In Time for the October Filipino American Heritage Month: The Second Wave of Filipino Immigrants
By Marivir R. Montebon
Tito Joe recalled that the racial riots were instigated by jealous white Americans who saw Filipino men dating or courting American women. Statistics at that time in California counted 14 men to one woman, hence the steep rivalry. To avoid trouble, he did not date any woman and focused on his work.
The second wave of Philippine diaspora was recorded in 1906 to 1934 with heavy migration to California and Hawaii, as farm workers. In this period, the story of my great grandfather and grandfathers began.
I share excerpts from my memoir, Biting the Big Apple, where I had the most precious of opportunities to talk twice to a cousin of my maternal grandfather, the late Joaquin Talisayan who lived in Stockton, California till he was 104 years old.
He came to the US as a young boy, was raised in the asparagus farms in Hawaii by his farm working parents, eventually becoming an asparagus farmworker himself, into being a student, a Navy volunteer, husband and father and grandfather till he passed on three years ago.
From Biting the Big Apple (2013):
Listening to Joaquin Rubi Talisayan was like going back to a centuries old movie of life in old America when it created vast tracts of corporate plantations and peopled them with migrants from all over the world.
America’s food basket was indeed propelled by millions of immigrants who had to bend their bodies beneath the punishing sun’s heat or despite a fierce cold weather to plant seeds or gather the earth’s bounty.
Tito Joe’s parents, Severino Talisayan and Melecia Rubi, were among the earliest Filipinos who were expatriated to the US to become sugar plantation workers in Hawaii and California between 1910 and 1912. This was practically about the same time when my great grandfather embarked on a long perilous trip to America.
Siquijor Island, located in Central Philippines, was a reservoir of that work force that the US used to steadily build up its powerful agricultural economy. About 3000 Filipino migrant workers went to Hawaii every year from 1911 to 1920 to work as sugar plantation workers.
Hawaiin sugar planters were known to have preferred to import Filipino labor because Filipinos received the lowest wage, compared to Chinese, Japanese, and European counterparts, in the plantation.
Another reason was the legal practicality of hiring Filipinos because they were technically US nationals at that time when the Philippines was a colony of the US.
The Hawaiian planters also viewed the Filipinos as an alternative labor to use against Japanese workers, who were staging strikes to improve their conditions in the plantations. They preferred to hire uneducated workers who knew nothing of their legal rights.
They also felt that the Filipinos were fit for the job as sacadas because they come from an agricultural country, and as such have been proven to be subservient, industrious, and hardworking.
The Great Depression prompted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to pass the Repatriation Act of 1935 to send migrant agricultural workers back to their home countries.
Tito Joe’s parents, heeding this law, went home to Siquijor and brought with them their son Arcangel and daughter Trinidad. Bonifacia and Joaquin were headstrong in their decision to continue living in California.
Tito Joe and his older brother Arcangel later realized that his parents’ decision to go back home was a mistake, because while America may have been economically battered, the Philippines’ economic situation remained at a standstill.
While life in Larena remained the same for Arcangel and his parents, Tito Joe’s life in California had always been challenging.
Although he kept his job because he had proven himself worthy despite the Great Depression, racial discrimination was an everyday thing to contend with. Hotels, restaurants, and public places, he remembered, once carried signs that said “Filipinos not allowed to enter here” or “No Filipinos allowed.”
The root of the discrimination against Filipinos, said the study on Filipino migration to the US, was economic. Filipinos were disliked because they willingly worked despite low wages and thus were taking the jobs of white people. The whites preferred hiring Filipinos since their physique was perceived to be ideal for “stoop labor” that required a lot of bending when cutting asparagus and planting cauliflower.
Tito Joe remembered that the Filipinos were stereotyped as half-civilized, worthless, and unscrupulous, luring white women, and prone to crime and violence.
The Caucasian American’s jealousy and hatred of the Filipinos likewise caused racial riots. The first race riot occurred in Exeter, California, on the night of October 24, 1929. A mob of 300 men stormed a Filipino camp, stoned and clubbed about 50 Filipinos, and burned the barn.
About 200 Filipinos were driven out of the district due to the riot. The white Americans were angered when they lost their jobs to Filipinos in harvesting Kadota figs and Emperor grapes.
The most explosive riot was recorded in Watsonville, where the Northern Monterey Chamber of Commerce adopted anti-Filipino resolutions. On January 11, 1930, a small Filipino club leased a taxi dance hall from two Americans in Palm Beach. The thought of Filipinos dancing with white women angered Watsonville citizens.
On January 20, 1930, about 200 Americans hunted Filipinos on the streets, and on the following day, the dance hall was raided. Two days later, Filipinos were beaten and one was killed, a man by the name Fermin Tobera, by a mob of 500 angry white Americans, who also destroyed the Filipino quarters.
Tito Joe recalled that the riots were instigated by jealous white Americans who saw Filipino men dating or courting American women. Statistics at that time in California counted 14 men to one woman, hence the steep rivalry.
This situation made him decide to never to date any white woman to avoid trouble. Like most of his bachelor immigrant counterparts, he focused himself to his work.
On January 28, 1930, the clubhouse of the Filipino Federation in America (FFA) in Stockton was dynamited. In August, 1930, a bundle of dynamite was also thrown in the camp of 100 sleeping Filipinos near Reedley in protest over the presence of 500 Filipinos in the region.
The Filipinos angered white Americans because they were always willing to receive lower wages from employers.
Tito Joe, in our conversation, candidly remarked that racial discrimination also came as a consequence of the several irreverent behaviors shown by the Filipinos themselves. He cited as an example the squabbling of Filipinos over personal or professional matters that went public. “This kind of behavior did not earn us respect and so discrimination was inevitable,” he revealed.
His group, the FFA, founded by Cebuano General Hilario Moncado on December 27, 1925, did so much effort to establish good will among the government officials and other civic groups in Stockton in order to eradicate the negative impressions of Filipinos at that time.
“We reached out to the authorities then. We invited the mayors and government officials in Stockton every July 4th of each year to establish good will and to let them know we are a good people. We also made it a must to dress up well in social functions as an initial way to earn respect,” he said.
In retrospect, the state of California apologized to the Filipinos and Filipino Americans for the Watsonville riots in January, 2012, in an Assembly resolution authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas).
“Filipino Americans have a proud history of hard work and perseverance,” Alejo said in a press statement. “California, however, does not have as proud a history regarding its treatment of Filipino Americans. For these past injustices, it’s time that we recognize the pain and suffering this community has endured.”
Tito Joe passed on at age 104 in Stockton in 2010 and is survived by his wife Pacita and their two sons Joey and Edward.
Biting the Big Apple is available on amazon.com and on www.justcliqit.com