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Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History Interview -- Part 4

See also:
Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 1
Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 2
Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 3
Amelia Singh Netervala Oral History -- Part 5

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

Interviewer: So I know you are involved with Karen Leonard and helping her with her book and providing her information about your whole family. Did you ever look for documentation about your family and documents on births, deaths, marriages? My own family is similar to her own work.

Amelia: No, I didn’t. As far as getting information on my father’s birth and background, I don’t think they had that. So I never tried… as far as that. But I learned from Karen’s research… like these Indian men did not want to talk about some of those experiences when they first came. I think they… I know that they… I learned from her the harsh experiences they had when they first arrived in San Francisco. Discrimination and looked down on. And having to live several men… 10 or more… in one small place. And having meager food, you know like lentils or dahl or chapati or rice. You know, that was one meal a day. They had very hard times. That I didn’t know.

I met Karen, because there was an article in the paper about her book. And she mentioned that there was a lot of divorce among the Mexican women and Indian men, and so I differed with her. I was thinking that since I was raised in Arizona- I was aware of Texas too- a small part of Texas. And I differed with her in that, because there weren’t any divorces over there except maybe one in Arizona. So I called Irvine- UC Irvine- and spoke with her. And so then we got together. We lived just a little- about two or three miles away from each other.

So anyway, I found out her research was on the Imperial Valley and Central Valley. That was a major part of where these Indian men settled and married Mexican women. And so that was another thing I learned from her, you know. Also about the men, you know, at that time there were still a few men alive that she spoke with… and also their family. And learned that they didn’t like to talk about their life. When they came, they were very private. And I thought that was how my father was too. I would ask him questions, and I couldn’t get anything from him. Yeah, some of these marriages just didn’t last very long.

Oh and also, the children in Imperial Valley. I think because there were so many over there. It was different than where I was raised, because I was the only one of my background in the entire high school. Other than my brother, because he was a senior and I was a freshman. So that we didn’t have any similar experiences like the ones in these other areas.

Interviewer: So you know you’re a part of a special community, but you’re also separate from that same community by the fact that you grew up in Arizona and not in El Centro.

Amelia: Yes. Yes. I was still part of that community. Because you found a closeness with that community. Um... It’s unique. You come across someone you don’t know and you just become close friends and you just start talking. It’s unique.

Interviewer: Did it change your understanding of your father at all. These stories from Karen? You said that you recognized you were the same, but when you found out about some of the other men, did you see your father differently?

Amelia: I wish I could of… If I had known this information that I learned later on, I would have pried more. Asked him more questions. My mother was liberal about her background, about her family and so forth, but he wasn’t. And I think I would have pried more. My mother’s father was not in favor of her marrying - they would call them ‘Hindu’ at that time- marrying a Hindu. In fact, her father wanted to break the marriage up. He offered her property in Mexico if she were to leave her husband. My mother said, ‘no’.

Interviewer: There was a tight bond between your mother and your father?

Amelia: Yeah, there was. They felt very comfortable with one another, you know, coming from different countries and cultures. But they both were similar in a way.

Interviewer: Was your dad’s Spanish very good, or was he always—

Amelia: Oh, no. It was broken, but he managed. His English was not perfect, but he managed to run a farm and hire workers and deal with the business people, whether if it was a cotton gin or the vegetable growers or something. They may not have had- these men may not have had an education, like the ones who came later on, but they had the know-how. They learned. They had to learn fast. And they were very hard workers.

Interviewer: Do you know if your siblings- I’m assuming not you, since you were the youngest- ever had to intervene on your parents’ behalf in legal issues or translations with documents or anything like that?

Amelia: Ah, maybe… I don’t remember. My father may have had to do that. But when he bought the farm in ’42, the oldest one… he was very young. He bought it from a German-Jewish lady in Phoenix. And later on when we moved there- physically when we moved there- in ’47, those neighbors didn’t like us, because there were so few. Although it was a farm, but across – on that road- there were some houses. They didn’t do farming, they just lived there, but they didn’t approve of this particular… uh… family moving there and having this land there. And fortunately that lady that he bought the property from, just kept quiet about it. And that was one thing. I didn’t find much discrimination with those neighbors. As a child there were kids that were there. Because you stayed with your family and you played. You had things to do in your own home. You didn’t have to go play with a neighbor kid in order to keep you occupied or anything. I mean it really didn’t bother me. I wasn’t aware of anything like that until later on.

Interviewer: Is the reason he delayed in moving until he paid it off? Or do you know why he waited between buying it and moving?

