"The Valley is physically immense, ethnically diverse, and in constant flux, driven ever forward by the force of technology." Nothing stays the same. In many ways the valley is the archetypical modern culture. At any point in time it remains contemporary because, whether it wants to be or not, it is in the maelstrom of change."1 (Saxton-Dietz, Acknowledgements)
The Silicon Valley, far from what we know it today, was, in the 1930's, over 100,000 acres of vast abundant beauty from blossoms of various orchards ranging from prunes to walnuts and pears, and grapevines.
My personal knowledge and experience of San Jose takes me back to 1970 while stationed at Fort Ord Army Training base in Monterey. I had never ventured outside my small Southern California town of San Bernardino before this. I had the opportunity to visit San Jose a couple of times while on leave with a friend, visiting his family who resided in the Valley. We made our first visit hitch-hiking in. Throughout the trip I can remember the miles of cultivated fields of fresh vegetables, and the many orchards with trees in neat rows blossoming to bear produce which I could not yet identify. I was taken by the beauty of it all. So much open land, green of color, and the fragrance of the flowering trees which stretched all the way to First Street, San Jose. I don't know what the population was at that time, nor can I remember whether I had a good time while in town, but the memory of looking forward to my second visit remains. I guess that was due to the relaxed yet exuberant feeling of life that embraced me while passing through what was once called the "Valley of Delight".2 (Jacobson, pg. 18)
The thought vaguely crossed my mind about the hard work that must be involved in producing this agricultural wonderment, but it was only a brief thought, since I was lost in the beauty of it.
I left Monterey in 1972, returning to San Bernardino, never to return until 1986 while on a bicycle trip to Sacramento. Passing through Bakersfield, Fresno, and right on through to Gilroy, was once again a fulfilling experience, riding across this abundant land that provided the nutritional needs of my nation. Any changes that may have taken place in Bakersfield and Fresno since 1970 did not alter my feelings, not knowing the lay of that land before the trip. It was when I reached Gilroy that change became apparent and was consistent on through to San Jose. Many acres parallel to the Monterey Highway which once grew garlic, onions, strawberries and other various vegetables and fruits had been replaced with small shopping centers, restaurants, gas stations and motels. New track homes and a few custom built homes could be seen along the foothills of Morgan Hill. Once inside San Jose's city limits, new buildings had been erected where cherry orchards and fruit canneries once dominated the daily activity. I encountered numerous street detours caused by the new light-rail system, which was to me an indisputable symbol of population growth in the need for mass-transit. It saddened me to accept the change. Although the area was not part of my personal roots, I still felt a sense of loss of the beauty of nature that once was.
I again encountered a changing Valley in 1990, when I began a ritual round trip commute from San Bernardino to San Jose due to my developing relationship with my present wife. My long distance commuting continued through 1994, at which time I made San Jose my new residence. My trips over that time period allowed me to experience the subtle disappearance of the remnants of the agricultural dominance the Santa Clara Valley was once known for, throughout this country and abroad, although the major changes had already taken place long before I knew of San Jose.
I now know that the Santa Clara Valley had once been occupied by the Ohlone Indians. Before the Spaniards and American settlers arrived on the scene, "the Ohlone territory extended from the southern edge of San Francisco Bay south to Point Sur, and from the Pacific Ocean east to the crest of the Diablo Mountains."3 (Payne, pg. 11)
At that time the staple foods provided by the Valley came from the abundant oak trees and wildlife. It was only after the Spaniards arrived that the Valley's rich soil was cultivated to provide wheat and vegetables for both the Spaniards and the Indian.
When California was granted statehood in 1850, this brought settlers of many cultures seeking land and fortune, and Northern California provided both. Although gold brought instant riches from the mines for the few, it was the farmer and the land that would withstand the change of time and produce the real wealth of the Valley, providing a continued variety of nourishing foods to the world and a livelihood for the many people of all races whose lives were their farms and crops in the "Valley of Delight".
