleasure and joy and became the center of many, many happy times with our friends and loved ones. The year after our marriage my mother-in-law died. It was a tragic, shocking loss to both of us and the worst I had received since the death of my elder brother in 1923. Next to my own mother she was perhaps the most affectionate individual I had known in life and I had become deeply devoted to her.
My wife continued to attend college until the birth of our son in February, 1930, while I divided my time between my work in Imperial Valley and my other work in Los Angeles. Then, when the baby was old enough to travel, Marian brought him to Imperial Valley and we made our home on a ranch near Westmorland, California. This was a big change in the life of this young city-bred girl who had to leave her beautiful home, her family, and friends to go into an altogether different life. But my wife had courage and proved herself capable of undertaking new and unfamiliar responsibilities. Life on the ranch was not easy in those days. We did not lack for any necessities, but luxuries were not too plentiful. The old ranch house had no running water at that time or electricity and was extremely run down. But with the help of a little paint and a few knickknacks we managed to make our life there as easy and comfortable as was possible under the circumstances.
I was worried that my wife would not be happy in Imperial Valley, because I wasn't sure at that time what kind of companionship she would find there. I need not have worried. During the first year she was too busy to go out much, but it was not long before she made a wide circle of friends among the women in the area.
In spite or perhaps because of the comparative isolation of the Valley there was a great deal of activity in this winter garden of California. There always has been. My wife joined one of the two book clubs that were organized in the small town of Westmorland. Later on she became a member of another book club in Brawley. She joined the Women's Community Club of Brawley, and the ladies of the Home Department of the Farm Bureau, of which Marian became treasurer and later secretary, held many a meeting in our home. Marian still claims that she learned all she knows about maintaining a home, remodeling clothes, upholstering chairs, choosing the best grades of food, and planning functional kitchens from Miss Glenn, the advisor of the Farm Bureau's Home Department.
When our son started going to school in Brawley, Marian joined the PTA there. The year she was elected president, Imperial Valley suffered a tragic earthquake. Most of the school buildings had been destroyed or declared unsafe and classes had to be held in temporary buildings. In order to assist the school the PTA decided to build a temporary school cafeteria for the children. I remember how energetic and enthusiastic the PTA members were. They went out in teams and returned with donations of lumber and other materials for the cafeteria building and they persuaded the carpenters to donate their labor. The women provided picnic lunches for the workmen and in no time they had the cafeteria built. With the help of a hired cook and government surplus food, they managed to provide hot lunches, many of them free, to the school children until a large new cafeteria was built by the school board.
Every Saturday night the country people thronged into Brawley. This was BTV (before television) and everyone did their weekly shopping on that night. The PTA wanted to provide some decent recreation for the youngsters who came to town with their parents The earthquake had demolished a huge building back of the Dunlack Hotel and all that remained was a large cement floor. The PTA, with the permission of the owners, converted this area into a roller-skating rink. Music was provided, lights were installed, and the parents helped to sell ice cream and pop. The skating rink soon became a busy place between seven and nine-thirty every Saturday night.
I suffered real personal hardship when in October, 1942, Marian had to leave Imperial Valley because of her health. She had been suffering from hay fever since we moved to Westmorland in 1930. She had a series of tests taken and found that she was extremely allergic to Bermuda pollen. Like a good patient she tried every way possible to find a cure, even giving herself, under doctors' advice, injections against the pollen. But the immunity created by the injections of pollen lost its effect as time went by and gradually she developed asthma. This became so bad that she often had to sit up nights to breathe. So, upon the advice of her doctor, she was forced to move to Los Angeles. She worked at Sears for a year to help with the increased expense of keeping up two homes, and then spent a year at U.C.L.A. to get her B.A. and her teaching credentials and from 1945 until 1958 she taught in the Los Angeles city public-school system.
