‘Conflict Lemons’: Guilin’s novel
examines farm worker immigration
Published:  December 23, 2015

“Dear Alfonso,” reads the note from Dr. Dora Crouch, now living in San Diego. “How much I enjoyed your new novel, ‘Conflict Lemons’! You have risen above yourself. I think it is first rate. Bravo! The characters are well developed and the pace of the story carries the reader along happily. You,” wrote Crouch, a noted author, “have done well!”

Sweet words to Alfonso “Al” Guilin, who has written a book a year since 2011. Now, the Santa Paula resident wants “thinking people who enjoy a good story” to read “Conflict Lemons” which weaves the current immigration debate into an entertaining novel.

Guilin’s first novel was, “The Lemon Thorn” and he’s written three books since, “Sweet Lemons” and his book of short stories, “Short Handle Hoe” as well as his latest.

Agricultural is a subject Guilin is intimately involved in: the former Limoneira Co. vice president is still active as a consultant, and as an Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Sebastian Church Deacon he is involved with farm workers spiritually as well.

His first novel, “The Lemon Thorn: La Espina del Limon” is a diverse story centered on Carlos Reynoso, a young aspiring physician in the 1970s who finances his medical education in Mexico by picking lemons in Ventura County. At the time the book was published Guilin described his first novel as a “hybrid of mystery, adventure, romance, social issues,” along with other components, there are some hard truths, including “some immigration issues there...they still exist. Farmworkers are still struggling — that still exists and medical dilemmas still exist.”

Guilin’s follow-up novel, “Sweet Lemons” continued Carlos’ story with many of the same characters as in the first novel. Guilin said his book of short stories stemmed from chapters not used in his first two novels.

“Conflict Lemons” his latest is, “A different book altogether, at least from the character standpoint, a whole new group although I have a tendency to write about agricultural issues,” of which immigration has become increasingly controversial.

Said Guilin, “It’s a big issue particularly in the Ventura County. My first books I think you’d read with a cold beer…this one wasn’t. I wanted to be more serious about immigration, throwing my own two cents in as it were.” 

Guilin said there has been “A kind of interesting reaction to the book, positive…but guys like me don’t sell a lot of books, we don’t have the name,” and the subject matter and location, “is not sexy, but as an amateur I’ve been pleased with the reaction.”

That included a shout out from Jim Tovias, a Santa Paula City Councilman who during a meeting said Guilin’s tome is timely coming as it does during the debates over immigration.

Guilin said there are many undocumented workers in farming, jobs that require hard physical labor. Such workers have been in the fields and groves for more than a century.

“Conflict Lemons” tells of those that come from Mexico to California to seek backbreaking work and education and having to do it illegally, which is difficult and demeaning. 

“Basically, I’m suggesting the best way,” to cope with the issue would be vaguely similar to the bracero program, a “guest worker” model with no other similarities, “and without the problems…things have changed significantly since then.”

If growers wanted to participate in the bracero program — which reached peak popularity in the 1940s and 1950s — they had to provide food, housing, transportation and other amenities, not fulfilled by all employers that led to worker strikes.

“Now,” said Guilin, “growers don’t have to provide anything. A majority of the workers are undocumented and we have a labor shortage that is going to get worse. Smart growers are making plans,” to work with the government and offer incentives to ensure a stable labor force. 

“My first books were kind of fun,” said Guilin, “this is more a message book…”

It took Guilin, a longtime daily journal keeper, “probably four or five months” of writing each day to complete his latest novel.

“I’m a farmer by heart and profession with a little bit of religion since I became ordained,” and he shares his love for Santa Paula and Ventura County in his books.

“Anybody that reads it will recognize local places, it’s fiction but some of the places are real.”

Guilin said “Interestingly I got a note from someone in Maine,” and those notes — such as Crouch’s — and comments are highly satisfactory as is breaking even financially on his books.

Guilin is now working on a fifth book  he expects will be published next year: “Again, something that is very different…I enjoy the writing and my wife Joann says it keeps me out of trouble!”

Guilin’s books are available for purchase on Amazon.com or from the author; call 525-8839 for more information, or send an email to al.guilin@verizon.net.

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