(As told by Fred Ross, Sr.,
Dayton, Ohio, October, 1974)
PART I BACKGROUND
The Japanese were among the earliest to be treated this way. They began to work in the sugar beets, and they were very independent. Soon they began to organize, and not only that, they began to buy land. They were great farmers, as we know. The growers had two reasons for getting rid of them. First, they were making demands; and, second, they were buying land and the growers feared the competition. Eventually, the Japanese got control of a large portion of the vegetable market, even though they only had a small percentage of the land.
Next the growers enticed the Mexicans to come; the great majority cam during WWI and thereafter. They organized, and had a very strong trade union among farmworkers in the early days, originally located down in the Imperial Valley. It was a strong union until collusion between the growers and cops, etc., broke it and deported many of it leaders.
During the depression the Mexicans started applying for relief like a third of the nation was doing, and were told, "Yes, you can have relief, provided you go back to Mexico right away." Both aliens and citizens were shipped back.
Just about the same time as we began to force the Mexicans to return to Mexico during the Depression, the growers started enticing Filipinos. The Filipinos, in some ways, were the most pathetic. When they were enticed to come, they were told that within 4 or 5 years of coming over here they would go home rich men. So, only 5 percent were permitted to bring their wives. That was part of the deal - 95 percent had to come as single men; we would not take them otherwise.
The Japanese had pulled a fast one. When the alien land law was passed preventing the Japanese from buying sub-marginal land and competing with the growers, the Japanese transferred this land, in many cases, to their citizen sons and daughters. The law applied only to aliens.
So, to prevent the Filipinos from doing the same thing, our government refused to permit them to bring their wives or family. We also fixed them with the anti-miscegenation law, which prohibited them from marrying anyone except other Oriental.
So, for the most part, Filipinos couldn't marry at all, as there were not many available Chinese or Japanese women. When a Filipino even looked at another woman, he was run out of town, beaten up, and, in many cases, killed, for he was "mixing the blood." Race riots began over this one issue.
This was from 1927 through the Depression. The anti-miscenegenation law lasted until 1946, until the end of the war when the Filipinos were our allies.
The result of this is that there are many old, single Filipino men today without families, without income, without a home, etc. They are alone & too old to work. This is the reason for Agbayani Village just completed in Delano for retired Filipino men. You should use the case of the Filipinos when you want to paint a bad picture.
Arabs were probably brought to this country during the strike of 1965.
On the outline we tried to show the power breakdown with relation to the ranch itself, where the grower was all powerful, because of being able to have complete control over the labor market; and how, in the rural community, the grower was all-powerful, because he is the one who has all the money that controlled all the elections, all the politicians and all the judges and police.
But the farm workers for the most part were not citizens and therefore couldn't vote. Without the vote, they didn't have the voice to counteract the power of the grower in the community. So they were caught in a double bind. If there was anything the grower couldn't do to the workers on the ranch, then he could do it to them in the community, or vice-versa. He had total power. The concept of "ranch nation" is simply that a ranch is like a small country in terms of the way it is operated. The grower is king, with absolute power, and has his own private army of people who enforce dictates - supervisors, foremen. Those who step out of line get capital punishment - fired and evicted from housing.
THE PIXLEY COTTON STRIKE occurred during the valley wide cotton strike of 1933. It was the largest single strike that ever occurred in California. It didn't take place all at once, but it kept moving up the state by sections. (The lettuce strike of 1970 is the largest strike that ever took place all at once, but the cotton strike is the largest one that took place over a long period.)
On this day in Pixley (20 miles north of Delano, California) in 1933, the workers were having a meeting in their union hall, which was right across the street from the police station. Inside the police station were some policemen who had just arrested about 19 farm workers, both Chicano and Oklahoman.
All of a sudden 12 growers converged on the union hall in their pickups. They got out of their pickups with their guns and leaned their guns on the fenders of their trucks and fired into the union hall. Naturally, the workers came rushing out, and as they came out the growers just stood there and picked them off like rabbits.
They killed two people right then and there and wounded many more. Another Chicano was killed that same day in Arvin by the growers. This is one of the ways they thought they would break the strike. This was all done in full view of the police across the street and in full view of those 19 farm workers who had just been arrested.
The growers were taken to court and were acquitted because of insufficient evidence.
Eleven of those growers are still alive today in Pixley. Author Ron Taylor is just completing a book in which he describes all of that and he interviews the growers to find out what they think these many years later.
This is just an example of what the very day situation was during these days out in California. Usually, it didn't happen right in front of the police station, but the growers had it so much their own way, they didn't really care if it happened in front of the police station or not.
This did not stop the cotton strike, but it inflamed it more. Workers got violent also.
There was an active grower vigilante group in the 30's in Salinas. They hired an ex-Army general to come in and take over command of the city of Salinas and he had it organized like an army which sent out commandos all over the place. The District Attorney at that time, named Anthony Brazil, is the judge there now.