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12/2/2022 No. 3
Vigilantes! cont'd. ACLU News, El Malcriado, Filipino Student Mag., Jason Sarmiento, DOAJ, Kobayashi Kiyochika, Angel Boligan, Ethnic newspapers & Covid, Maria Ressa, Rappler Guide to Mastodon.
VOICES FROM THE PAST: VIGILANTES!
Note: if this issue is truncated in your email, click on the title to read it in on Substack.
Continuing from issue #2, in this issue I’ve included excerpts from testimonials about the attack on the Green Gold Valley labor camp run by Filipino labor contractor Rufo Canete. Canete was also a partner in the Philippines Mail newspaper, and president (and one of the founders) of the local Filipino Labor Union (F.L.U.) located in Salinas Chinatown.
The backdrop for this event was the Salinas Lettuce strikes of 1933-1934 (and later in 1936), when Filipino members of the FLU formed a coalition with mostly white workers from the Salinas Vegetable Packers Association (VPA) to strike. In September of 1934, the VPA members went back to work, while the Filipino workers voted to continue the strike on their own—apparently drawing the wrath of growers and shippers, contractors of the Filipino Labor Supply association, and Salinas and Monterey County residents who considered the FLU to be “Reds.” After the attack, some 500 Filipino workers were marched out of town at gunpoint. Nevertheless, the Filipinos eventually managed to increase their wages from ten to forty cents/hr.
See Roots & Routes for a summary of the strike. For more in-depth discussion of the strikes (1933, ‘34, ‘36) see Carol Lynn McKibben’s book, Salinas: A History of Race and resilience in an Agricultural City.
It wasn’t until I read Lori A. Flores’s Grounds for Dreaming, that I saw mention of a Filipino woman who had died as a result of the attack.During my own research on the Philippines Mail newspaper back in the late 1990s, scrolling through countless microfilm pages, I somehow missed the subheading noting that Margarita Vitacion was “burned and killed” at the camp. Still, the subheading is puzzling. How was she able to report her first-hand experience after the attack? Was she interviewed in the hospital? Did someone speak for her as she lay dying, or even after her death?
Four testimonials reported in the Philippines Mail newspaper, Sept. 21, 1934:
Mrs. Vilma Canete:
All day, September 21, was just like a visiting day at the camp. It was an unusual day since the strike. Most of the people that came did not talk to the boys. They merely looked around the camp.
The first that attracted my attention was a couple with two men. They came between 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning. The two men stopped in front of the second to last bunkhouse. They got off and asked someone if they could see the kitchen. They asked how many men were eating there. After that they looked at the storeroom and went hurriedly away.
About half an hour after another car with five men came. They drove very slowly. They went as far as the rabbit yard, looked around and backed out.
Almost half an hour after another car, a coupe with two men, came. They went as far as the rabbits’ yard. They left after looking around.
In the evening, at about 8:30 one of the boys came to the house and told us two cars were at the gate of the road leading to the camp. They were leaving when we went out to see them.
A few minutes before 9 o’clock that evening a boy came to the house and reported to me about the men gathering in the westerly direction of the camp. Three or four minutes later we heard sounds of gun shots. They sounded like fire crackers. Some bullets hit our home and shattered window glasses.
My husband immediately lifted the telephone receiver to call the sheriff’s office. He was unable to communicate, as the line was cut.
Firemen came when the last bunkhouse was almost burned down.
B. C. Taclay:
About 7 o’clock Friday evening all business places and recreation halls in the Salinas Oriental district (Chinatown) were ordered closed by the Chief of Police. The closing of the business places, including Chinese gambling joints, drove hundreds of Filipinos near the Filipino Labor Union headquarters at 100 Lake Street.
About 8:30 that evening the men inside the hall prepared themselves to retire. In fact some of them had already retired. Others outside were waiting for Mr. Canete’s truck that would take them to the camp . . .
Just as soon as Mr. Canete’s truck driver arrived, a police force, about 15 in number, came into the hall. The force was led by Chief of Police Griffin and Constable Moreau.
Four of the officers went right in and one of them ordered the boys to put on their clothes because, he said, they were going to take them to jail. The boys obeyed. While they were dressing up, an iron pipe dropped from the bench behind one [L.] Satore. Satore picked it up and put it on the bench. The officer saw him, and all of a sudden six officers jumped on Satore, pushing him outside. Satore was telling the boy to offer no resistance. He was talking in Filipino dialect.
At that time I wanted to get into the office to caution the boys, but I was held by Deputy Sheriff McKinnon at the door.
