As children we didn’t know it, but we were Campesinos (farmworkers), we just didn’t know it back then. We wound up working alongside our parents out of necessity in those days, being there 8 of us to feed and Dad’s wages not enough to make ends meet. I don’t recall when we began working, just that we were all quite young. We worked at two farms, Tanaka Farm, which was located what is now Centralia near where the 605 freeway is now. The other farm, I think we called it Sammy’s, was located where Forest Lawn Cemetery is now, but we did most of our work at Tanaka’s. The type of work we did was picking bush green beans and string beans. In the above picture, this is pretty much what it looked like when we were picking the bush beans.
Below is what the string beans looked like. They grew on vines and were planted in rows. I think the vines were about 5 or 6 feet, and in hot weather the breeze wouldn’t come in very well and it made it really hot.
When we picked either type, we would put the beans into a burlap sack. Everyone was different so you would only fill the sack to a certain point as you had to carry it out over your back to the head of the row and dump your load into a family sack just like in the picture below
These rows of bush beans are just like what we used work.
If I remember correctly, the Tanaka’s would pay us about 2 or 3 cents per pound, depending on the bean, whether it was a number 1 or number 2, good looking or lumpy. So with all of us working together I suppose we did okay. I do remember once in awhile some family would get caught hiding dirt rocks in the sacks in an attempt to get paid more. Even though the work was brutal, there were a lot of good memories. Sometimes we would take lunch in the front yard of the Tanaka’s house under the shade of a big tree. They were always nice to us. We used to call them Mama and Papa Tanaka. One of their sons, Frankie, wound up going to high school with me, where we remained friends. Our family wasn’t the only one there. There was the Rodriguez family, Guzman, Salcido the Castillos, and others I can’t recall. There were also “braceros” working there too. These were seasonal workers from Mexico, who also lived on the farm in some barracks. When we were kids going to the original Holy Family church in Artesia, think it was on Jersey close to South St., there was a huge complex of barracks, or camp, where other braceros lived working on other farms or industries in the area.
The Rodriguez family was Reynaldo’s family. The Salcidos were from Artesia and we all became close friends in the field, then they wound up going to Artesia High with us where we bonded again. The Guzman’s were not a large family, but one of them, Juanito, wound up being a casualty in VietNam. The Castillos were cousins, the head of that clan, Chepe, being my Mom’s 1st cousin.
I remember us walking to Tanaka’s with Mom leading the way, like little ducklings. We did this during the week during summer while Dad was at work, walking along Pioneer to Centralia. The only bad memory from those times was Mrs. Stephens. Guess she was a quality control person and she was one mean lady. But what goes around, comes around. I remember someone tossed a dirt rock and it nailed Stephens in the eye, giving her a shiner. Boy did she raise hell, but one one fessed up or was caught. I can’t remember when we quit picking beans, just that maybe by the time we were all in high school. I wound up working on my own with Tio Beto at another small farm not too far from Tanaka’s, think it was called Valentin’s. We would pick summer squash, cucumber, tomatillo among a few other things. Summer squash was awful as the stems had these little thorns that would stick any exposed skin. Tanaka’s farm had it’s share of wildlife as it was close to the San Gabriel riverbed. Cottontail rabbits, dove and pheasant. I remember Tio Gabriel going there on a off day and shooting rabbits and a pheasant. Sammy’s had a lot of rabbits too.