Interview by Valarie Kaur
Well, Valarie, I think, I’m not positive, but in those days in India it was the English who were ruling there and they treated the Indians as slaves. They had a history of that. And I’m assuming my dad and uncle came here for a better opportunity.
September of 1913 was when they landed in SF bay the second time. The first time they didn’t have $5 for the port fee. PHONE
Dad and my uncle Dalsing came in September 1913 and they came via manila and shanghai. They worked for the shell oil company in Shanghai as night watchmen. They landed in SF and didn’t have $5 to pay the port fee and they turned them back. It was a lot of money back then. But still it’s sad just for $5 they got turned back. So they worked a few more months and came down to SF again and entered there. And they worked and farmers put them in barns and let them work. At first, farmers didn’t want to hire them because they looked different – they had turbans and beards. But once the people got to know them they were the best workers. They worked down to Lonestar and finally settled in Clovis, bought 40 acres I grew up on and they were farming land. That’s what my dad did. He used to farm the Warner ranch, several hundred acres. The lawyer lived on 17-mile drive and was called Wilson. He wanted to find him later, but I couldn’t. Anyway, he farmed that but couldn’t buy the land because of the Asian Exclusion Act, he could not buy property. A lot of Asians married Mexican women or American women. Mexican women mostly because of their similar cooking, so they would buy the property in the women’s name. my dad and uncle didn’t get married until the AEA was lifted in 1947. my uncle didn’t get married but my dad in 1950 got married to my mom and came to these 40 acres and raised us. it was a wonderful life.
When he got married my father was 55 years old to my mom who was about 20. because he had to wait so long it was an unusual situation. I remember my dad getting older and older and I had to work very hard and throughout the year. We had different peaches and plums – manageable plots so we could do the pruning and picking ourselves. The early peaches would come in, the freestones, and the freestones we would cut and dry peaches. And later on my mom started direct marketing peaches to the local markets
I grew up right here and we built this house right on the corner of this 40 acres. I was hesitant about selling the property but my brothers, it was just good economics to sell the property when it was that high. I did save the house I was born in…
Yes, the old house I preserved, when the developer came in I said I wanted to keep it. So my brother and I put some logs under it and brought it over to my brother’s lot. It was built around the turn of the century and some of the wood is believed to come from a famous flume from the Sierra Nevadas and the guys would ride the logs down to Clovis. Anyway I lived in that house until I was 1 year old and then we moved into the second house and then we built a new house. The older one my uncle lived in. he died at the age of 94 and so did my father.
You got to picture. Now you see a lot of people with turbans and beards. In those days, I was the only Indian at my high school. So my dad having a white beard and wearing a turban it was very distinctive and people liked him and he knew everyone in town. His friend was the mayor of Clovis.
Actually one of his friends was Judge Burke and he was a very close friend of dad’s. and when I was born instead of naming me Burke he named me Judge. And they always had aspirations for me to be a lawyer or judge.
He was highly respected and in fact I was proud. He had this white ford I remember when I was growing up and I would ride with him and the kids would chase after the truck yelling ‘Santa Claus!’ and I was very proud.
Actually a picture of my dad. This is when he was older, about 86 at the time when this picture was taken . the rock here, actually came from the NM area. It was picked up by my dad when he went to pick up the Japanese who were interned in Arizona. He took care of some of the farms, Miyamoto and Takahashis. Chuck Takahashi is the great-grandson of the interned individuals and he says dad was one of the few people who came to visit them. Dad was a genuinely affectionate person. In those days it was very close. It was a nice town to grow up in. I’ve always loved this place. That’s a petrified rock. It looks like piece of wood and over the years the minerals replace the wood. It’s jus tan impression.
Well, as far as I can remember, he never mentioned anything about that. Everybody respected him and loved him. Everyone who knew him speak fondly of him. All the Indian people speak fondly about him. He had helped a lot of people from India to come here and study – he put them through college. There was one time I remember and this was when the Ayatollah Khomeini was in Iran and the hostage situation and so there was a lot of animosity against the Arabs in those days and I remember pulling up to a stop sign and these kids in the car next to us opened the window and started yelling at my dad and making lewd gestures. And it broke my heart because my dad was more American than those kids. When he became a citizen in 1972 he would vote. That was very important to him. I remember taking him to the voting booth and he’d go in there and that was very important to him.
Well, yes, he was very, he kept his turban and beard unlike a lot of the Indians in those days. They assimilated and shaved. Dad kept that tradition because he went back and married an Indian woman but he really believed in it. He believed in that, it was his religion growing up from a young age. When we were growing up since there weren’t any other Indians here and we had American friends. We went to church, to temple twice a year. There were two – one in El Centro and one in Stockton . at the birthday of Ghurimonic and one of Bheng Singh. So we would get together…
I think he just didn’t want to impose that on us. He knew it would be difficult for us being the only Indian in school.
Actually my friends were very interested because I was unusual. All they knew about, there was a cartoon called Johnny Quest and that was all they knew about Indians. A little boy with a turban was helping them get the bad guys. In fact, I had a nickname for a while, they called me Hajji. When they were interested I would take them to Indian functions. They were very interested. I don’t think I experienced any prejudice because I think I was by myself. When there’s a large group, like in England now, that tends to create prejudice by saying that’s them, this is us.
Dad had a very diverse group of friends. There were some French immigrants here – Mr. Rooney was one of his dear friends and taught him how to make wine. My uncle and dad would make about 200 gallons of wine a year. My uncle drank and they would use up those gallons every year. There were some Italian people. They didn’t trust anyone to bartend and they trusted my dad. So he had Italian friends, and there were some Italian people who would come every year to pick grapes. And Mr. Antonio, the mayor, was his best friend. Portuguese settlers here. In those days they were pretty new to CA. Carl Hague’s dad was my dad’s dear friend and neighbor. And then I got to be friends with his son, Mark Hague. We went to grammar school, high school, college, and then we were business partners for 20 years.
They made this wine for years and years and during prohibition my dad and the uncle would continue to make wine and the constable would come by and they’d have drinks. He didn’t sell it, it was for his own consumption.
I think he’d be heartbroken right now that people would think that way about Punjabis in this new age. The old timers, it was a different age. They were genuine, friendly, and there was no prejudice at all. And after 1972 he felt he should become a citizen. And he voted in the next election and never missed an opportunity to vote. And even when he could barely walk he’d have me put him in the truck and go vote.
He would be very proud of you. Very proud of you.