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Making their mark, keeping the Filipino American history alive on the Central Coast

Courtesy: Dan Fallorina

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION-TV)- While AAPI month is over, the fight and work to get Filipino American history in the books is ongoing. 

RELATED: Remembering forgotten farmworkers, the Filipino American journey on the Central Coast

Dan Fallorina lived in Watsonville for 66 years. So much of where he lives now has changed.

When I was growing up, it was really diversified,” said Dan Fallorina. “There was a large amount of Japanese, Filipinos, Hispanics, Croatians.”

“It was a very big melting pot. Everybody lived together and everybody played together. It was it was good. It was good growing up.”

In 1927, Dan’s father came to the U.S. from the Philippines. His father was only 21 years old at the time. By 1952, his parents got married. First settling in Soledad before moving to Watsonville. Fallorina remembers growing up in at least two labor camps.

“Growing up as kids, we didn't know too much about that,” said Fallorina. “But they were hard workers. My mom and dad learned how to speak Spanish so they could speak to the workers.”

Learning to communicate with other workers and settling in a new town are just some of the challenges that Fallorina remembers his family going through. But also dealing with racism. 

I remember one time walking and some guy threw a rock at my mom,” recalled Fallorina. “It hit my mom in the back. She said, keep on walking.”

Walking around Watsonville, it’s hard to tell that any Filipino families made their home here. But The Tobera Project is working on a mural that will honor one of those families. The mural will be located here at the corner of Atkinson Lane and Freedom Boulevard on affordable housing units.

“One of the things we found after uncovering this amazing history and all these families in Watsonville, is there's not a single marker in Watsonville,” said Professor Steve McKay, a sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz, “formally, that you would know that the Filipino community was here. So they have been effectively erased.”

The mural honors Rosie Tabasa and is designed by Aptos High School Student Caitlin Bayaca.

RELATED: Tobera Project recognizes and honors people working to preserve Filipino American history

Marking that Filipino families were and are here. The Watonsville is in the Heart Collection archives and preserves the stories of the Manong generation who settled in the Pajaro Valley.

The Tobera Project along with UC Santa Cruz undergrad and graduate students work to make their stories are kept alive for future generations.

Mcksay said they’ve conducted 44 interviews with 26 separate families in Watsonville that are all part of the archives.

“What we found is when people heard that we are doing these stories and capturing these histories that they wanted to participate to,” said McKay.

It doesn’t stop there. Two years ago, Governor Newsom signed a bill that made ethnic studies a graduation requirement for all public high schools. McKay explained how him and a team of people working to add Filipino American history into the ethnic studies requirement

Meleia Simon-Reynolds, who's heading up this, she's a Ph.D. student in history,” said McKay. “She’s writing and working with the Pajaro Valley United Teachers to develop curricula at the middle school and high school level for this new ethnic studies curricula. They're basing it on our archives.”

So that stories like the Filipino farmworkers, Alex Fabros, the Fallorina family, and all other Filipino Americans don’t get lost or forgotten.

“It's also part of very local history,” said McKay. “It could be an ugly history and it could be a beautiful history.”

Fallorina believes that his parents would be proud, he’s sharing his family's stories with the next generation. Fallroina’s mother passed away last year at 99 years old.

“She couldn’t really remember a lot of stuff but she would read the calendar and go look ‘Look, they’re talking about our family,” recalled Fallorina.

"How did they know about all this stuff? You shared your story and helped us move forward in that. This is your story."

The Watsonville in the Heart Project received a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The money will help support the Sowing Seeds: Filipino American Stories from the Pajaro Valley Exhibit, which is set to debut in April 2024 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Organizers also hope to curate a traveling version of the exhibit. 

To view the Watsonville is in the Heart Collection, click here.

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Ana Torrea

Weekend Anchor/Reporter for KION News Channel 5/46


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