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Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History Interview -- Part 2

See also:
• Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 1
• 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, so tell me a little bit about what it was like to start school and what was school like and who were your classmates and what are your memories of that experience of language and culture?

Amelia: Um, well I noticed…I think it was like the fourth grade in grammar school. This was in Casa Grande, Arizona. Since we lived in a farm, the closest neighbors were white, so I used to play with the---My friend was white. But at school, there was Mexican kids and they---I noticed they didn’t accept me. I think because they knew my name was Singh. It wasn’t a Hispanic name. I never had a closeness with them. My friends were Japanese, Chinese, and white. And I rem---

Interviewer: Even though you spoke Spanish?

Amelia: Even though I spoke Spanish, yeah! And I remember one time, i think it was in the fourth grade during recess time, we were playing out in the playground and all of a sudden these---it seemed like six girls surrounded me. And they were just bullying me, just pushing me around, and here I was in the middle of this group and finally some teacher saw us and came to…I guess to break up the--I don’t remember too well, but I remember that. They never liked me because I was….I was different. I think it just went on all the time. They were casual in high school. I remember they were casual friends because of the most of the Mexicans…Hispanic people lived in the city and we lived in the farm, so we would take a bus to go to the city. I guess maybe six miles, the bus, to go into Phoenix Union. So it was…you didn’t associate with the kids from the city, you know. You didn’t drive cars at that time. You didn’t have your own car to drive or anything, so you didn’t have a closeness there. And that went throughout my grade school and high school.

Interviewer: So the other kids riding the bus with you were the children of other farmers in the area who were owning and leasing land?

Amelia: Some of them. Not all of them. There were…I remember there were some Blacks who would get on that bus. There was a city bus for everyone, not just the school kids. And at that time, the Blacks did not go to the same high school that I---it was segregation then at that time. It was---I graduated from high school in ’53. So the next year was when it opened up and they allowed Blacks in ’54 into that high school. Otherwise, they were going to a trade school, which was just across the street from our high school. So that was all throughout, you know, it was segregation unfortunately.

Interviewer: Were there other…were there a lot of other kids who were like you, a mix of Indian and Mexican in your community?

Amelia: No, I never had---Only Helena that one time in Casa Grande. We were in the same school, but not the same grade. But uh, no, I never had anyone that was in high school that was from Indian descent. There weren’t that many like in Central Valley or Imperial Valley where there was a large settlement of Indians married to Mexicans.

Interviewer: So, so unlike Central Valley or central in the city, you were not in a community of mix---a lot of farming communities where your father or your mother had a lot of people around them who were in the same circumstances?

Amelia: Right, yeah. We mixed with their friends, the other Punjabi—not Punjabi. They were Punjabi Muslim friends. We used to go on barbecues or things like that or they would come over to our house. We mixed with them. The Rahmatullahs and the Khans…but not in the same school.

Interviewer: Did you ever know why your father hadn’t chose to be in a place like El Centro and chose Arizona instead?

Amelia: No, I never found out! I wonder if whether maybe laws were different in Texas, but I mean, he still leased in Texas. But there was like four of them that went to farm in Texas close to El Paso and they didn’t go further down in Texas. It was closer to El Paso. There were some other Indian friends that he had in New Mexico. La Cruces. And that was very close to---maybe like thirty minutes away. So we used to socialize with them on the weekends.

Interviewer: So what about religion? Your mother was Catholic and your father was Sikh, correct?

Amelia: Yes.

Interviewer: So what religion did you grow up with?

Amelia: Catholic. And I always thought my father was Catholic because he used to take us to Church and sometimes sit in the back or maybe sometimes wait in the car. But he always took us to Church on Sundays and being the last one in the family, I…. when I made my first Communion at age nine, then he stopped going to Church. He figured he had done his duty and he didn’t go anymore. I didn’t realize that until later on that he was not Catholic. He was Sikh. And I remember seeing him sitting under a tree, praying, you know. He had his little book, but I thought that was very…years laters, I think back and I think that was very big of him. To allow us to have a religion than no religion at all, like some of…some others didn’t allow their kids to go to…be raised in a religion, like a more Catholic religion. But my mother has told me that when they first wanted to get married, the Catholic Church---a priest would not marry them because he was a Hindu and so they got married in the court. And years later when they had like three kids, she said the nuns came to the house and they said, you know, “The priest wants to marry you.” And she said, “No. You know, when we wanted to get married, you wouldn’t allow us. Why get married now?” She refused. *laughs*

Interviewer: Speaking about your mother, what are your memories of her and the household that she kept growing up?

