THE BERSAMIN FAMILY
Max Valera Brazil Bersamin was born on December 14, 1911 in Bangued, Abra, Philippines. The son of Calixto and Hipolita Brazil Bersamin and the grandson of Gregorio and Maria Valera Brazil, Max was one of five children— Paulino “Paul,” Alejandro “Alex,” Rosario, and Jovita.
In 1931, at the tender age of 19, Max journeyed to the United States. He chose to come to the US to help his parents feed and care for his sisters. He was also inspired his two older brothers, Uncle Paul and Uncle Alex, who were worked on a sugar plantation in Wahiawa on the Island of O‘ahu. Max set sail on the S.S. President Cleveland, arriving in San Francisco where he was met by his brothers. In the early years, Max labored as a migrant farm worker throughout California and Arizona. He and his brothers lived in labor camps and run-down boarding rooms. They experienced racist treatment from white Americans and other groups. Nonetheless, they kept to their promise and supported their family back in the Philippines. During World War II, Uncle Paul and Uncle Alex entered the service. As World War II intensified, Max attempted to join the Army and the Navy, but the doctors discovered a heart murmur which prevented him from serving. As a result, Max never left the fields.
While working in the Imperial Valley in 1946, a Filipino friend’s Mexican wife introduced Max to a beautiful woman named Victoria Quiroz Quintero who lived in Mexicali. Their affection for each other grew into a great love story. They eventually found a common language in a “Spanglish” and formed a large extended family. Victoria introduced her sister, Alejandrina “Tia Jandina” to Max’s friend Fortunato Bayuga “Uncle Nato.” Tia Jandina introduced another sister, Tia Maria, to Clemente Florendo. Max and Victoria attempted to get married in California, but they were thwarted by anti-miscegenation laws. By God’s grace, they were finally married by a Justice of the Peace in Lordsburg, New Mexico on April 27, 1947.
After settling in Watsonville in 1947, Max and Victoria’s family grew. They had five children: Linda Alcala, Alba Reyes, Evangelina Harried, Juanita “Nita” Roberts and Dr. Manuel Bersamin. For several years, Max and Victoria also raised their first grandchild, Victoria “Vicky” Nakaahiki. The family always had the taste of the Philippines in Max and Victoria’s home. Max loved cooking special dishes from adobo to dinuguan (which he lovingly called “Choco-let meat”) to sinigang to pancit and even suman, called “sweet rice” by the children. Max and his family enjoyed attending community events and socializing with other manongs. This included barbecues at the Filipino Community of Watsonville, card games at the Philippine Gardens, chicken fights or just meeting at Watsonville Park over coffee and donuts. Max was a member of the Filipino Community of Watsonville, the Fil-Visayan Association of America, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and the United Farm Workers of America.
Max had a long, laborious life tending crops in the sweltering heat of the day and the foggy dew of the morning. He retired from Sakata Ranches at the age of 72 in 1983. Victoria retired from J.J. Crosetti Frozen Foods in 1986 at the age of 69. Sadly, Max never had an opportunity to see his family in the Philippines again, but he found comfort in the family he formed in the US. With his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Max found the love and happiness he had left behind in the Philippines. Through his example, his family learned to value education, strong work ethic, and respect others no matter the circumstance. He left his family with special memories that they hold dear in their hearts along with a deep gratitude and immense love for the sacrifices that he made when he migrated from the Philippines to America.