Amelia: I think when he moved from Texas to Arizona he had signed a lease with another Indian farmer – Duan Singh- who was a big farmer there in Casa Grande. And my father had signed a lease and I think that is why we didn’t move directly to the house in Phoenix.

Interviewer: He was a real trailblazer. He wasn’t at all nervous to move into the community, to be first in the community, to not be surrounded by Indian families or-

Amelia: No-

Interviewer: He seemed ok with being very much a pioneer.

Amelia: Yeah. He was. Yeah, there weren’t any Indian families here- I mean close in Phoenix. The families that we associated with were the Khan’s and Matula’s and others. They lived like- I would say they lived 15- more than 15 miles away. And so we socialized maybe once a month or something like that. But yeah, I didn’t realize he did things his way and stuck his neck out for a lot of things. And not knowing the language well. Not being highly educated, but these men did very well considering.

Interviewer: Yeah, when you look at immigrant experiences across the spectrum they did quite well.

Amelia: Yeah, they do.

Interviewer: Why do you think that’s the case?

Amelia: I think because they know they have to work hard to make it and that’s what they do. Just work hard. I remember my father getting up like- well, I remember my mother used to tell me he’d get up at 5 o’clock, have his coffee, and just go to the farm and work. And in the middle of night, like he would get the water – the irrigation water- at one o’clock in the morning. And so he would take care of that.

Interviewer: It would come off and on? It was at a certain time?

Amelia: Yeah, it would come on at that time. Maybe one or two and he would have to open the gates so he would get his water. So I mean it’s just- being a hard worker.

Interviewer: When did he pass away? And how old was he?

Amelia: He was 83, and it was in ’72 that he passed away. I was living in Bombay, and I flew for the funeral. And it was the priest from the temple in Imperial Valley was the one who came to- went to Phoenix to officiate the services.

Interviewer: And did your brother take over the farm or did your family sell it? What happened to the family farm in Phoenix?

Amelia: Yeah, my brother took it over. And my mother lived there in the house until she passed away. I think it was ’92 that she passed away.

Interviewer: So she lived a long time after he died.

Amelia: Yeah, she used to tell me she really missed him. He had heart problems and I think he – wish he had told me he stopped taking some of his medication. He wouldn’t take it regularly. I think he was just the kind of man where if you can’t do what you’re used to do, what’s the sense of living?

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Just sort of let yourself wear out… And just tell me about your own professional experience. I just want to make sure we talk a little bit about who you’ve been. Not focus only on your parents. I know you worked at UCLA, but the camera doesn’t know that, so if you could just tell me a bit about…

Amelia: Oh! Well, I remember when I first went for an interview at UCLA the fellow- the manager- he was more interested in my background than asking me what experience I had. And I guess, that was in the ‘50’s – late ‘50’s. And at that time, I guess you didn’t find Indians or the mixture, of course, that was quite something different. So he was-

Interviewer: And not an immigrant. You were not an immigrant. You were-

Amelia: Yeah. So he gave me a job right away. Then after-

Interviewer: What was the job, by the way?

Amelia: It was a secretarial job. Then after about two or three years, I quit to go to – cause Mino wanted to go to India to visit his family. So they didn’t give a leave of absence or anything. So I quit. So we went to India for about – we traveled for about 3 months and then came back. And then I asked him if I could come back to work and he always gave me a job. I think I quit UCLA like six or seven times and I always came back. Eventually, I got a job as a buyer- buying for the Biology and Science department. I was a supervisor. I bought chemicals and laboratory equipment. And I worked with several professors and graduate students and vendors. And that was really a nice combination and a great place to work. I’d take in some of the lectures at lunch time. Music programs. Or I would go swimming or take any sports classes that they had. So I never left UCLA. I was there for years off and on.

Interviewer: What do your children think – in terms of identity- how do they see themselves?
Amelia: They say their Indian. Well, they are three quarters Indian. Although both of them speak- they learned Spanish in school. And they still speak in Spanish. As a matter of fact, one of my daughters watches a Mexican telenovela. She watches. And her husband who is Swiss, speaks – is learning a little Spanish. He knows Italian and all the languages you speak in Europe. So he enjoys the novelas too. It’s a learning experience.

Interviewer: Was it your decision to make sure they learned Spanish or how is it they learned Spanish?

Amelia: No. They just knew the combination that I am and what their father was, but they accept. They were raised as Rajasthan, but they accept who they are. A mixture. They are American, but they are a mixture. They are accepting of both cultures.

Collection: Amelia Singh Netervala Materials
Item History: 2016-08-02 (created); 2016-08-23 (modified)

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