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My Dad, Maximo Lactoen Espiritu and his brother, Dionicio Lactoen Espiritu, both immigrated to the USA from the Camiling, Tarlac, Philippines via a Chinese vessel to San Francisco in the early 1930s. The brothers and their cousin manong traveled and worked in the farm fields of Watsonville, Pajaro,

Salinas, Delano, Santa Maria, Yuma, and other parts of the West. However, Manong Eligio Espiritu, enlisted in the US Army and served in WWII (Berlin occupation), theKorean War, and stateside as a drill instructor. Maximo and Dionicio grew tired of the migrant farmworker lifestyle and both married and settled down in Watsonville. They harvested lettuce and helped grow the crops in the Pajaro and Salinas valleys. In the Winters they pruned apple trees. Max married a “white” Mexican woman named Isidra; Dionicio married a white woman named JoAnn. Both couples married in New Mexico since it was illegal for interracial couples to marry in many states.

Dionicio was the first of the two brothers to buy a house. His had a small farm in Pajaro where he raised cattle, chickens, pigs, and sheep for slaughter. He also raised vegetables after his career as an irrigation specialist was ended by allergies to chemicals in the water. Max bought a house in Watsonville with mom helping by working in the cannery. The first child was born in 1952, then came the rest of us.

Our Dad and Mom instilled the values of hard work and education. We all worked in the fields to earn money for future college. I personally worked in lettuce and strawberry crops and once had a mortifying and frightening experience being raided by immigration and asked about my papers. I learned about the old times from the elder manongs in the crew working the field. My brothers all played high school football and gained ‘All League’ Monterey Bay League status for Watsonville High School. Four of us graduated from college, two from Ivy League schools (Harvard and Princeton). My Manong Uncle Dionicio helped raise two of us when my Dad and Mom hit hard times.

We did learn some traditional Filipino practices while butchering pigs, sheep and cattle. Making dinuguan and rice was a family favorite. My Manong Dad and Uncle also participated raising/training chickens for fighting. My family memories are going to discrete fights and enjoying the fair-like foods of sweet rice, pancit noodles and lumpia. I am fortunate to have experienced the Filipino culture while growing up.

Maximo Espiritu c. 1950

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