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Hard work and perseverance will take you anywhere in this world, and Dalip Singh Samra learned that lesson very early.
At the tender age of 14, he made the decision to come to America leaving behind his family in the village of Sidhwan, Punjab, India. His father was apprehensive and told him “he’d regret it.” Nevertheless, Dalip was insistent to go. Dalip, along with some friends, went to the nearest city where shipping companies selected men to take to America. Minors were not allowed to make the journey on their own, however the companies would choose the men in groups, making it easy to pass the age criteria. To appear older, Dalip stood on a wooden crate surrounded by his older friends in order to be selected to take the voyage overseas.
After being chosen, Dalip arrived in Honolulu on September 13, 1910. Not yet annexed by the United States, Dalip was still not on American soil. He worked in the sugar cane fields for two months to earn enough money to finally make it to the United States. It wasn’t until November 18, 1910 that he finally stepped foot on Angel Island.
The immigration process wasn’t an easy one for him. Dalip was interned on Angel Island for two weeks, a secret he never divulged to his family. From the San Francisco Bay, Dalip made his way to the Sacramento Delta to work on the railroads and farms with other Punjabi immigrants.
The work was hard. Dalip was only paid $1.50 for a 36-hour workday. The racial discrimination was ever present considering Dalip, along with other Indian immigrants, wore their traditional attire while tending to the fields. Laws prevented him to own land and enter contracts in his own name. Without receiving any formal education, Dalip taught himself how to read and write in English. These skills became necessary once he established his own farming business. Dalip became such a prominent farmer that at one time, he was the country’s largest celery grower.
In April of 1930 he returned to India to marry Swaran Kaur Basra from Phagwara, Punjab. However once they were married, Dalip had to leave his new bride behind due to the Immigration Act of 1917, which prohibited the immigration of Indians to the United States. Dalip promised Swaran they he’d return for her and he eventually did once Congress passed a bill repealing the ban on Indian immigration. After 15 years, they were finally reunited.
In the late summer of 1947, Dalip and Swaran settled in Hood, CA where Dalip would eventually purchase his own land and raise a family. They had four children: Paul, Harry, Peter and Norma.
From 1949 to 1952, he began to purchase land and accumulated about 500 acres. Tomatoes, sugar beets and grains were mainly his crops. At the height of Dalip’s operation he was farming up to 2,000 acres (combining his leased and owned land) and had employed up to 150 men. Some of his employees were immigrants from India. He also sponsored a number of those immigrants, so they wouldn’t have to face the same difficulties he faced to make a life in America.
In 1961, Dalip finally became a United States citizen. It was one of the proudest moments of his life. In 1968, Dalip passed away leaving behind an honorable legacy to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Samra family still continues the farming operation in Hood.
Follow the Samra family’s journey by clicking on this video as they learn more about Dalip’s story, exploring documents with Marisa Louie at the National Archives and Records Administration’s San Francisco facility in San Bruno. Videographer Jeffrey Gee Chin has directed a seven-minute video for AIISF telling the story of this true pioneer.
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