Picking peaches sounds like an idyllic activity, but it wasn’t for Kash Gill. The son of a bus mechanic from village Lakshian in Punjab, he grew up in an America where great dreams collided with hard realities. His father, who like so many other eager Indians went to the United States in 1967 in search of a better life, drove a tractor at an orchard in Yuba City, California. His mother picked peaches. By the time he was seven, Gill was picking them too. Back then, farm labourers earned around $7 for a bin of peaches and the Gills usually managed five to six bins a day. “As I walked up and down the ladder picking peaches, a 50-pound bag strapped around my neck in the middle of a hot afternoon, I would push myself to fill more bins because that meant a few more dollars,” he recalls. That perseverance perhaps explains why Gill was sworn in as the first Indian-American mayor of Yuba City in November 2009.
Perseverance, and education, he says. “I knew education was going to be my way out, or else I would be doing hard labour for the rest of my life,” says Gill. After graduating from Yuba Community College, he got a degree in agricultural business from California State University at Chico, and another graduate degree later. Changing tracks, he went into banking and finance, and is now a senior vice-president at the Butte Community Bank. When he’s not in office, Gill swaps his suit and tie for a pair of jeans and shirt and can be found on his farm where he grows, yes peaches, along with prunes and walnuts. “Farming,” he explains, “is in my blood.”