Amelia: Well, she always…she was a hard worker. I mean, on a farm sometimes, you don’t have electricity, like a washing machine or anything like that. You did a lot of things by hand. So she washed clothes by hand, cooking, and I mean, she was a hard worker. She really looked after the family. There was always the three meals. My father wouldn’t…he wasn’t necessarily there for lunch, but she would take lunch to him up to the farm. Because the house was right on the farm, she would take lunch to him. But we always ate together and conversed, before television or anything. I mean, you really were close and you always ate what was on the table. You never complained, you know. She always had Indian food because that was what my father preferred. She made rotis or pecoras…I mean, parathas. And she would make Mexican food too, like beans she would have, but mostly it was Indian. But we had American food too, steaks and things like that. But—

Interviewer: Did she mix it up? Did she use Indian spices in Mexican cuisine or did she sort of keep dishes the way they were originally done?

Amelia: She made Indian food, you know, with the spices that my father…she learned to make. And the Mexican food from scratch. You know, I mean, you didn’t have cans like you have chili cans and things like that. She would make everything from scratch and even the Indian curries…there weren’t many spices available at that time in the forties or fifties. But you would get…you would grind some of these spices and make it. So it was…

Interviewer: Was she growing any of them on the farm or…?

Amelia: She always had a victory farm. She had vegetables at home. Yeah. And we always had…my father one time had a dairy, so we always had real butter—churned butter, yogurt—homemade yogurt, and raw milk. So I mean that’s what I grew up on—on raw milk, which is…we know now that it’s good.

Interviewer: And was she close to her own family and her siblings? Or did she pretty much once she married your father lose connection with her own family?

Amelia: She was close to her family. Her sister…when we lived in Texas, her sister used to come over with her children. Her sister and her husband. And then when we moved to Arizona, it was….her sister would come once every five years or something like that. But she was, you know, she was close to them. But closer to the friends that she made with my father, you know, the Mexican women married to the Indian men.

Interviewer: You were the youngest so probably they worked out a lot of their marriage by the time they came along, but how would you describe the relationship between your mom and dad?

Amelia: It was a close relationship. They got along well. I know there’s…you know, money problems was always a problem. They…I’m sure they loved each other, although they never said that. But they were very close and cared about each other. I remember she telling me that my father’s brother didn’t care for my mother because she was not….I guess maybe he wanted an Indian—well, there was no Indian women for my father to marry then. But he would put her down, I guess maybe because she was Mexican or something and she wouldn’t put—you know, she was a strong person and she wouldn’t put up with that. And she complained to my father, “You better tell your brother not to treat me like that.” * laughs * So she used to tell me these things. But he would…my brother, my uncle from Jagat, he would come and visit us from California and we were always very close to him. He was very generous. He always would take us and treat us, so that was a nice memory of him.

Interviewer: Did he ever marry?

Amelia: No, he never married. He lived in like [???] and he would send us boxes of fruits. And…

Interviewer: Did he lease land as well like your brother? Like his brother?

Amelia: No, he didn’t lease.. He worked as a foreman or...that was his job, you know. He didn’t own any land. When he first…when he retired, then he bought a house just opposite the Sikh temple there in Stockton. He was very…very involved with his religion. My father was not. I mean, he kept his religion, but he didn’t…like my uncle you know, kept his beard and turban and worked for the Ghadar party. And so that was his life and he had a lot of friends in Central Valley.

Interviewer: Your father and uncle came so early. They predate most of the immigrants. Do you remember them talking about new immigrants coming or any of those issues? Because in 1907 that’s before most people came.

Amelia: Yeah, they started coming after 1947. ’48. There was some of the families like in Imperial Valley or in Arizona, there was one or two cases there where they wanted their relatives to come…nephew or whoever, and they brought him over. Well, some of them got…those young nephews, they got smart. They didn’t try to work or anything because they knew they were being supported by this family member. And they just took it easy. And so there were complaints my father used to hear from his friends. So I had asked…I asked my father, “You wanna go…Why don’t you go to India, you know, now that you can?” He says, “My family’s here.” He says he didn’t have any desire to go to India. His parents had died and his other brother that he had there had died in a flood. So.
Interviewer: Did your uncle ever go back?

Amelia: No, he didn’t go back either.

Interviewer: Wow. It was a one-way trip.

Amelia: Yeah. He never went back.

Interviewer: Wow.

Collection: Amelia Singh Netervala Materials
Item History: 2016-08-02 (created); 2016-08-17 (modified)

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