THE REYES FAMILY
Jose Sebayan Reyes was born in 1903 in Luna, La Union, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. He came to the United States in 1929 and worked in the agricultural industry throughout California, including Stockton, the Salinas Valley, and Watsonville. He cultivated crops such as lettuce, string beans,
and various fruits as the state’s farming industry was burgeoning. He worked hard to send money back to the Philippines to help support his parents and raise his siblings. He was the chief financier of his brother Florendo’s law school tuition. Later, Florendo became a successful attorney in the Philippines.
Jose’s son, Ted Reyes, said his father tried to volunteer and sign up for the military, but was declared flat-footed and denied. After the war, Jose returned to his homeland when Filipinos were no longer declared American nationals and had the opportunity to naturalize as citizens. He was able to return to his home, where he was introduced to Tecla Asuncion Reyes, also from Luna, La Union Ilocos Norte Philippines. Tecla was born in 1924.
Jose and Tecla were married in 1952. Shortly after exchanging vows, from 1953-1963, they had five children. The children are: Joe, Ted, Remondo, Roland, and Elizabeth. Joe and Ted were born in Salinas and lived off Blanco Road at the Porter Ranch labor camp. In 1956, the growing family moved to the San Andreas Road labor camp in Watsonville where the other children were born.
Building on his experiences as a prolific agricultural worker, Jose became a skilled strawberry sharecropper in the fertile Pajaro Valley on the doorstep of Sunset Beach. He supervised Filipino and Mexican work crews to supply the Driscoll- Reiter branch for many years. However, the hardest working crew was his own family members. Ted Reyes recalled that his mom worked side-by-side with his dad. He and his siblings also worked after school and on the weekends to help the family unit. The Fallorina and Cortez families also worked at the San Andreas labor camp. Ted said his mother would also work in the canneries during winter months to help make ends meet. “I remember the labor camp house had two bedrooms: one with two bunk beds in it for the boys and the other one was for my parents and my sister,” said Ted, “I think my dad planned to have a big family to help keep the money rolling in.”
The family bought a house in 1968 on Hillcrest Road. Amongst their new neighbors were the Ancheta and Baniaga families. Jose retired in 1970 and Tecla took over as the foreman of the work crews. The children also served as a dedicated work crew even into their young adult lives. “My parents wanted us to go to college,” said Ted. “They would say that if you don’t want to work in the fields, you need to go out and get an education. I remember coming home from San Jose State on the weekends and helping my parents pick strawberries.” Ted, who is now a financial business consultant, remarked that it’s hard for his children to believe that he grew up in a labor camp with his siblings, but that was the life he lived.
Elizabeth passed away in 1999, but the Reyes brothers still live in the region. According to Roland Reyes, he and his siblings strived for higher education despite their humble beginnings. In addition, the eldest Reyes brother, Joe, served in the Air Force and Remondo joined the Navy.