Westmorland is situated on the edge of the desert. The sandy soil around it, coupled with the hot desert winds, makes it an ideal area for the early growing of watermelons, honeydews, and cantaloupes. Thus the cultivation of melons for early shipments became a specialty in the Valley and the economy of the community had been built on the ability of its farmers to produce these specialty crops earlier than any other locality in the United States. These melons were packed and shipped under refrigeration all over the country.
Melon seeds are planted during the months of November and December. Each individual hill of seeds is covered with a cap of transparent wax paper which lets the sun in to heat the ground but keeps out the frost and cold winds. These caps are supported by an arch made of wire bent in a semicircle and the edges of the paper are buried in the soil. The seeds germinate under the protection of these caps. During January, while danger from frost still exists, the papers are removed, plants are thinned, weeds hoed out, and the tender plants again covered. This work, all done by hand, in addition to the irrigation costs makes it a very expensive crop to grow.
Initial high costs of production, packing, icing, and shipping in refrigerated cars to far-off markets made these products expensive luxury items for the consumer. While a cantaloupe cost a dime during the regular season, the early-crop cantaloupe had to sell for twenty-five cents in order to render a reasonable profit. When the economy in most parts of the United States became depressed, these products, like all luxury items, were hit first and hit hard.
In order to build up the soil the melon crop was alternated with alfalfa every three years. The market for baled alfalfa hay was found in the metropolitan area of Los Angeles. When dairies around that area got into financial straits, this depressed the alfalfa hay market until it was barely possible to realize harvesting, baling, and shipping expenses. I recall the time when my neighbors and I could barely meet our pay rolls by selling baled hay at very low prices. I owned a hay baler at that time that required four men to operate. The baler was pulled in the field by horses and two men walked along the side of the horses and pitched hay on the hopper platform. Another man, on top of the baler, fed hay into the hopper, and the man in the rear managed the tensions and tied the wires. It was hard work for all four men. Hay had to be baled with the dew on it in the early morning hours. The wages were twenty-five cents per ton per man; ten to twelve tons of baling was considered a good day's work.
One season twelve of my neighbors, all big, husky, and experienced workers, wanted jobs on my baler. Yet there were only four men needed. This situation was common throughout the Valley. There were hundreds of eager and able-bodied men willing to work who could not find jobs anywhere.
One of the men who worked for me on my baler one season was an engineer from Yuma, Arizona, who was then out of a job and willing to do any work. Later, when things picked up, he moved to Los Angeles and founded what became a successful and highly profitable exterminating business with branches in the bay area of San Francisco and the metropolitan area of Los Angeles.
The local blacksmith had accepted the position of chairman of the Red Cross drive in Westmorland. After two weeks of hard work he managed to collect a total of thirty-five dollars and at that time there were more than a hundred families in the vicinity of Westmorland out of work and in need of relief. First-quality cantaloupes and watermelons as well as other produce were rotting in the fields because there was no market for them and harvesting costs would have been higher than what they could be sold for. There were starvation and need in the face of plenty.
This period saw the beginning of the great influx of migration to California from the poverty-stricken Dust Bowl states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and parts of Texas. Whole families were heading toward California by way of Yuma, Arizona. The county of Los Angeles made arrangements with the sheriff of Imperial County to deputize some of their men who delegated unto themselves the authority of blocking the entry of these unfortunate people into California. They promulgated their own rules and regulations and would not permit anyone to cross the state boundary unless they had a certain minimum amount of money. This was an impossible test for those people to meet. Most of them, penniless, had gathered up all of their belongings, packed them on top of their automobiles, loaded their cars with their families, and were coming into California with the hope of finding jobs in this promised land. I was appalled at the situation, for it was inconceivable to me that an American would not be permitted to go wherever he pleased within the continental limits of the country.