The Santa Clara Valley has seen its share of change over time: from hillsides of wheat and oak trees, to acres of fruit to be gathered by migrant workers and prepared for drying or shipment to canneries that dotted the landscape; from being the birthplace of an innovative process for drying fruit and a world-renowned provider of prunes and other dried fruits, to providing a home to defense industries, becoming the birthplace of the silicon chip and Apple computers, and now home for a variety of present-day high-tech industries.
In a beautiful, scenic valley where once (at the height of its agricultural dominance, 1920 to the 1930's) there existed nearly 7,000 farms and 132,000 acres of orchards and fertile farmlands (Jacobson, pg. 18), the landscape is now taken up by large corporations producing microchips and other high-tech materials, and homes and shopping centers to meet the needs of the new high-tech workers. By 1978 the farms had dwindled to a mere 21,000 acres (Jacobson, pgs. 18-20), with acres being lost to further encroachment by business needs on almost a daily basis. The "Valley of Delight" has now become "Silicon Valley".
Most of today's generation know "Silicon Valley" as the birthplace of Apple Computers and the microchip. Long forgotten (and unknown by many) is that the Valley is also birthplace of the first commercial prune orchard, which was planted as an experiment in 18752 (Jacobson, pg. 89). Another innovative discovery, by a well-known name in the San Jose area, Henry Coe, enabled the inexpensive process of sun drying fruits, which brought the Valley into world-wide renown for its outstanding produce. At the height of its glory, dried fruits from California were marketed not only to the eastern U.S., but to Europe as well.2 (Jacobson, pg. 90)
Another factor in the ever-changing landscape of the Valley is that it once nourished a flourishing flower-growing industry. When the farms began to give way to industry and housing developments, and canneries and packing companies closed their doors, local farmers, particularly the Japanese, converted their farmlands into flower nurseries.4 (Aguilar interview, 4/13/96)
While there are still farmlands, orchards, and even flower nurseries dotting the landscape, they are but a small reminder of the beauty and the way of life that once was here in "Silicon Valley". To help put some of these changes in perspective for me, I interviewed a co-worker who was raised in San Jose, who worked the farms and has seen the land perish. I wanted to know if he had feelings of regret the same as I.
What I discovered was that, while the landscape may have been beautiful, the way of life of those who lived and worked the farmlands was not so beautiful.
Following are excerpts from my interview with Richard Aguilar, which took place on April 13, 1996 (except where otherwise noted). They describe the hardships endured by those who labored to help the Valley prosper.
Richard was born on January 6, 1938, in a gold-mining cave on the California/Arizona border. He is third oldest of 16 children. Three died by the age of 2. "In those years we got hit real hard with tuberculosis -- that ran in our family real heavy." Four of the births actually occurred unassisted in the mining cave. Of the 12 who survived, 9 are still living. Three other brothers died of cancer before the age of 50.
"None of our family have died of old age, although mother's father died at 113! Mother died of cancer at 61." Richard's father died at 46, also of cancer.
His mother was of Irish/Indian ancestry, his father's family came from Mexico, somewhere around Jalisco. "Although mother was of Irish/Indian background, a "gringa", we never knew that really until we were much older. She learned to speak Spanish and spoke nothing but Spanish when we were kids. We later learned she came from a very well-to-do, sophisticated family."
Not much is known of ancestry beyond the grandparents, since no records were kept, and the grandmothers died very young with childbirth.
When Richard was about 1 or 2 years. old they moved from the mines and his father began working as a laborer on various farms and ranches, first in Southern California and then moving north. Richard remembers they stayed a while in the Fresno area, his father working as a farm laborer, cultivating, plowing, irrigating the land. "I remember my father using horses in those days."
As a child of 3 or 4, Richard had already been introduced to the hard work that was to come. "I remember helping my father, I was only 3 or 4 years. old, maybe younger than that, and him teaching me how to work. My father used to irrigate the fields at night. The fields were about 1/2 mile long, and I used to sit at the end with a lantern, and when the water hit my feet, I signaled my father it was time to cut it off and move to another field. That was a good memory."
