By Geraldine Ridgway
Watsonville has long been a racially diverse community. It is insulting for anyone to call any Watsonville resident a racist.
Watsonville has an amazing history. We once had a huge whaling industry, sardine factories stretched from Watsonville to Monterey, employing all races and colors.
Before World War II, industrious Japanese farmers grew vegetables, fruits and flowers. Franklin D. Roosevelt sent them to internment camps for several years. Many lost their farms and property while they were interned in isolated areas in government barracks that lacked heat and privacy. Were they bitter? Did they riot? No. They returned to rebuild their farms, employing all races in the area.
During the war, even though Italian immigrants also saw government control, as fishermen and farmers, they became productive members of the community.
The Croatians fleeing communism discovered Watsonville, and their apple orchards soon supplied canneries, Martinelli’s cider, Smuckers and others. The descendants of Irish migrants who had fled a famine-ravaged country in the early 19th Century also joined the farming and business community.
The long presence of the Portuguese also contributed to the building of Watsonville.
Watsonville exported roses and flowers until low South American prices crowded out our growers. Apple farmers were driven from the market by cheap Washington apples. Despite the many changes, they all remained in Watsonville.
Hispanics came initially as field workers, then as farmers, and eventually spread into the entire social and business fabric of the community.
Watsonville remains primarily an ethnically diverse farming community, with hard-working, family-oriented, faithful people. It is insulting to call any of them a white nationalist.
I am of Irish, English and German descent. My children worked on strawberry farms while attending school. Many local children worked in the fields at harvest time to help pay for their education.
Watsonville suffered heavily from the earthquake. Our biggest department store, a center of local activity, was demolished. Homes and businesses were destroyed. The canning industry, which had been weakened by unrealistic demands put on it from the farmworkers, folded. Many people left the area to find employment elsewhere.
The late ‘80s saw a large influx of Hispanics to local fields and service industries. They have benefited from our educational system, and many now own their own businesses. Others have become influential in local politics. They did not build Watsonville, but they have clearly contributed to its growth.
A small minority have tried to downplay the importance of other nationalities, and claim that this is exclusively a Mexican community.
Hispanics are now the largest group, but that does not mean we should forget other people who contributed to Watsonville, who started the apple orchards, strawberry fields, berry patches and the flower industry. When I arrived in the ‘70s in Watsonville, everyone worshiped together in various denominations. Over time, bilingual Hispanic church services began to separate the community. Then markets became bilingual. No one has to be bilingual to obtain employment.
Throughout history, all other immigrants learned English, which was required to become a U.S. Citizen. No one was forced to learn their languages. We recognize how much Hispanics have contributed to our community. We understand the hardships they suffered as migrant workers. We are glad they have found a place to settle permanently, and we are all grateful to them for their contributions. But we have no sympathy for that small minority within their group who now want to push the rest of us out.
Watsonville has a long history. Our civic statues portray the community’s history, not that of a single group. It is disconcerting to hear demands at our City Council meetings for the removal of statues that preserve the roots of Watsonville. The statue in the town square is a memorial to a man who contributed greatly to Watsonville. The statue is part of our history. It should not be removed.
Geraldine Ridgway is a Watsonville resident. Her views are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.
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