Ever since my arrival in the United States in 1920 I had maintained a keen interest in the political situation. I had studied the personalities and programs of the presidential candidates, both during the 1924 and the 1928 campaigns. By 1932 I had positively and definitely become a Democrat by outlook and conviction.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was my choice for president in 1932, and it was a great comfort and joy to me when he was elected with a landslide vote. I had seen candidate Roosevelt in the Hollywood Bowl during the summer months of that year and I still recall his great speech at that time when he said, "I am as radical as the Declaration of Independence. I am as liberal as the Bill of Rights." And the stirring words from his inaugural address, delivered in a confident tone, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," had thrilled me deeply. America had found a leader who would guide her through the wilderness of the depression.
The overwhelming victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election and the subsequent popularity of his aggressive program in fighting the depression had the effect of bringing out in the open hundreds of good, honest Democrats and revitalizing the Democratic party in Imperial Valley.
Even though I was not a citizen and did not have the right to vote, I was always present at official meetings of the County Democratic Central Committee and other public occasions and I never missed the opportunity to defend the different programs of the Roosevelt administration.
It was not popular among the ruling circles in Imperial County at that time for anyone to praise the work of the Roosevelt administration. Yet almost everybody was receiving benefits of the Federal Aid program in one form or another. The WPA had begun its operations and more than a hundred families from Westmorland alone were on its pay roll. Two able men in charge of the WPA program were leading citizens of Westmorland who had been hard hit financially in recent years.
I could see what the PWA, the WPA, and CCC programs were doing for my community of Westmorland and there are still visible monuments to the WPA work which gave jobs and grocery money to hundreds of people in that hard-struck area. These include the adobe city hall which still stands, the tennis courts on the school grounds, the swimming pool on the city hail grounds, to say nothing of long stretches of sidewalks in the city.
Hundreds of business and professional men and women from all over the country had invested their savings in the original purchase and the subsequent leveling and development of Imperial Valley land. When the depression began to show its face over the length and breadth of the United States, these investments began to slacken. As the returns from their properties became slimmer and slimmer many of these absentee landowners stopped paying taxes on their properties in Imperial Valley. This, naturally, was a severe blow to the finances of the local governments of the area.
Imperial County's collections became so dangerously low that there was a period when warrants of the county were not honored by the banks. The Imperial Irrigation District was forced to default on the principal and interest on bonds which were held by investors from many parts of nation. It was also forced to default on its principal interest payments to the United States Treasury. The Imperial Irrigation District was granted deferment on these payments, but it must be said to the credit of the people of Imperial County that when their fortunes changed, they paid the United States Treasury not only all the deferred payments but interest as well.
The federal government's farm-aid program had a tremendous impact on the recovery of the Valley's economy. Hundreds of landowners who were in danger of foreclosures on their properties obtained relief in the form of long-term loans with lower interest rates from the Farm Security Administration. The programs of the Department of Agriculture giving bonus payments to the growers of sugar beets out of the revenues from duties on imported sugar under the provisions of the Sugar Act brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly. Also the soil-conservation program under which payments were made to growers of soil-building crops such as alfalfa and for the use of fertilizers was a main contributing factor in the budgets of many local farmers of that hard-stricken area. I recall how, for several years, the soil-conservation payments and the payments under the Sugar Act of about three dollars per ton on sugar beets was the only profit that I made in my farming operations. The same held true for many of my neighbors.
The farmers were helped in still another way by the cheap money they got from different government agencies It allowed them to realize their long-cherished wishes to form cooperatives.
But farmers in Imperial Valley had to fight not only economic depression, but often the cruel and capricious forces of nature as well. Most of Imperial County lies from fifty to two hundred fifty feet below sea level and there was ever present a danger from flooding by the unpredictable silt-laden Colorado River. This flood danger abated with the beginning of construction of the Hoover Dam, but there still remained the constant fear of drought, a fear that became a reality in 1935. The river had gone completely dry; there was no water running in the canals whatsoever, and the crops were drying out. And since there was no underground water in the Valley, no drinking water was available for the cities or ranches. In order to avert an epidemic from unclean water, the Government made arrangements to bring in railroad tank cars full of pure water and stationed them at different depots throughout the Valley, and residents were rationed to five gallons at a time.