It was a good memory because at that time Richard enjoyed being out in the fields with his father and learning about the land. Not so good memories around that same period of time, when Richard was 4 or 5, was the abusive treatment his mother received. Richard didn't like "...seeing the way my father was with my mother. She was just a housewife there to take care of my father and bring up kids. My father was a different person. He went out and did his thing. He played, and we didn't see him for days."
And those were hard times for the family. "I remember as a 5 year old on a Christmas, living at a ranch. My mother came to me and said, 'I'm cold; we're cold here, we have to get some wood.' So it was close to Christmas and my mother had somehow managed to get some wooden toys for the little girls. And I was just a little kid -- and I went out and chopped them up for wood. And when I took the wood to my mother, the girls started crying because I had chopped up all their little things. But I didn't know they were for Christmas gifts. I had done something bad, but I thought I was doing something good -- I wanted to make us warm. I think that's the worst memory I have, and it's a memory that will always stay with me."
These years would have been the War years. Since Richard was so young, the only memories he has is of being told he had 3 uncles fighting over there; and he remembers when they came home. "Everyone was happy none of them died there." He also remembers his mother having to stand in line to get sugar and other things, and being told it was because of the War. "We didn't hear much about Hiroshima. They just told us a bomb was dropped and the war was over; and pretty soon my mother didn't have to stand in line anymore."
The family moved north to the San Jose area in 1947, which was the beginning of their lives as migrant workers. Richard was 9 years old, and he remembers they traveled "with some Indians in a big, old truck. When we came, we came as migrant workers, hoping we could do something with our lives. I always remember the first spot we hit in San Jose was St. James Park, which is still there, and we got off there and we picnicked.
"That was the beginning of our migrating from little town to little town. And we went into Mtn. View, into Cupertino, and we ended up in Los Gatos for a time. And this was one of the most beautiful areas I had ever seen in my life -- nothing but trees, and orchards, orchards, orchards."
"We used to work right next to the Winchester Mystery House. They had a big raspberry farm there (or maybe it was blackberries), and we camped there and picked berries for about 3 weeks. We kids played at the Winchester House, it was empty then. I remember opening all those doors and nothing but bricks! We didn't know anything about it then, we kids only knew some weird lady used to live there, like a witch or something! It was an ugly-looking house, but the farming was real good around there. And then we went to Sunnyvale and picked string beans, up by where Moffett Field is now, for about 3-4 weeks. Then we would travel to the other towns -- to Salinas, Sacramento, Fresno, wherever the picking seasons took us."
"We actually ended up staying most of the time on a farm owned by a Japanese family on the outskirts of Morgan Hill, by the name of Sakamoto, where we picked strawberries every year for them for the next 6-7 years. Migrant workers always had a place where you finished up the season, and we always would come back to Sakamoto's to stay."
At the age of 9, most kids were in school, so I asked Richard about his education. He responded as follows. "If you put all the schooling that I had together, I'd have no more than two years really. Our father let us start to school then he pulled us out a couple of weeks after we started. So I never had any real knowledge of what education was. I remember starting school, though, right here in San Jose when I was 9. I remember going in barefooted and with hardly no clothes on. I only went for a couple of weeks. The only time I remember being in school for almost a full year was one time in Fresno; they let us stay in until maybe around February before they pulled us out. So we never had a full year you could say we went to school and finished. And we sacrificed that opportunity....except for my three youngest brothers, who did get a chance to go to college. They had that chance, we didn't have that chance. You see, my youngest brother was born in 1957, and my father died in 1963."
"But while he was alive... My father, he hated education. He didn't want anything to do with educating his kids; all he wanted was to have his kids work. My father learned that he could make money with the family, and our work as migrant workers was the thing. We became a family making money for the parents. And as far as I'm concerned, at that point in time he lost it as a father, as a parent, because he had no love for his kids."
So Richard and his brothers and sisters, from the youngest to the oldest, all worked in the fields picking crops; they were hired out by their father. However, Richard says this was typical in that era -- children were the wage earners for their parents. Essentially the fathers contracted with the farmers to provide the labor, and their children were the workers, with all of the wages turned over to the father.
