Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Minoru Tajii Interview
Narrator: Minoru Tajii
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Gardena, California
Date: February 14, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-tminoru_2-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, before you were born, did your father always farm or did he do other things?

MT: Once he told me that he had a dairy, but that didn't last too long. Because the kind of work that you have to do for a dairy is hard, 'cause you got to milk the cows in the morning, and then in the evening again. So he quit that went into just strictly farming.

MN: Now you were saying when your father farmed, he had to move quite a bit. How long did he stay in one area?

MT: Well, that one place would be, at the minimum, two years, but at least three years. Because after three years, then your crop isn't very good, so they go to a fresh place and do another two to three years.

MN: So as far as you know, did your father start farming in El Centro?

MT: No, he was doing in Brawley first, and then from he moved to El Centro, and then from El Centro to Calexico. And then from Calexico we moved further west to the Mt Signal area.

MN: So on average, how big was your father's farm?

MT: What?

MN: Like how many acres, about?

MT: Oh, gee, whatever that land is, some of 'em are forty acres, some of 'em are fifty acres. But always about forty acres.

MN: And what did he usually grow?

MT: Cantaloupe, lettuce, tomato.

MN: So when you were moving around, how close did your family farm to the Mexican border?

MT: One time we were about a quarter mile away.

MN: So you were sharing when your family was farming in Imperial Valley, how you prevented the crop from freezing. Can you share that story with us?

MT: Well, what you have to do is go out and get the arrow weed. They put the arrow weed, and then they'll put a post at each end, and then string a wire. And then you put the paper, brown paper, big roll, and then you put some more arrow weeds in the back, because otherwise the wind will blow your paper away. The arrow weed can't hold it, but arrow weed is to keep the paper from blowing around. Then the wire keeps it strong so it won't get blown away.

MN: So is this... you covered the entire plant like that?

MT: Well, you put it on the north side. That's to keep it warm so the seed will germinate, but then you get the freeze. When you get the freeze, then you had to cover the south side with the same paper. And you use clothespins to keep the paper up at the top closed. That is where all the works come in, when you're gonna have to take it off. You got a lot of trash. But the arrow weeds you save. It's what the Indians used to use to make arrows with, so it's very strong. That's what you have to save. But the paper, brown paper, you have to throw away. Also, when they plant seeds, they used what they call an oil paper, and they use wire and make it like a tent. I have to say that the wire's about twelve, fourteen inches long, and they'd make it into pole, then they'd put the brown oil paper over it and cover the edges with dirt so it won't blow away. And then that makes it hot inside, an your seeds will germinate and the plants would grow.

MN: So, and then so once the plant starts to grow, you have this oil paper on there. What do you do?

MT: You have to take it off. Take the oil paper off, or you burn it, have to burn it, but the wire you save for the next year. That is a lot of backbreaking work, but they used to use, we used to have the Mexican people come to the farm from Mexico. I don't know if they came in illegally or not, but they used to mostly come from Calexico because that's where the border was. Calexico and Mexicali was just divided with a wire. That's how... so you could come across easy. But there's a place where you can come by legally, they would take you back and tell you, "Hey, you can't come in anymore." But there used to be a lot of Mexicans those days. I just took, lived with a Mexican family most of the time, because they had tortillas and refried beans, oh, I just loved that. So I used to eat over there more. So my father had to buy flour and beans and give it to them because I eat almost every night over there. But the tortilla that they used to make is very big. But they cook it on a disc that's, oh, I would say about... gee, I would say almost eighteen inches disc, they would make the tortilla almost as big as that. Now, I could eat two or three of those.

MN: So how many, you know, when you're working and doing this, it's very labor intensive, and you have to do it very quickly, right?

MT: Yes.

MN: If there's a freeze or when you're germinating the seeds, is this a twenty-four hour thing? You have to do work at night and day?

MT: If there's going to be a freeze, my father would wake us up about nine, ten o'clock, then we'll go out and cover. 'Cause you don't get the Mexican people from Mexico to come in. You can't hold of 'em anyway, so we had to do it. So my brother and I, we used to run out there and get the brown paper, run together in so that the paper would be there, then you cut it, and then you start it both ends and start cutting up your pins and your arrow weeds in the front, too, and keep it from falling off and letting the wind blow it away. Sometimes we had to work out there 'til about midnight, and then you have to go to school. The bus picks us up at seven, we'd have to clean the house, wash the dishes and get on the bus before seven. So that's the reason why I was never a farmer. When the war ended, that was it.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.