The naturally formed lakes of the Valley were sufficient to satisfy the needs of the cattle and other stock, but nevertheless those remained dangerous and anxious days. I saw my fellow farmers' crops dry up and perish, but the spirit of the people of the pioneer communities was always high and we weathered that drought without any epidemic or serious damage to the livestock. The crop damage, however, was enormous.
One year, while the price of alfalfa hay was already very low, we suffered a grasshopper infestation. This greatly reduced the yield of the crop and made things much harder than they would have been otherwise.
We devised an ingenious method to fight the grasshoppers. It consisted of dragging a large contraption through the infested fields. This consisted of a platform twenty-five feet wide and eight feet high covered with shiny tin and supported on a sled. As the rig was dragged through the field, the grasshoppers jumped and hit against the shiny surface, falling into a tub at the base of the platform that was filled with kerosene and water. At the end of a day an operator would have killed bushels of grasshoppers.
Another method used was to spread moist bran and molasses mixed with Paris green on the borders before irrigating the field. As the water covered the alfalfa, the hoppers would jump to the borders and feed on the poisoned bran.
The farmers living in the Salton Sea (Westmorland, Niland area) had to fight constantly against the depredations by widgeon ducks. During the winter months the widgeons would fly into green alfalfa and lettuce fields and do tremendous damage. Since the widgeon ducks came from the federal government's game preserve established on the shores of the Salton Sea and because the shooting regulations were rigidly enforced, it was very difficult for the farmers to combat this menace. I remember one year when the onslaughts from these ducks were especially great. I used to stay up all night, shooting under the ducks with a shotgun, trying to prevent them from landing and to scare them out of the fields. Coming in by the thousands, they could clean out an eighty-acre field of alfalfa almost overnight. That year I had several hundred acres of alfalfa and the ducks harvested a sizable portion of it. Then, when we grew milo maize, we had the blackbirds to contend with. They descended in swarms like huge black clouds from their habitations in the New River bottom land. The only way to escape them when the corn was ripe was to scare them by shooting hollow-tip shells from a .22 rifle over their heads. This made a sharp ringing sound and was fairly effective. Marian used to stand for hours at the edge of the field with a rifle and a pocket full of tiny shells to keep the birds off the field. In recognition of her efforts our young son gave her the nickname of "Maize" by which name she is now known to her grandchildren.
During the worst years of the depression I had been quite fortunate. There were several periods of anxiety, but I came out of it without any serious damage. It entailed a tremendous amount of hard physical work, which took some time getting used to, since I'd spent most of my life as a student. And I had some fortunate breaks. At that time I was leasing several hundred acres of land on which I was growing alfalfa. Even though the prices were low and it was not a very good bank crop, it was the least dangerous and the least speculative crop to grow. Being situated at the edge of the Imperial Valley and closest to the market in Los Angeles, it was easier for me to sell my hay because it saved truck drivers several miles in getting their loads. I developed some good regular customers and managed to weather those difficult days.
I have mentioned the prejudice and discrimination that existed against all Asiatics, including the Indians, at that particular time in California. Imperial Valley was not immune, and there is no denying the fact that there were persons in Imperial County who were prejudiced and antagonistic toward me. But the majority of my neighbors and the people with whom I came in contact were extremely kind and always helpful. I recollect some of the experiences that I had when I first started. My neighbors, knowing how inexperienced I was, would come over and give me advice and offer on occasions to do the work for me, largely out of friendship and high respect for my wife.
One very close and dear friend, the best neighbor that anyone could ever pray for or ever wish to have, was Mr. Ben Martin. We know him now affectionately as Uncle Ben. The very first time I met him he said, "Saund, you may consider my tools as your own. Any time you need anything, come and get it. And if you don't have time or if you don't have the tractor or horses, I'll come over and do the work for you free." He was as good as his word and often used to loan me his rakes and mowers and other equipment whenever I needed them.
