Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Watsonville Riots: White Man Rage Over the Little Brown Brothers

The Watsonville Riot of 1930 was one of the worst racial clashes in California’s history. What caused the Watsonville riots? It was the culmination of many emotions and social issues: jealousy, racism, and sex being the main topics of discussion. To think that the Watsonville Riot was the very first incident of racial clashing between Filipinos and the white Americans, one would be mistaken.

California agriculture is heavily reliant on cheap, imported labor. Many Filipinos in California were lettuce pickers and few of these laborers were women. Since most of the field workers were men, the “little brown brothers” admired the white women that they encountered, and the feeling was mutual. Upon observing this, the white men grew jealous, angry, and threatened. Suddenly, their position in the social hierarchy is challenged. How could their women be attracted to people of a different color and lower social standing?

Anti-Filipino attitudes continued to grow in strength. 500 white American youths started to protest outside a dance hall in Palm Beach. This dance hall was opened to accommodate the Filipino population in the Monterey Bay area. Other incidences leading up to Watsonville Riot include vigilantes patrolling and shooting rubber bands at Filipinos who were escorting white women to a street dance, California senators and representatives’ agreement on an exclusion of Filipino farm labor, stoning of Filipinos working in the fields, brutal fights over women, hit and run driving incidents, and sexual assault.

The Watsonville riot lasted for five days, January 18th to the 25th. Many Filipinos were dragged out of their homes and brutally beaten, some were thrown off the Pajaro River Bridge. Hunting parties were organized; stabbings, shootings, and attacks on ranches and farms were made. Hundreds of Filipinos were victims of these horrendous attacks. The most famous example of “white man rage” is Fermin Tobera, who was shot in the heart when he was hiding in a closet with 11 others to escape the rounds of bullets that were aimed towards a bunkhouse in Murphy Ranch.

These events made it evident of the turmoil between the United States and the Philippines. Farm owners no longer desired to have imported Asian labor and replaced them with immigrants from Mexico. This caused Filipino immigration to decline significantly. In addition, the Tydings-McDuffie Act reduced Filipino immigration to 50 a year; this was in part to reduce the Filipino population in America.

The violence towards Filipinos spread to other parts of California like San Jose and San Francisco. Filipino hangouts were blown up and threats of violence were made towards Filipino workers and their employers. Many Filipinos fled the country; those that stayed faced the challenges of being a minority in America. News of the riots made way to the Philippines and there were protests in solidarity for their people in America, the body of Fermin Tobera was sent to Manila, where they consider him a martyr, is seen as a symbol of the Filipinos fight for independence and equality.

There weren’t only negative outcomes that resulted from the riots. Seven months after the Watsonville Riots, Filipino lettuce pickers carried out a successful strike in Salinas for better treatment. In addition, although their relationships were frowned upon, white women and Filipino men continued their relationships and some relationships resulted in marriage.

Written by: LD


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