Two officers guarded the main door of the hall to see that no one walked away.
About 50 of us were arrested on that night including myself.
Mrs. Margarita Vitacion:
(Reported killed and burned in the camp)
The whole night was a horrible nightmare to me. I felt life was ebbing away every passing minute, especially when bullets continuously whizzed by my ears, shoulders and back. The first bullet that went through our room grazed my scalp slightly and burned part of my hair on the left side. Hardly had I recovered from the shock, when another one, with weird shrilling sound, swiftly passed through my hair again. I was almost unconscious. My husband pulled me out of the room. He was running—Dragging me along. I was taken to the volleyball court where everyone had gathered.
We left all our personal belongings amounting to a little over a thousand dollars. Our small cash savings were also gutted by fire.
Our room was located at the second to the last bunkhouse. It was the center of fusillade by men who were stationed in the ditch on the northwesterly direction of the camp.
While sitting in our car at the volleyball ground I was half-dazed by the shock and nervousness. I was thinking of the fate that might have befallen upon our only son, Ubing. We have not seen him since the camp was set on fire.
We stayed at the volleyball court all night. At 3 o’clock in the morning we were again attacked by a band from behind the garage. The men were shooting very low. My husband and I jumped off our car and ran to the ditch. There we stayed the rest of the morning hours.
The attacking band ceased firing after about 30 or 40 minutes.
My husband and I left the Philippines a few years ago to join our only son who was reported to be in Honolulu. Upon arrival in that city we were informed he had left for the United States. We followed him to the mainland and finally found him in Salinas.
I was very, very happy when I met him. I loved him so much that I had decided to spend the rest of my life looking for him. He was also very happy to see me.
I was a schoolteacher in the Islands when my son, still very young, left our hometown. I resigned my position, sold nearly everything we had, and left the Islands to find him.
Ubing is very obedient, respectful and polite to everyone. He is very fond of me as well as I of him. He is an ideal boy.
The next day I received news that he was arrested in Salinas and lodged in jail.
I was living at the last bunkhouse of Mr. Canete’s labor camp, which was the focal point of attack and the first house that was set on fire on the night of Sept. 21st.
At 8 o’clock that evening, after engaging in a conversation with some boys at the kitchen, I went to my room and got ready to go to bed. I had about 40 minutes chat with my room-mates before preparing to retire. We were relating stories that happened in the Philippines. We were all having a jolly time and never thought that anything was going to happen at the camp that night.
At about 9 o’clock I was taking off my shoes when I heard people talking at a distance. Their conversation was audible, but not comprehensible.
A few minutes after, I heard a volley of shots. Some bullets went through our window, broke the glasses [sic] and hit the walls of our room. I managed to get out—rolled myself out of the door as bullets were hissing by. If I walked out standing I knew I had no chance to escape being hit, as bullets were coming thick and fast.
The attackers were scattered at the rabbits’ yard. From the door I crawled towards the chicken coop. While crawling a bullet hit my cap and carried it away. I then laid flat on the ground and rolled towards the chicken coop, near the pig pen. There I remained motionless for some minutes.
While at the coop—only a few yards from where the attackers were—I was struck with fear when I saw a good number of men. I believed [there] were over 50. They were making a lot of noise. They were all white men. I could see them very clearly but I could not recognize any of them.
While others were shooting, some were throwing bottles of coal oil or gasoline at our bunkhouse. This was followed by lighted bottles which were stuffed, I believed, with rags to light the gas-bathed bunkhouse.
A few moments later, I saw our bunkhouse on fire. As it started to burn the invaders aimed their guns and rifles at the fire to prevent anyone from putting it out.
At this time, I looked around and ran to a place of safety. I then joined later with my panic-stricken fellow countrymen.
I left the chicken coop as I was afraid they would see and shoot me. Oh! That was the most terrible night in my life. I have never had such a horrible experience in the Philippines . . .
Two follow-up reports on the attack (transcribed below) showed up in the ACLU News in 1936 and 1939. You can look them up in the California Historical Society’s Digital Library:
American Civil-Liberties Union News, Vol. I, no. 4, Aug. 1936.
