Celebrating a rich local Filipino history in California

Though some Luzon Indians were among those who were part of invading troops that were aboard the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza and took possession of Morro Bay in 1587 in the name of Spain, two days later the men returned to their ship and sailed away.

The more recent history of the Filipinos in California goes back to the early 1920s when farmers in Hawaii and California recruited 50,000 Filipino laborers (then considered to be United States nationals) to replace the Japanese, who had formerly worked in the fields. Although offered free education, most of the Filipinos couldn't take advantage of this benefit until those who had sponsored them released them from their contracts.

The Philippine Islands was a territory of the U.S., but Filipinos in California couldn't vote or own real estate or businesses. Although they were forbidden to marry white women, some intermarried with other nationalities. Those who did marry white women left the state in order to do so.

When the Filipino migrant workers of the Great Depression days of the early 1930s followed the crops throughout California, many came to Guadalupe and Santa Maria, where the single men who were able to find jobs lived in bunkhouses provided by the growers. Those with families who wanted their children to have stability and a good education, worked the land, sometimes for $1 a day, and lived in small houses on the property. However, after one of the houses burned down in 1969, the county filed suit for condemnation and tore them all down.

When World War II broke out in 1941, President Roosevelt placed the entire Philippine military under American control. Later, two Filipino Army regiments were formed.

Those who left the farms to enlist included Santa Maria Valley’s Henry and “Bully” Abadajos, Felix Oliva, Arthur Campaomor, Frank Paduganan and many others. Cardy Oliva, Felix's brother, served in the Merchant Merinos. After the war, many of the former members of the Filipino regiments came to live in the valley.

Another wave of Filipino immigration came in 1946, when 60,000 who had fought with the U.S. forces in WWII were allowed to come to America.

In the 1960s and '70s, when America again opened its doors to Asian immigrants, the professional, highly-educated Filipinos came. The next wave came in 1994, when Filipino veterans of WWII were granted U.S. citizenship.

The early Filipino pioneers who had overcome hardships and discrimination, smoothed the path for the newcomers. They helped create unions up and down the West Coast, with some of them working as organizers long before the United Farm Workers began their campaigns.

Many Filipinos made their mark in valley.

Connie Abella, who arrived in the late 1930s, was a noted fashion designer. Ted La Bastida, a prominent member of the local Filipino community, came to the valley in 1928 and operated a farm near Blosser Road. The F.C.B.A. Market, run by Geronimo Arca, served the people in Guadalupe for many years.

Filipinos have also held responsible positions in local government. From the time these first immigrants arrived here, valley, they worked hard to support their families and to encourage their children to seek a better life through education. Today, those children are included in the list of Santa Maria’s doctors, engineers, accountants, attorneys, educators and other professional positions.

In addition to encouraging their children to seek further education, the immigrants stressed responsibility for their fellow man, as well as a high degree of respect for the U.S.

On Oct. 21, 1995, to commemorate the landing of the Spanish galleon in Morro Bay in 1587, the Filipino American National Historical Society placed a marker on the spot where it landed.

On Sept. 25, 2009, the state of California filed a resolution designating the month of October of that year and every October thereafter as Filipino American History Month “as a significant time to study the advancement of Filipino-Americans in the history of California and the United States, as a favorable time of celebration, remembrance, reflection, and motivation, and as a relevant time to renew more efforts toward research, examination and promulgation of Filipino- Americans.”

Local Filipinos will hold their first Filipino Barrio Fiesta at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Educational Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. All Filipino organizations in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have been invited to set up booths and perform folk dances. In addition to Filipino food being served, entertainment will be provided by the Ichimi Daiko Taiko drummers, Leo and the Boys (Filipino boys that started a band in the 1970s) and El Padrecito's dance group.

Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 623-8193 or at shirleycontreras2@yahoo.com. Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.

Post a Comment