I remember a time when I was planting milo maize, a very ticklish crop to plant. The ground must be at just the right degree of moisture. If you don't have the tools and equipment to do the job in a hurry, you might be too late and seed will never germinate. Uncle Ben brought his entire outfit and planted my crop. Just like that.
Others were also generous with their help. My first year in Westmorland I had two hundred acres of alfalfa and I had made a deal with a neighbor to come and bale my hay. Later, I found out that he had contracted for too much land and wouldn't have time to get to my hay. The first eighty acres got too dry, and in Imperial Valley if you let the hay get too dry you have to wait for weeks sometimes until a heavy dew before it can be baled. Here I was stuck with a crop and no adequate arrangements to have it baled. I thought my salvation lay in buying my own hay baler though at this time I didn't have any money for a down payment. I went to an utter stranger, a man by the name of Thomas Logan, the dealer for International Harvester, the McCormick-Deering line. I told him I wanted a baler and he said he had balers in stock and could deliver any day. A horse-pulled baler at that time cost about eleven hundred dollars. He told me he would take $350 down and that I could pay the rest of it later. I said, "Mr. Logan, I'd like very much to have a baler. I have two hundred acres of good alfalfa, but I have no money to make a down payment. If you let me have the baler, I'll pay you $1.00 a ton for every ton I bale. By the end of the year it should be paid for."
He looked at me and said, "Young man, have you ever heard of anyone getting a piece of machinery in these hard times without making a down payment?"
"I've told you the truth," I said, "I've got two hundred acres of growing alfalfa. There's no mortgage on it. I've got the horses and mules to pull the baler, but I don't have a down payment."
Then, knowing I was Indian, he asked me about some of his other Indian customers, particularly one who was a comparatively rich farmer. "Oh, yes," I said, "I know him very well. He's a very good friend of mine. We are members of the Indian Association. He'll do anything for me."
Logan said, "I like you. You come over again tomorrow. I'll see what I can do."
The next day when I returned he said, "Well, I've decided to give you the hay baler and this is the way we'll handle it. You give me a note for the down payment, payable to me, and then if you come back at two o'clock we'll have the representative of the International Harvester Company here to draw up the contract for the balance."
I was delighted, and I signed the note and the contract and the baler was delivered to my place that afternoon. That baler was what really put me in business and made it possible for me to make a living despite the low prices.
The next time I went to see Mr. Logan to get some parts, he called me into the office and said, "Say, Saund, I want to tell you something. You told me that rich Singh was your good friend. Let me tell you, he's no friend of yours."
He then told me he had asked the man about me and about Ins desire to sell me the baler without a down payment. He said, "Your so-called friend told me, "Mr. Logan, don't make that mistake. Saund's a nice fellow, well educated and that, but he doesn't know how to grow hay. You'll never your money back."
But he said that didn't alter his judgment of me for he spoke to another Indian customer of his, asked him about me, and this fellow said, "Well, Mr. Logan, I haven't got any money now. I've had two crop failures, but let me tell you if Saund needs that hay baler, you sell it to him. You'll get your money back, and if he can't pay for it, I will, even if I have to go out and pick corn to get the money to do it."
As Mr. Logan said, "This man who is not rich in money is your friend but I'd stay away from that other fellow."
The so-called "rich" friend of mine lived for another twenty years. I remained on good terms with him and I even had the opportunity to do him some favors, but I never let him know what had happened in regard to that hay baler.
I can thank the village postmaster for another piece of luck that came my way. One day a gentleman came over to me and introduced himself, saying that he was the owner of a certain piece of property which I knew to be good ground. It had just come back to him after a three-year lease to a vegetable firm. He had plowed the ground and was going to farm it himself, but decided, instead, not to move from his home in Ontario. He came to Westmorland to lease the land and had mentioned this casually to his old friend, the postmaster. The postmaster suggested that he go to see me. I leased the land for four years and it turned out to be one the the finest pieces of land I had ever had the good fortune to farm.
