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November 28, 2020

The story behind the Washington bust

To some, George Washington represents patriarchy and oppression. To Lloyd Alaga, the person who commissioned the bust of George Washington for Watsonville’s Plaza, Washington represented the opportunity in America for immigrants who have come, and continue to come, to this country.

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Lloyd Alaga’s uncle was Mateo Lettunich, one of the builders of the Lettunich Building on the corner of Main and Beach Streets. Mateo emigrated from the agricultural region of Konavle in Croatia, one of Watsonville’s Sister Cities. Mateo arrived in Watsonville in 1892, and along with his cousin, and a handful of other early Croatian leaders, built the Pajaro Valley’s apple industry—Watsonville’s economic engine for more than one hundred years. 

Mateo loved his country of origin, but was also proud of being an American. He chose to become a naturalized U.S. Citizen and was grateful to this country for providing him with the opportunity to work hard, purchase land and build an apple business—something that never would have been possible in his home country. Throughout his life, Mateo had a portrait of George Washington hanging in the parlor of his home at 110 Maple, and he would tell his nephew Lloyd how important both George Washington and this country had been for their family.

Lloyd grew up next door to his uncle on Maple Avenue, and they were quite close. Lloyd would go on to college at Santa Clara University where he studied Literature and Philosophy in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. He also had a lifelong interest in the history of Watsonville and the Pajaro Valley.

Lloyd knew that the Plaza had always been a gathering place for the many ethnic groups who immigrated to Watsonville, and that it belonged to the memory of those immigrants. When Lloyd Alaga died in 1997 at the age of 78, he left funds to the City of Watsonville to commission a bust of George Washington to be placed in the Plaza. He did this out of respect for his uncle Mateo, and to express his family’s gratefulness to this country for the opportunity it had provided to his family, his fellow countrymen, and all of the immigrants who have come to the Pajaro Valley.

Donna F. Mekis, Watsonville


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