THE TUMBAGA FAMILY
Benny Tumbaga was born in 1910 in the Philippine province of San Fernando La Union, the youngest of four children. At age seventeen, he took a job on a merchant ship to the United States. He landed in Portland, Oregon and took jobs as a waiter or kitchen helper in the upscale hotels of Portland and Seattle, Washington. Once a year, he would travel to Alaska to work in the fishing industry.
Three years later, he was joined in the United States by his older brother Adriano (Andy). They were both naturally gifted musicians. Andy played the guitar and drums, and Benny played the piano and trumpet. They supplemented their income by playing in bands in hotels and dance halls, and lived what they called, “the high tone life”. After two cousins from the Philippines joined them, they decided to travel the country and look for more work. They experienced highly racist attitudes and as a result, it was hard for them to find good work. However, they were hardworking and were always able to earn a living enough to support themselves and their families in the Philippines. They traveled to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Chicago working in hotels and playing music for extra money. They also worked in field agriculture by “following the crops,” as they liked to call it.
In 1938, Benny met Elva Valdez, a young Mexican woman from Phoenix, Arizona. She and her young daughter, also named Elva moved to San Francisco, California with him. Shortly after they moved to Oakland, California, where Benny became the head waiter at the Claremont Hotel, and Elva studied to become a nurse. In 1942, after their first son Benny Jr. was born, they decided to move to Watsonville, California to raise their family. Benny Sr became a farmer growing strawberries and roses and continued to supplement his income by playing music.
After moving to Watsonville, they had three more children, Francisco, Charles, and Lydia. Francisco died in infancy, as did many other infants during WW2. Elva’s two sisters followed her to California and both married Filipino men. Today, we are a family with Filipino and Mexican roots. Andy never married but was a dear and devoted uncle to the entire family. Both Benny and Andy were avid fishermen and fostered a love of the ocean to those who came after them. They were both excellent cooks, and Benny Sr. passed that talent to his sons and grandsons.