THE SIPIN-BONGOLAN FAMILY
The journey begins: Having departed their home in Santiago, Ilocos Sur, the three eldest brothers of the Sipin family made their way to the United States in the mid-1930s. Trying to escape the poverty and the effects of World War II, Frank, the eldest brother, encouraged his younger brothers Joe and
Johnny to immigrate to California. Each came with tremendous hope and grit, not fully aware that the economic hardships they were hoping to escape in their Northern Luzon homeland mirrored the poverty all young men and women faced in the United States during the Great Depression. The brothers arrived separately in Watsonville, beginning in the 1930s through the 1940s. They primarily worked for West Coast Farms (offices still on Beach Rd.) as foremen, irrigators, and labor camp managers. When the apple, lettuce, and strawberry crops were "off-season", these industrious young men worked locally in flower nurseries and, for a time, became "Alaskeros" traveling to Alaska to work in the salmon-canning industry.
Extending the Watsonville family village: Frank clearly missed his extended family over the years, though he returned for short visits to his beloved home in Northern Luzon. In the late 1940s, Frank Sipin brought his wife Conching, son Henry, and Frank's father, Meliton, to join him in Watsonville. Brothers Joe and John also followed him here. John Sipin married his wife Ethel (herself a migrant from Arkansas during the Dustbowl), and they had two children, John Sipin Jr. and Patty Sipin.
Santiago-born Felix Bongolan had migrated to Hawaii as a teenager and, after World War II, worked for Dole Pineapple Company as a foreman and migrant camp manager who helped new Filipino immigrants to acclimate and practice speaking English. On a trip back to his home in Santiago, Felix met Irene Sipin (the brothers' younger sister.) He pursued her by exchanging letters and pictures. In April 1951, Felix and Irene were married in Santiago and returned to Honolulu. During this same period, Frank Sipin's value to West Coast Farms increased such that they made him a partner in the company and proprietor of their migrant labor camp. Frank insisted that Felix and Irene move to Watsonville to live at and manage the day-to-day operations of the labor camp on Lee Rd. In the mid-1950s, after Watsonville's "Great Flood," various members of the Sipin family moved into Watsonville's residential neighborhoods. Irene and Felix bought a townhome and raised their two daughters, Lorraine and Felirene Bongolan. Fe currently works as a contracts manager for San Francisco Unified School District, and Lorraine, a retired teacher for Pajaro Valley Unified, continues to teach for CSU Monterey Bay.