Another friend of mine, a property owner in Imperial County who lived in Los Angeles, was helping me by holding my lease contracts in his name since at that time I could not lease property in my own name. I had leased some property in my wife's name since she was an American citizen. However, some landowners didn't like to take a chance on leasing land even to an Asiatic's wife for fear of violating the Alien Land Act.
One season, after making arrangements for a contract with the Holly Sugar Company to raise sugar beets, I asked this friend to sign the contract. He said, "Doc, why don't you plant the beets on my ranch?" I couldn't have been more startled or pleased, for I knew his ranch to be one of the finest, softest, loamiest pieces of ground in the Valley.
Thus I was lucky through those years of deep depression and low prices. But my luck changed for the worse one year when everyone thought that the dark clouds were beginning to lift. There was a sudden increase in the price of alfalfa owing to a drought in the Los Angeles area. There was a shortage of the crop in the Valley and I had the opportunity to sell more than a thousand tons of hay from about four hundred acres at $4.00 a ton more than I had expected. At the end of the season, for the first time I was a few thousand dollars ahead. Then my mind began to fly in all directions. I would quit farming this hard ground on a share-rent basis, I told myself. Share-rent meant I paid one fourth of the baled hay to the owner of the land. Under those circumstances there was not much danger of going broke since no cash outlay was involved and the landowner made his rent in proportion to what I grossed out of the hay. I was now willing to rent on a cash-rent basis, which the old-timers in the Valley considered an unsafe and dangerous procedure.
I recall clearly my neighbor, Mr. Paxton, saying to me: "I know if you lease land for alfalfa on the terms you've been promising these real-estate agents, you're going to go broke in no time. But that'll be no consolation to me or my neighbors, because you'll have already spoiled a chance for us to make a little money out of this land if we could lease it on a reasonable basis." But I had become really anxious, and I made two bad leases on two separate pieces of land.
During the year the price of hay dropped to another low. I lost those two ranches and all the money I had put into them. I ended up by being in debt to the tune of nearly eight thousand dollars.
It was the first time I had been in a position where I could not pay my bills on time or meet my obligations. I was deeply disturbed and for a while I thought the world would come to an end if people ever found out. I had lost my ranches and was in debt on all sides. I owed money for seed, fertilizers, gas, hardware, on top of what I owed the landowners.
Then began my days of real hardship in Imperial County.
I had calls from the fieldmen of my creditors and each one of them thought that it was impossible for me to make enough money out of farming to pay debts. Most of them filed suits against me and got judgments.
I was not the only one among my neighbors who found himself in difficult financial straits; several others had made mistakes or had just hit bad fortune. But I made my position more difficult because of my stubbornness. My close friends and even the representatives of my creditors advised me to file for bankruptcy as a few others in the county had done.
They argued that if I wanted to pay my bills, I could always do so after I got back on my feet. But the only course open to me in order to get going again in farming was to clear myself of debt and start afresh.
I refused, declaring bankruptcy was to me a matter of great shame. I knew that in India if a man took out bankruptcy, he was supposed to, according to social custom, burn a coal-oil lamp in his window during the daytime. This was considered to be a blot on him and his family for it meant he was repudiating his obligations. "No," I said, "I'm not going to declare bankruptcy. I am going to go out and work, whatever the hardships may be, and fight it through."
This I did, and it made life very tough for me for several years. Particularly it kept me from taking advantage of opportunities which my neighbors, who had cleared up their debts, were enjoying. I had great difficulty getting credit, and whenever I made a little money I had to pay my creditors. Slowly but surely I was getting ahead and finally, after several years, I paid all my obligations. I remember very distinctly that I owed one of the oil companies a small amount of money on a credit-card bill. When I finally made some money, I went to this company's office and the man there could not find any account in his books which showed I owed any money. I told him I knew that I owed them. Finally he wrote to the Los Angeles office and about two weeks later he got the correct amount back and I paid the bill.
When I look back on my life, that decision to follow the dictates of my own heart was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
IV. THE FIGHT FOR CITIZENSHIP
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