This item is a video file.

Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History Interview -- Part 1

See also:
• Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 2
• Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 3
• Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 4
• Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 5

Date: March 2, 2015
Type: Oral History
Language: English
Creator: Randa Cardwell
Location: Los Angeles, CA

Interviewer: Okay, let’s get started.

Amelia: Alright.

Interviewer: So, let’s…yeah. We’re going to start with your name and then my first question…well, go ahead and give me your full name.

Amelia: Amelia Singh Netervala.

Interviewer: And where were you born?

Amelia: In Texas in a small farming town.

Interviewer: Where in India did your father come from?

Amelia: He came from Patiala…Jalandhar in the northern part of India. Punjab.

Interviewer: And what were his family circumstances in India before he came?

Amelia: He didn’t talk much about it. Uh, I think they were farmers because that’s what he and his brother did and why they came to this country too…to work here. And they heard about America being a very rich country where you could make money. And that’s the reason they came.

Interviewer: Um, when did he arrive in the United States and how did he get here?

Amelia: He arrived in 1907 in San Francisco, both he and his brother. My father’s name was Jiwan Singh and his brother Jagat Singh and they…I believe it was twenty dollars that they had to have, at least twenty. Someone paid fifteen dollars in order to be accepted into this country.

Interviewer: When they arrived there?

Amelia: When they arrived there in San Francisco. And those that didn’t have were rejected, but what some of them did was pass their money to the fellow behind him. * laughs* And then I have heard also from researchers that some of them would , uh, if they didn’t look tall enough, strong enough to be labor they would put a little stool. I guess they found a little stool there and I guess they would step up, you know, and be a little taller. But, uh, those were rejected I understand that they…some of them jumped off the ship. They didn’t want to go back. And…

Interviewer: How much did your dad talk about his immigrant experience when you were growing up?

Amelia: I would ask him, but he didn’t talk much, you know. He would say, “Why do you wanna know?” And as I heard from other researchers or interviewers this is the same answer they got from their fathers, most of the fathers. They just didn’t wanna talk about it. I guess it was such a bad experience. I asked him after he came to this country what it was like, where he was, and he wouldn’t talk about it.

Interviewer: Even when he was old, when you were old?

Amelia: Yes, even uh…

Interviewer: And when you were becoming involved with Karan and her research, work, what else did you learn about that experience that had to have been his that he didn’t tell you about?

Amelia: Yeah, I learned that they….they just didn’t like to talk much about it. I think they, well, they were discriminated when they arrived. My father cut his beard and removed his turban so that he would blend in better and not stand out. But his brother, he refused to until the day he died. He was a true Sikh. He was…His brother was very much involved in politics and the Ghadar Party and so forth. And he worked in Central Valley California.

Interviewer: Did you see much of your uncle when you were growing up?

Amelia: He would come and visit us. And we felt closer to him than my mother’s part of my family, you know….the uncles, you know. I was close to my aunt from Mexico that used to come and visit when we were in Texas. And I got to know my grandmother, but I never my grandfather on my mother’s side. But, yeah, we were all very close to my father’s brother.

Interviewer: Did your father and his brother ever talk about the decision where one of them chose to remove the beard and the other didn’t?

Amelia: No. Maybe amongst themselves, but not that I was aware of.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Amelia: Yeah.

Interviewer: And I know you said you were born in Texas, but you left Texas. What age did you leave Texas and where did your family go?

Amelia: We left Texas…I think I was six-years-old. We went to…we moved to Arizona. And I guess…I don’t know why. Maybe he found…well, I mean he never divulged to me. Maybe to his sons, you know, my older brother, but I was six then at that time. And it was just another farm. And—

Interviewer: Was he leasing land? Or was he—

Amelia: He was leasing land. He leased land in Arizona.

Interviewer: And what did he raise?

Amelia: He raised mostly cotton. And it was a small town in…uh, what was it? Coolidge Casa Grande, Arizona. It was mostly cotton. And then when we moved to Phoenix in 1947, he raised…he grew watermelon, or melons, and cotton and alfalfa and…. But he had bought this house---I learned later on---he bought the house in 1942 before he was allowed to own any land. This country would not allow Indians to own land until India became independent. So he bought the land and put it in my mother’s name and the children’s name in 1942 when he bought it. And in 1947 we moved from Coolidge to Phoenix.

Interviewer: And it was in---Well, let’s backtrack a minute and catch up with the rest of the story. What about your mother? Where was she born and what were the circumstances of her family before she met your father?

Amelia: Well, she was born in Mexico, uh—

Interviewer: Where in Mexico?