"There were hundreds, thousands more Hispanic families doing the same thing. What happened in the 50's was something that happened to a lot of families, especially the Hispanic, Mexicans. When you had a laborer working someplace on a farm making 25 or 50 cents an hour, and all of a sudden he found he had a family he could put to work and make $3,000 a month, what would you do? That's what happened. The work was out there, and there were no regulations, or no control, nothing like what they have now. I don't think the politicians really knew what was going on."
"That was the only way to make a living in those days, putting your family out to hire. And in those times there were a lot of Mexican workers coming in to California. I'd say 90% of the migrant workers were Hispanic."
This undoubtedly was the result of the "bracero" agreement with Mexico, negotiated in 1942, whereby the U.S. agreed to allow temporary workers to come in for seasonal employment in Arizona, California, and Texas. The intent was to replace the shortage of labor brought on by World War II. However, it seems the "adequate wages, medical care, and suitable living conditions" supposedly guaranteed by the agreement were largely ignored here in the Valley, as elsewhere.
And while the Fair Labor Standards Act, which banned child labor, was enacted in 1938, the year Richard was born, he essentially worked the fields from the time he was 3 years old, and it was the same for all of the children, except for the 3 youngest born.
"The abuse was pretty heavy all over when migrant parents became migrant bosses, making money. I think the value of parents was lost when that started happening."
"Not that my mother was ever involved. My mother was the most abused person I ever saw in my life; abused by my father. My mother was just like a machine that gave birth to kids." The more kids a migrant worker had, the more money he could make.
And what was the life of a migrant worker's family like, growing up in the fields as "hired hands"?
"My mother used to say the living conditions were a lot better when we lived in the mining caves than we had out here on the farms."
In the winter they slept in tents. In the warmer weather during the picking season they slept under the trees; cooking was done over an open fire.
"My Mom used to cook in the ground...you know, put the screen over a couple of cans and stuff. And the best mattress was a prune box -- we used to fight for the prune boxes."
"We used to bathe about once a week, outside in a tub or whatever. Sometimes we camped near a creek and used the creek. My wife asks me why I don't like camping. I tell her I did all that in my younger days! I remember camping by rivers; we were camping with mosquitoes, everything -- sleeping on top of prune boxes, those were our beds."
"We used to wear the same clothes over and over, hand-me-downs. Sometimes we never had shoes on; we worked the fields without shoes."
"The hardest time of the year was wintertime, because the work wasn't there; and most of the time we used to starve. We used to go out and get rabbits and weeds, and whatever. I remember a lot of times we didn't eat meat for months. We just survived. Those were the times we lived in a tent; we slept on the floor."
"Sometimes when you needed food, you could go to the Catholic Church, and that's the only people that would help you; they gave you food. At that time there was no welfare, nothing like people get now."
"And I had brothers and sisters who had a lot of problems and needed medical attention, and it was hard to get. You didn't just take somebody down to the hospital in those days."
And what about working conditions?
"It's really hard to say what the working conditions were under the employer, because most of the time you were working under your father, so the conditions were what your father's conditions were." And Richard's father "treated us like hell."
"I can give you an example: When we were picking prunes, my father used to stand, I would say just like a Gestapo, or Hitler, arms across his chest, watching us kids work. One of my sisters -- she was a hard worker just like I was -- she had this habit of kind of taking a peek all the time at him, and my father didn't like that because it wasted time. So my father went and got a picture of himself and put it in front of her and said, 'now you look at the picture and pick prunes'. He was very, very firm; beyond firm."
"We used to contract out of buses and we went to fields all over the place. We'd go with my father and we waited for the bus to pick us up and take us to pick the crops."
Crops in the San Jose area at that time, mostly in the summertime, were prunes, strawberries, cherries, pears, and string beans. "The biggest money-making crop for my father was prunes." "And they were all big farms then, but they were primarily owned by small farming families. A lot of Italian families at that time in the San Jose area, and Japanese, and they worked with you out in the fields." In the Fresno area it was cotton and orchard crops.
Work was usually from sunup until sundown, at least 12 hours a day, with a break for lunch "whenever mother could get away to cook something. You see, my mother was involved in working also."
