PROGRAM 2: 1920-1940’s

Hard Times in the Country: Europeans, Okies and Fruit Tramps


This program looks at the European immigrants who came to work the fields of California. We’ll tour the farms of Ivano Comelli, son of an Italian farm worker, and Nita Gizdich, Croatian-American apple farmer. The decade of the 1930’s was marked by bloody labor battles across the state, in places like Pixley and Salinas, as workers began to demand their rights. As times got harder, thousands of families took to the roads, picking crops up and down the Central Valley. The Okies joined the migrant stream in 1935, swelling the ranks of unemployed pickers. We also hear about El Repatriacion, where law enforcement and immigration officials deported nearly 400,000 Mexican and American citizens of Mexican descent. We think we know this chapter of our history, but we haven’t heard this part.

Fruit packers

Travers and Sakata Fruit Company employees, Watsonville, CA, September 1932. Photo: Pajaro
Valley Historical Association.



"They said in California, that work it grew on trees, And everyone was going there, just like a swarm of bees." Poem, Arkansas migrant, 1935.

  Nita Gizdich

Nita Gizdich, Owner, Gizdich Ranch (apples and ollalieberries), Watsonville, CA

"My father came from Croatia, and my mother came from Sacramento. They started a farm right here, and I was born around the corner, and I’ve been here all my life."

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  Ivano Comelli

Ivano Comelli, Son of Italian Ranceri, Davenport, CA

"My father, who was an immigrant from Italy, worked these ranches from 1923 to when he died in 1993. It was a hard life but it was a good life."

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Okies and Fruit Tramps

  Ed Maples

Ed Maples, Retired Union Leader, Fruit Tramp, Salinas, CA

"We were getting seventeen cents an hour picking apricots."

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  Jerri Martin

Gerri Martin, Teacher, former packing shed worker, Watsonville, CA

"Dorothea Lange pictured all these families as having great despair.
I remember nothing but happiness and laughter."

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