Filipino Workers in California
Learn how Filipinos came to America to work and fulfill the American dream, and how some of them lived above their financial capabilities.
Learn about the Filipino Community in California Part 1/8
Male: Few people know that when they take Crosstown Freeway to start in California they’re passing through the remnants of a once a bustling community.
All roads in America with Filipinos lead to start. It was home to the largest Filipino population outside of the Philippines, the neighborhood whose little known history was integral to the development of Central California.
Dr. Dawn: Filipinos own garages, cafes, restaurants, laundries. There were so many businesses that you as a Filipino could frequently because they have the things that you needed.
Male: Like many immigrants before them. Filipinos face back wreaking work, low wages and at times extreme racism. If they still refer to Stockton, El Dorado or the City of Gold and in fact this place to fulfill their dreams. When the Philippines became a territory of the U.S in 1898, Filipinos could freely enter the country. Recruited by the thousands as cheap labor to work at Hawaiian sugar plantations they quickly begin to migrate to the US mainland.
James: So Filipino is basically were not occupying the upper levels of the socio-economic sectors. They weren’t high end workers. They were agricultural workers, domestic service workers which is what the economy needed at that time.
Male: Following the seasons they travel up and down the West Coast, harvesting crops from California to Washington and working to fishing canaries in Alaska during the winter season. Stocked and provided a harbor where Filipinos could always return.
Daniel: Filipinos arrived in Stockton mainly because they were recruited to Stockton. Stockton was the center of the agricultural activity in the Central Valley, California and of course many labor contractors that were responsible for hiring Filipinos attracted them specifically to start them.
Little Manila had at its height was a lively four block area pocketed next to China town and Japan town. To some Stocktonians, this area south of Main Street was the notorious skid row. For Filipinos whoever was the closest thing they had to a home town.
Dr. Dawn: From the late 19th century on it was known as the oriental quarter. And this is where China town was and its Japanese immigrants start coming to the Central Valley into Stockton. They established Nihon Matsi nearby and this is anywhere from the six to ten block area south of Main Street and when Filipinos come to the United states they find that the only places that will welcome them are the people of the Oriental Quarter. It’s an extremely diverse neighborhood from the outside though most where Stocktonians kind of just generalized the area as China town.
Demetrio: My dad came from Loboc, Bohol in the Philippines. People told him to go to California to a place called Stockton because there was a lot of Filipinos there so we came down by train and Nevada’s of the Lincoln Hotel and I looked out the window in the Main Street and I can see so many Filipinos in my life. From Main Street to the Lafayette Street, you could see and smell all kinds of food in that town. The Filipino, Chinese, Japanese. They were making bacon there.
Dr. Dawn: Lafayette and El Dorado Street becomes cross roads of not just a Filipino community in Stockton but in a sense the Filipino community on the West Coast. If you were for your cousin and you just recently arrived, you would come to El Dorado Street because you know there were thousands of Filipinos especially during the asparagus season lining the streets.
Male: In Stockton, Filipino workers in particular became synonymous with the asparagus cutting considered one of the toughest crops to harvest.
Demetrio: The hardest work that I've ever done was the asparagus. You have to get the asparagus out of the field because during the hot days that sun will soak up the liquid in the grass of asparagus. We called grass in those days. And if you got it until the water is dried because they weight and see. You can be paid by the weight and they want to make sure you got the grass into the washouts by the fill is late the guys are going to get mad because you didn’t pick it up right away.
I’m going to work on the grass and that wind would just blow and I’m not picked this. You could see the hand in front of your face, how worth two pairs of pants, three shirts, a bandana on my head and scarf and goggles. There are goggles and you had to tie shoe strings around your shoes because the picked dirt gets up in to your pants you are going to itch like crazy when you sweat. After we finished working in the field and get in the buckles, you have to sweep down the buckles so you get all that it dusts out of there. That was miserable.
Dr. Dawn: They’ve already raise these arguments that farmers make saying that Filipinos do this work because they are shorter in there or closer to the ground but I like to think the ways that work were organized in terms of hometowns, in terms of provinces and the relationships that these men have with each other and the obligations that they had with each other really contributed to the efficiency of their work and the reputation for being extremely skilled workers.
Male: For picking a hundred pounds of the asparagus a day Filipino workers received just 90 cents less than half the amount paid to the white counterparts. This harder in cash was often sent to waiting parents and family members back in the Philippines.
Dr. Dawn: Filipinos and Filipinas come to the United States with the intent of bringing their family out of poverty and their American colonial teachers tell them they’re going to come to the United States that this such a land of opportunity that they’re going to pick gold up off of the streets and the irony is that little Manila is centered around el Dorado Street. They’re going to return in a few months as this extremely wealthy man who were coming back to save their families and bring their provinces and their barrios out of poverty and that doesn’t necessarily happen.
Male: The early groups of Filipinos who arrived in Stockton were mostly young single bachelors eager to liven up Little Manila and ready to show some style.
Jerry: But who were these guys who arrived in America and this is not my imagination. They arrived, you would think, they were movie stars. The way they dress, the way they smile, there must and she is, they really pride of themselves in the way they look and that was combing their hair, making that straight line down the center or the side of their scalp just so they would look dashy.
Jerry: The Filipino men dress whether they were from Chicago, New York, Seattle they all dress the way they dress in Stockton. They all were flashy. They wore suits that are just unbelievable. They would never go into a store and buy a $20.00 and hit the streets. These guys came out looking like movie actors and yes they were commonly just working in the agricultural industry.
Male: And now are these Filipinos are sometimes called “Sought out the American dream”. A new car, gambling dens and dance all girls.
Dr. Dawn: You also have stories of Filipinos with the best intentions of saving money end up losing all their money in the gambling halls or in the taxi dance hall. You know, on clothes, and on cars, and one of the things you have to remember is that when these young men and women are coming to the United States, they are in their late teens. They are in their early 20’s. This is the first money they’re ever earning in their entire lives and this is also the birth of the consumer culture in the United States.
Filipino Workers in California
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