It's sad that Richard as a young boy had no childhood as we know it. His life was mostly work. Yes, there were some evenings when the kids weren't too tired to play hide-and-seek or sometimes spin-the-bottle. And Richard used to love to swim in the canals or wherever there was a water hole. But "we didn't have anything like baseball or football games, bike riding. I used to play a lot of solitaire, that's it. The weekends too were mostly work, so play was not done much. I had no childhood."
But once in a while the kids got to go into town when their parents went to purchase the essential goods for the week. On one of these trips, when Richard was 12, he saw his first movie, here in San Jose. They had never heard of television, nor did they know what a phone was. "I never saw a television until about 1951; I was about 13. It was in a garage or service station right here on Monterey Highway. Actually the building's still there, but it's not a service station anymore. We used to think as kids, how did they get movies in a box.!"
Sometimes there were radios to provide some diversion. "We used to listen to fights, like Joe Lewis. We'd listen to the Lone Ranger and a program called The Whistler -- kind of a mystery program.
But for Richard, there was a certain amount of joy in his work. And the one thing Richard enjoyed most was picking cotton. "Everybody dreams of having a job you love to do -- picking cotton was it for me!"
In fact, Richard enjoyed picking cotton so much, and was so good at it, that when he was 12 years old, his father entered him in a cotton-picking competition held in a place called Five Points, near Huron, California. He competed with grown men from all the different states that grew cotton; and he placed second in that competition. The next year, at age 13, his father again entered him in the competition, and he "won the whole thing!" The first year's winnings were $1,000 for second place, and the second contest netted $2,000 for first place.
Sadly, none of that prize money ever fell into Richard's pockets, nor did it do anything to benefit him or his family. "I don't know what happened to it; my father went to Tijuana or somewhere."
But while life was hard compared to what our children know today, Richard believes he benefited from it.
"I learned a lot, and I learned things to benefit me later in life. I learned how to work; we all learned how to work. And as you were working you enjoyed it; we all enjoyed it. We had no choice. But I have to say, too, as a family, we were happy. We didn't know any different kind of life. And I remember I was happy as a kid being brought up."
"I learned a lot from my Dad. Whatever else my Dad did, one thing he did, he taught me to be honest, taught me how to work, and taught me not to depend on other people; just do for myself."
However, the harsh treatment handed out by his father eventually caused Richard to "run away". "I left home because I got in a fight with my father, and I hit him... My sisters and my mother were being beat up all the time; and I just couldn't take it any more. And once I hit him I never wanted to come back. And I went on my own at 14."
This was in 1952, and Richard's father took the rest of the family to Fresno, where he purchased some land for a home. Richard stayed on in the San Jose area with the Sakamoto family in Morgan Hill. (As was stated earlier, the Sakamoto farm was where Richard's family would come back to stay each year after the picking season was over, and the Sakamoto's had become part of Richard's life.) So at the age of 14, Richard was "on his own" for the first time, earning wages for himself instead of for his father. Richard stayed on the Sakamoto farm, worked for them, and lived in their house, up until the time he went into the Marine Corps. Perhaps this was the first time he had the feeling of what a real "home" was, and he developed a close relationship with them.
Richard has a lot of respect and feeling for the Sakamoto family, and for the Japanese in general. When Richard's family first encountered the Sakamoto's in 1947, they had just returned from the World War II internment camps about a year earlier, and they, along with most other Japanese-Americans, were just getting themselves back together.
Like most of the Japanese families in the San Jose area, they had been successful farmers, contributing to the growth and development of the Valley's farming industry, prior to being rounded up and sent to the government detention camps after Pearl Harbor. Like many of the others, the Sakamoto's lost their land when they left, and had to rebuild their lives when they returned.
Richard says they never spoke about the camps, and never openly expressed any bitterness about their ordeal.
"The Japanese were very close-knitted together. They all got together, worked together, saved and invested their money, and bought more land. They were a proud people with high values." "What I think their motive was, we're going to prove to America we can get back on our feet and make it. And they did"
(The Japanese detention camps) "..that's a real sour question with me. I was involved with Japanese all my life, since 8 or 9 years old. I know the American Japanese as hard-working people and loyal Americans. They never deserved what they got."
