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January 17, 2005

Library's Regional History Project completes series on agricultural history of Santa Cruz

By Scott Rappaport

The UCSC Library's Regional History Project has just published seven oral histories to complete a series focusing on the ethnic and agricultural history of Santa Cruz County.

All of the interviews were conducted in 1977 by oral historians Randall Jarrell and Meri Knaster, and were edited by Irene Reti, the current director of the Regional History Project. Reti noted that the entire series consists of 18 oral histories that have been published intermittently since the mid-1980s. A brief synopsis of each newly published volume is listed below:

José Galvan Amaro: Mexican American Laborer, Watsonville, California, 1902-1977
This interview with José Galvan Amaro, a Mexican American fieldworker, was conducted in Spanish at his home in Watsonville. It focuses on Amaro's extensive experience as a laborer in California from the 1920s to the 1970s. It has been published both as a verbatim transcript in Spanish and in English translation.

Frank Barba: Filipino Labor Contractor, Watsonville, California, 1898-1977
Frank Barba's narrative is a significant contribution to the history of agriculture and to the history of Filipino immigration in Santa Cruz County. Born in 1898 in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, on the largest of the Philippine islands, he came to Watsonville in 1927 to take over the management of a Filipino labor camp that had already been established by his aunt. He worked as a labor contractor from 1927, at first independently, and then for the Birbeck Company of Aromas, which grew lettuce, string beans, broccoli, and sugar beets. At the time of this interview in 1977, Barba was 78 years old and semiretired, supervising schoolchildren in the fields for various growers in the area.

Porter Chaffee: Labor Organizer and Activist, 1900-1977
Porter Chaffee's oral history offers valuable primary source documentation on the labor struggles of the 1930s, particularly from the point of view of a Communist labor activist and WPA writer. He wrote for the leftist New Masses magazine and composed an unpublished memoir entitled "The Journal of a Hungry Man," which is on deposit together with his other papers at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Chaffee founded a branch of the Communist Party in Santa Cruz in 1929. He shares his recollections of some of the socialists in Santa Cruz County, many of whom were of German heritage. He recalls organizing a hunger march up Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz that went past the Santa Cruz County Court House, and also describes fascist reprisals against Santa Cruz socialists.

During the 1930s, Chaffee forged friendships with radical luminaries such as the muckraking journalist and editor Lincoln Steffens and the writer Kenneth Rexroth. He also became an organizer for the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union, which organized several successful strikes. Chaffee's oral history is a significant contribution to the historical record on this tumultuous chapter of California labor history.

Apolonia Dangzalan: Filipina Businesswoman, Watsonville, California, 1896-1992
This oral history provides rare primary documentation of the history of Filipino immigration in California from a female perspective. Dangzalan was born in February 1896 on the largest of the Philippine islands. In 1927, she joined her nephew in Watsonville and opened a boarding house for Filipino agricultural workers on Bridge Street, where she became known as "Mama" Dangzalan. She also opened another boarding house on Salinas Road in 1930. Dangzalan served as a labor contractor, hiring men to work in the Gary Company's fields and was one of very few women engaged in labor contracting. She also opened a liquor store, dance club, and pool hall on Main Street in Watsonville in 1936. During World War II, she owned a house of prostitution on Union Street in Watsonville. In 1950, Dangzalan went into business for herself as a farmer, primarily growing strawberries. She died in 1992, at the age of 96.

John Melendy: Santa Cruz County Farm Advisor, 1947-1976
Melendy served as a Santa Cruz County farm advisor with the Agricultural Extension Service for 30 years, including 10 as county director of the Agricultural Extension Service. He discusses changes in agriculture in Santa Cruz County from the 1940s through the 1970s--how rising land prices affected the types of crops grown, the effects of mechanization, farm size, pest control, and controversies over pesticide use that were only beginning to come to light at that time. A substantial portion of the interview is devoted to a detailed discussion of the rise and fall of the poultry industry in the Live Oak area.

In addition to providing a history of agriculture in Santa Cruz County, Melendy's narrative contributes to the institutional history of Agricultural Extension Service itself, particularly the position of farm advisor. While Melendy's oral history is useful for its detailed descriptions of the methods and practices of farming in the mid-20th century on the Central Coast of California, it also documents the tremendous changes that swept Santa Cruz County from 1946 to 1976 as it transitioned from a largely rural to the urban and suburban landscape that it is today.

Mary Ann Berina Radovich: Croatian Apple Farmer, Watsonville, California, 1918-1977
This oral history focuses on Radovich's extensive experience as an apple farmer in Watsonville from the 1930s to the 1970s. It is also a significant contribution to the ethnic history of the Croatian community in the Pajaro Valley of California. Radovich owned Berina Orchards from the 1940s through the time of this interview in 1977. Radovich discusses her family's history and emigration to the United States. She describes the early apple industry in Watsonville, and the changes that took place over the years in terms of labor, mechanization, irrigation, crop varieties, pest control, harvesting, and land use. Her detailed and reflective narration makes this oral history a singular contribution to the agricultural history of central California.

Alvin Richardson: Family Farming, Watsonville, California, 1908-1977
Alvin C. Richardson was born on Beach Road in Watsonville in 1908. His grandfather had arrived in the Pajaro Valley in 1858, where he began the family farm on Beach Road. Richardson grew up in Watsonville and spent his entire life in the Pajaro Valley. At the time of this interview in 1977, he had lived at his farm on Buena Vista Drive since 1934. Except for a brief stint at Permanente in Moss Landing during World War II, Richardson completely devoted himself to farming and primarily raised bush berries. Richardson discusses in detail the varieties of berries grown throughout the years, the labor and capital requirements of farming, and the challenges of marketing and distribution.


Photocopies of all 18 volumes can be ordered from the Regional History Project at (831) 459-2847 or via e-mail to ihreti@ucsc.edu. They are also available for viewing at McHenry Library’s Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz, and at Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, or can be checked out from McHenry Library. In addition, the complete text of the oral histories can be viewed at the Regional History Project web site.


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