“Picket Wins $1000 Damages in Vigilante Ridden Monterey County”
Robert Caldwell, strike picket, was awarded $1,000 damages and costs by a recent Superior Court judgment entered against Walter J. Schween Sr. and others in Monterey County. Caldwell was shot in the foot by Howard L. Dobble, ex-convict guard, as he turned to leave the Schween ranch where he and three striking Filipinos, all unarmed, had attempted to induce Filipino workers to quit harvesting sugar beets. Caldwell was represented by Paul F. Griffin, San Francisco attorney. The incident occurred in the course of the strike called by the Fruit and Vegetable Workers Union and the Filipino Labor Union of Salinas in the fall of 1934. More than five hundred striking Filipinos were driven from Monterey County by vigilantes who on September 21, 1934, burned the Rufo C. Canete labor camp. Canete was awarded a compromise judgment of $9,000 against Monterey County last October. Aroused by the expense to the County, A. B. Jacobsen, Chairman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, demanded a grand jury investigation to uncover the identity of the mob, but as in all other cases of vigilante terrorism in California, nothing was ever done about it.
American Civil-Liberties Union News, May, 1939 Vol. IV, No. 5
“Another Echo of the 1934 Vigilantism in Salinas”
On September 21, 1934, during the course of a lettuce workers’ strike, armed vigilantes destroyed a Filipino labor camp near Salinas. Surrounding the buildings at night, they fired their guns for about 10 minutes and then finally threw improvised torches—glass bottles stuffed with flaming combustibles, that spread the fire as they struck—on the roofs of four bunk houses and the camp kitchen. The buildings were burned to the ground and the boys who lived there lost most of their personal property.
Subsequently, Rufo C. Canete, owner of the camp and acting-President of the Filipino Labor Union, Inc., brought suit against the County of Monterey for failing to protect his property against mob vandalism. He recovered a judgment of almost ten thousand dollars. Then, rather than bring 583 separate suits, the Filipino boys who lost their personal possessions, assigned their claims totaling $7,765 to one [Luis] Agudowho brought an action for damages in that amount against the County.
Last month the State Supreme Court held that such claims are assignable, and the case will finally go to trial. Because of the judgment in the Canete case, another judgment against Monterey County seems inevitable.
Unfortunately, the cost of this vigilante terrorism is met by the taxpayers, not the vigilantes involved. But if the taxpayers wanted to escape this unnecessary burden | they would demand that the responsibility, for the acts be placed where it belongs.
Published monthly at 216 Pine St. San Francisco, Calif., by the Northern California Branch of: The American Civil Liberties: Union.
Print Culture History
El Malcriado, Voice of the Farmworker (Sept. 1, 1970), gives us a “snapshot” of the 1970s Farmworker movement in Delano during its formative years. El Malcriado was a bilingual periodical published every two weeks. Note photograph on p. 8 showing Filipino labor leader Larry Itliong standing near Cesar Chavez.
Thanks to Dr. Catherine Ceniza Choy for pointing out that the Filipino Student Magazine (c. 1912) is now available online via Hathitrust. The Filipino student was first published in Berkeley, CA and later out of Chicago. See Dr. Choy’s new book Asian American Histories of the United States.
Crash course on using the “scan-and-return” model for creating community and family digital archives, by Jason Sarmiento of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Sarmiento manages the Welga Digital Archive.
DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) provides you with access to older periodicals.
Because Filipino newspapers have had a tradition of satirical cartooning (and the Philippines has some amazing comic book artists), I always keep my eye out for 20th c. (or earlier) satirical cartooning in ethnic, Asian, and AAPI media. Check out Kobayashi Kiyochika’s cartoons of the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5)
Ethnic Print & Digital Media Today
Angel Boligan, Cuban satirical cartoonist working in Mexico for El Universal.
As reported by NBC news, ethnic newspapers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Sandy Close, founder of Ethnic Media Services, notes:
“If you are in, let’s say anywhere like Little Saigon in Orange County [California] or on the New York subway or in Times Square, if you photograph whoever is reading a newspaper, it’s usually an ethnic paper,” she said. “There is a very real importance of that physical print publication. In a cafe, people will read the newspapers as a social activity, and I think the importance of print runs very deep.”
Rappler’s guide to switching from Twitter to Mastodon (by Victor Barreira, Jr.). Mastodon social network is run and funded by volunteer curators and user donations and made up of communities that communicate with each other (unless they choose not to—the point is, they have choice); it’s in the Fediverse and not run by a centralized corporate entity. There are no ads and no algorithm tracking. I’m on sfba.social (San Francisco Bay area) and Mastodon.art (artists/writers/musicians) as @JeanTangerine.
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Lori A. Flores. Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement (p. 33).
Luis Agudo was a founder and editor of the Philippines Mail newspaper, published out of Salinas Chinatown. He was also a lawyer and labor organizer, and one of the founders of the Filipino Labor Union in Salinas.