Amelia: Um, what was the name of the town…it was a small town across Texas. Oh, San Ignacio! That’s what it was. It’s just a border town. And she had cousins in Texas, which was all, you know, Texas and Mexico was the same. There was no border there and my grandmother was a Native American, so she had relatives or cousins in that small town in Texas. And so when she was visiting those relatives there, she saw these Indians there. There were about four of them that were working…that had farmed or working on the farms. And somehow she and my father got to talking and that’s how they met, but they never really went into detail. They always…”Why do you want to know?” *laughs* They never discussed any of those things to us---with us.

Interviewer: What is your thoughts about why they didn’t like to talk about the past?

Amelia: I guess the part of meeting each other was, uh…. I guess they find it too…close? Maybe an intimate feeling or they just wanna talk with their young kids about it. And with my father, when I asked him about his family in India, he would just…he would not talk about it. “Why do you want to know?” *laughs* So I just let it go with that. I never knew much. And there was just nothing much that I learned about his life in India.

Interviewer: But you know where he was from?

Amelia: *nods* Yes, I knew where he was from.

Interviewer: Okay, we can back to that a little bit later. I wanna keep with our….um. So you knew that they met through relatives of hers working on a farm?

Amelia: Well, I don’t know if whether relatives were working on the farm, but she was visiting these friends. I mean, these relatives. And maybe in that, you know, maybe it was a house that was, you know, in a farm area, you know. And she would see these, like she would see these Hindu men working. And somehow they got friendly and they got married I think in 1924.

Interviewer: Now you’re the youngest in your family. So how many siblings are they and how much of an age split is there?

Amelia: Well, my sister and I are ten years different. She was the eldest one. And then, uh, Albert…I think there’s three years between them two. And then one brother passed away and then Adam, who was three years difference in myself. So there was four. Four siblings.

Interviewer: What did you know about your father’s political beliefs growing up?

Amelia: N---

Interviewer: Particularly towards, I would say, India and Indian independence?

Amelia: *shakes her head* I didn’t know anything. I just knew that these Indian men would come from the Imperial Valley, or Central Valley. They would drive to these farms in Arizona and collect money for the Ghadar party. And they always---no matter how bad the situation was at home, you know, economically, you know, if they didn’t have enough for things at home---they always had money for this cause, the Ghadar party. And they would come usually in the wintertime to collect, so that’s about the only thing…and I didn’t…Later on, I found out about what the Ghadar Party was about. But at that time, they didn’t talk about it.

Interviewer: They did converse beyond without you understanding what they were—

Amelia: Oh, yes! Yes. Always in Punjabi. And I learned just a few greetings and words in Punjabi. Food. But I always used to tell my father to teach me Punjabi and he said, “I tried to teach your elder siblings, but they would laugh at me.” So he was reluctant to teach me. So then I—years later, I think I must have been like fifteen—I wrote to my uncle in California and I asked him if he knew…if he had some books or if he knew someone that…you know, I wanted to learn Punjabi. And I don’t think I ever heard from my uncle, but then sometime later, a man appeared in Phoenix and he called my father. I guess, he was at a train station or a Grey Hound bus station. He was from Canada, from Vancouver. And he said, “I got uh…I heard your daughter wants to learn Punjabi and I’m here.” *laughs* All of a sudden, here we have this guest! So he stayed with us and he was teaching me at the beginning, but then he preferred going with my father. Whether he went, you know, on the farm or drive and see his other Indian friends and he was paying less attention to me. And, I don’t know how long he stayed, but he stayed several weeks with us or close to two months. Finally my father asked him to leave. So that was the extent of my learning Punjabi. *laughs*

Interviewer: * laughs* So your parents came from different countries, spoke different languages.

Amelia: Yes.

Interviewer: Uh, different religions. How did things work in the house? What language was spoken and, um…let’s start with language. What language did you speak?

Amelia: We spoke Spanish! My father learned Spanish to communicate with my mother and that was the language spoken at home. I learned English when I went to first grade in school. So that was uh…

Interviewer: Even with your siblings who have been going to school before you, you would speak to them in Spanish?

Amelia: Yeah! Spanish at home. So it was uh…I don’t say it was difficult because you’re just…you just take things at that young, you know. And that was in the 40s when I was in first grade. You just accept things and classrooms were smaller. Somehow, I got to learn English and I didn’t complain to anyone. *laughs*

Collection: Amelia Singh Netervala Materials
Item History: 2016-08-02 (created); 2016-08-10 (modified)

* This digital object may not be sold or redistributed, copied or distributed as a photograph, electronic file, or any other media without express written consent from the copyright holder and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). The user is responsible for all issues of copyright. If you are the rightful copyright holder of this item and its use online constitutes an infringement of your copyright, please contact us by email at to discuss its removal from the archive.