"In fact, Bob Sakamoto went to fight the war in Europe, even while his family was still in the detention camp. He was part of a special all-Japanese regiment. What happened to them should never have happened."5 (Aguilar interview, 5/3/96)
"I don't have any personal knowledge of how the Valley was before our family got here, which was after the war, but I do know a lot of the agricultural success was due to the Japanese."
"Not only that, in the early 60's, when what we call the Silicon Valley was being born and all the industries started taking over, the Japanese started the next big boom -- the flower business, nurseries. They saw all the canneries moving out, all the orchards going down, and there wasn't a thing to do about it, so all the Japanese went into flowers. They were building nurseries all over the place. Flowers were a booming business here through the 60's and 70's. And it was done, mostly 90%, by the Japanese."
Richard joined the Marine Corps in 1955, stationed at El Toro in Southern California. "It was nice over there at that time. There were orchards there too!"
Joining the Marine Corps opened Richard's eyes to other things in life, and perhaps educated him in "the real world" -- some good; some bad.
"I didn't know what racism was until I went into the Marines. Before that I thought all people were alike." "I encountered the name calling; whites acted superior, mostly to the blacks. Although nothing was directed to me personally, it was a great eye-opening experience to learn that so much hate existed between the two cultures (black and white). I never had any bad experience with either culture; my parents never spoke badly about any of the cultures that worked on the farms with us."
While the majority of migrant workers in the fields at that time were Hispanics, there were a few whites, and some Filipino; no blacks. The farm families themselves were Japanese, Armenian, Italian, Portuguese, and they worked their fields along with the migrant workers. "All worked very well together."
The Marine Corps also taught Richard that he was at a disadvantage because he had no formal education, but he also learned his education in the field of hard work had been a valuable one. "Most of the kids I was with...they had never worked...they didn't know what hard times were. They all complained how hard it was; to me it was a vacation!
Richard also saw a little of what he had missed as a child. "When I was there I went to the opening of Disneyland, the first day it opened. I was there as a volunteer; I took a person from the hospital." When asked what it was like or what he felt, he said, "I was kind of naive; I didn't know what it was. I didn't react to it; I thought everything I saw there was kind of superficial. My mistake was, I should have bought a souvenir, but I didn't have any money anyway."
"There was no excitement or sense of adventure for me that other people seem to get. I guess, as I see it now, that's because I was one of those unfortunate persons that was never a kid. I never had a childhood."
"It was only later, seeing my own kids growing up, and seeing them enjoying their lives, that I came to feel it's wrong when parents try to take that away from them. Because I think kids should enjoy being a kid, enjoy life, because we're only here one time; you're only a kid one time."
Richard went on to say that he has since revisited Disneyland, twice, with his own daughter. And while she enjoyed it, Richard's only "special" memory is that they got to sit and talk with Walt Disney and his grandson. But even then he wasn't excited. "He was no different than you and me; he's just a guy. He was real nice; he talked to us like he was a nobody..... He didn't give you the impression he was rich, but just a simple person who enjoyed doing what he was doing that day -- enjoying Disneyland with his grand kids."
When Richard returned from the Marine Corps, in 1958-59, he noticed a lot of change in the Valley.
"When I left it was all orchards. The newspapers were just beginning to report that IBM was going to build just about a half-mile down the road from where I lived (with the Sakamotos) at the time. And when I came back, IBM was there. Not only that, but going around the city, Lockheed was starting up, as well as AMPAC. A lot of the electronic businesses were starting up. And the orchards were disappearing."
After having his eyes opened in the Marine Corps, Richard decided to try another line of work to better himself. "I was lucky enough to get a job with National Seal, which was a bearing company located in Redwood City. It would have worked out I guess, but... I worked for them about a year, and then they blew out of town -- they moved back to Chicago. So I returned to what I knew best."
Richard went back work on the farms, again returning to the Bob Sakamoto farm. He worked for him as a laborer this time, but he didn't stay on the farm. He was living on his own.
