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Manong Gervasio “Joe” Cabanban sailed into San Francisco from San Juan,  La Union Philippines on Aug. 7, 1928. He was accompanied by his three cousins to seek a better life. They were recruited for their reliability, resilience, and willingness to work for a low wage during The Great Depression Era at

the time when the western states were developing. He traveled with Mateo Fontanilla, Fernando Ubungan, and George Ubungan who all stayed and settled in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Mr. Cabanban ventured down the coast to the Pajaro Valley. He performed many duties and tasks as a farm laborer and followed seasonal crops up and down the state. When WWII broke out, he volunteered straight from the fields to join the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, a segregated unit of the U. S. Amy. He trained with other Filipinos at Fort Ord and other locations in California before seeing war time action in the Pacific Theater.

For his valor, he received the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. Despite being a war hero, he returned to Watsonville after and resumed work as an irrigator in both the Pajaro and Salians Valleys.  He would also travel up to Alaska in the winter months to find work in the canneries. He would bring back loads of canned salmon to share upon his return to Watsonville with his friends and cousins.

During the strawberry season, workers from surrounding states would come to Watsonville to harvest the sweet pungent fruit at Reiter Berry Farms. One such worker was Julia M. Diaz from Big Spring Texas. Julia’s relative Paula married a Filipino man named Anastacio Asuncion. Mr. Asuncion was a good friend of Gervasio. The Asuncion’s introduced him to Julia and the couple married in 1960.

The Cabanban’s had three children: Diana, Joe, and Judy, who all went to local schools, and all graduated from Watsonville High. Outside of raising her family and being a strong housewife, Julia maintained employment in the strawberry fields for many decades. She was a proud Texan and known for her homemade tortillas and delicious tamales. Gervasio worked in agriculture for over 60 years. His last employer was Pete Vukovich Farms.

Judy said that her father never lost touch of his self-sufficient roots from the Philippines. He was always planting a garden, fishing and then selling his catch at the Philippine Gardens or killing pigs, goats, and chickens to help feed the family, she recalled.

“Growing up, I never saw my parents stress out or struggle with anything - they were always doing something and keeping busy,” she said. “They had a very strong work ethic. We never really had a lot, but we had what we needed.”

“The only time that I saw them sitting down was when they were gambling,” she said with a laugh.

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