By that time, with the new industries starting up, people who worked there needed places to live, and tracks of homes were being built, schools and shopping centers were popping up. The "suburbs" were created.
"There were still a lot of orchards left until around 1961, when they really started tearing them down.... (Y)ou could go in the morning and they were there, and in the afternoon they were gone! That's when they started building a lot in this valley."
"And that's when we (Richard and Bob Sakamoto) started building all those nurseries... I built the nurseries -- put the boilers up, put the plumbing up, put the fans up, everything in a nursery. And then I operated and maintained the equipment. I helped make that guy rich."
Once the nurseries were constructed, Richard was also involved in growing the flowers. "And that's when my life changed."
Richard was out in the fields spraying insecticide one day, and collapsed, unconscious. Richard doesn't remember anything except seeing a tunnel of light, spinning and spinning. When he woke up, 4 days later, he was at Stanford hospital. He learned that he had insecticide poisoning, and that his mother had o.k'ed treatment by a doctor from Stanford who was involved in some research at that time regarding the effects of pesticides, as a lot of farm workers were dying. He wanted to try a new procedure. "...and I learned that's what they were doing with me before I woke up."
"They took all my blood out. They recycled all my blood for 72 hours; that's what kept me alive." But the procedure had a drastic side effect. "It ate all of the lining of the intestines and my stomach. I had no lining at all.... After that they had me eating nothing but baby food until I was 26 years old."
(After being released from the hospital, Richard was married and a daughter was born. "I used to fight my daughter for the best baby food.")5 (Aguilar interview, 5/3/96)
At that time, since no progress was being made, they sent Richard to Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, where another innovative procedure was tried. "They froze my stomach. I don't know how it was done -- they had all kinds of tubes in me. I don't know how long I was frozen, but I was there for 3 days. And after that I felt good, felt like going dancing."
According to Richard, this whole process, from the recycling of the blood to freezing the stomach, had never been done before.
"After I got out, I was on baby food for about another year and a half, and then they checked me and I was getting back to normal. And the doctor told me I was back in life."
"The doctors gave me a checkup every year after that until I was 32 years old, at which time they gave me a bill of good health. Case closed. Research over.... But I've never had any stomach problems since; so it might have been a good thing."
"And none of this ever cost me any money...because I was a guinea pig for research."5 (Aguilar interview, 5/6/96)
We can't be sure exactly what caused the poisoning in Richard. He, as well as the other farm workers, were constantly being exposed to various insecticides and pesticides over the years
-- DDT, pyrethrum, parathion, and others.
"They used to spray (all kinds of chemicals) out there. In those years we had no regulations for employees. No matter where we worked, they were always spraying these insecticides... They were losing a lot of lives at that time."
"And a lot of the lives lost in those years were the Japanese and other farm owners. They didn't know the regulations if there were any; they didn't know how powerful these pesticides were. So people were dying both ways, both from the picking and from spraying it... We used to pour some of these chemicals over the strawberries -- just pour it, to kill the mites... I know a lot of people that died in those years. And I was dying when they contacted my mother to put me in the hospital."
"I don't eat strawberries; and I never smell the flowers!"
Richard believes he was spraying parathion at the time of the attack. The use of parathion on crops was sharply curtailed in the United States in 1991, owing to its toxic effects on farm laborers directly exposed to it.6 (Britannica, pg. 331)
However, the buildup of toxicity in Richard's system due to prolonged exposure to DDT and other chemicals over time may also have been contributing factors. This type of effect is well documented in Rachel Carson's well-known book, The Silent Spring.
As was stated earlier, Richard's mother and father and 3 brothers all died of cancer. One can only speculate whether the causes were due to their work in the fields.
Richard stayed on working for Bob Sakamoto until 1975, when he took a job as a gardener for the Oak Grove School District. "I sharecropped for him a couple of years; didn't make any money, almost starved me and my ex-wife."
The Sakamoto family was the only one Richard really got close to during those years, and he still sees Mr. Sakamoto occasionally. But of the other people he worked with, there is no memory. "You didn't get to know them very long or work with them very long... You'd see them one year and then you didn't see them again. Once the picking season was over, it was up in the air if you were ever going to see them again." But some of the farm owners Richard worked for do stand out in his mind. "Because the farms were family owned, the owners were sensitive to a family's needs. And at the end of the season they'd throw a big dinner for the workers and their families. If they were an Italian family they had an Italian dinner. I remember our first Italian feast -- they came out with a big bowl of spaghetti, and all us kids were just looking, you know... what's that?"
"Most of the owners took good care of you. I remember the Sakamotos taking our whole family out to a Japanese restaurant at the end of the season."
Since this paper originally started out as research on the growth and change of the Valley, I asked Richard if he could summarize his feelings about the changes and his life as a child, compared to what it is today. This was his response:
"Well, one thing that I learned a long time ago, you can't stop progress. That's life... I can have my memories of coming here as a boy and seeing this beautiful Valley, growing up here and seeing it change. I don't know if it's for the good or for the bad; I think in the long run it will be for the good. The only thing that I hated to see go was the beauty of the Valley I saw years ago; because you're never going to get that back. But that's progress."
"But life can be whatever you want, you know. I can say, yes, it was beautiful then. But young kids living here now can say, hey, this is beautiful. Their jobs are here, their careers are here, everything is within reach."
"I do think young kids are missing something today. Because I can see the difference between my daughter who was brought up on a farm, and my son who knew only the city life. We didn't have a lot of things on the farm, and my daughter learned to be more independent, self-reliant, and maybe the word is more aggressive. She could do anything she wanted to do. My son, on the other hand, was one who was given everything. And I think that kids nowadays take for granted that mommy and daddy are going to have everything there for them, and I think they miss something in life. It takes them a little while to get aggressive and find some focus in their lives."
"Those are the only things I see as a loss -- the beauty, and the values learned from responsibility and hard work. But the loss of the kind of abuse I and many other kids of migrant workers suffered by not having an education, not having a childhood, working all the time, that's something we don't need anymore in life."
Through all the hardships Richard has experienced, as we learned from his story, I find it so amazing that he has remained so optimistic about life. He married and raised two children, both of whom have completed their formal education. His daughter is a successful business woman, and his son plans to complete college soon. Richard provided all that was needed for his children, and is happy to say, "I didn't do so bad for someone who didn't have much schooling."
To sum up my own personal feelings about the way inevitable progress has and will still yet change our Valley, I think the words of former Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon might say it best:
"The Santa Clara Valley, always evolving, has seen its way through several main revolutions. From the original hunting and gathering Ohlone Indians to the cattle ranching Spanish Rancheros, from the fields of grain covering the valley to the orchards upon orchards of fruit trees, our face has changed many times. With the arrival of World War II came the conversion of the agriculture and food-packing industry to defense production."
"Again we find ourselves at a turning point. Not too unlike the Indians who held their ears to the ground to detect horses rumbling in the distance, current valley leaders feel the pulse of change at their fingertips. Many hypothesize that the next transition will involve a shift in Silicon Valley's high-tech research and production capacity from defense to environmental protection, putting our valley, once again, at the forefront of an emerging industry." 7 (Saxton-Dietz, Foreword)
However, from another perspective, forever more, when passing what is left of our open fields, I will silently acknowledge the workers who have served us over the years and the sacrifices they've made, enduring deplorable living conditions, meager wages, and long hours of physical exploitation to complete each seasonal cycle -- all to the end of fulfilling the nutritional needs of our nation. Too long have their contributions to the agricultural economy gone unrecognized.
Aguilar, Richard. Interview. San Jose, California, April 13, 1996 Aguilar, Richard. Follow Up Interview. San Jose, California, May 3, 1996 Jacobson, Yvonne. Passing Farms: Enduring Values (Windsor Publications, 1990) pgs. 18-20; 89-90 New Encyclopedia Britannica (Micromedia Ready Reference, Volume 6, 1995) pg. 331 Payne, M. Stephen. Santa Clara County: Harvest of Change, (Windsor Publications, 1987) pg. 11 Saxton-Dietz, Jean. Silicon Valley: Inventing the Future (Windsor Publications Inc., 1992)