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Actor’s son longs for movie about bloody Watsonville riots vs Pinoys

17 May 2019 No CommentEmail This Post Email This Post
Book author Gabe Pagtama shows a copy of his book and he poses with Filipino American Press of Club of California (FAPCCA) president Benny Uy.

Actor’s son longs for movie about bloody Watsonville riots vs Pinoys
By Abner Galino

The stories about the infamous Watsonville riots have so
deeply touched a Filipino American actor’s son that the latter tried to build a
screenplay around the true-to-life accounts that he has gathered. But because
making a film would entail a lot of expenses, he has settled (at least for now)
into publishing a book about the bloody incident.

          But Abraham
Gabriel “Gabe” Pagtama, son of Hollywood Fil-Am actor Abe, said the “dream”
remains alive.

          Gabe even said
that he preferred Filipino American superstar Bruno Mars to play the lead role
in the prospective movie.

          “And maybe he
could produce the filming too, since he has a lot of money,” Gabe jested.

          Gabe intimated
that it took him a couple of years to finish the book. He said that his
grandfather, who was an agricultural worker from Hawaii, was the one who
inspired him to write about the Watsonville riots.

grandfather told me a lot of stories about it and I wondered why there was
little that has been written about those Filipinos who were victims of that

The tragicperiod of racial violence took place in Watsonville,
California from January 19 to January 23, 1930.

It was provoked by altercations
between Filipino American farm workers and local residents.

The Filipinos then were US nationals as the
Philippines was a Commonwealth at that time.

The resilience of Filipino laborers in
harsh working conditions made them favorite recruits among farm operators.

Unfortunately, white
men begun to be jealous of Filipinos and accused them of taking away their jobs
and women.

Wikipedia narrates that the
Watsonville riots started on December 2, 1929 “after police raided a
boardinghouse and found two white girls, aged 16 and 11, sleeping in the same
room with Perfecto Bandalan, a 25-year-old lettuce grower. The Watsonville
community was outraged and remained so even after learning that Bandalan and
16-year-old Esther Schmick were engaged, and that they were caring for Esther’s
sister Bertha at her mother’s request.

“Near midnight on January 18,
1930, 500 white men and youths gathered outside a Filipino dance club in the
Palm Beach section of Watsonville. The club was owned by a Filipino man and
offered dances with the nine white women who lived there. The mob came with
clubs and weapons intending to take the women out and burn the place down. The
owners threatened to shoot if the rioters persisted, and when the mob refused
to leave, the owners opened fire. Police broke up the fight with gas bombs. Two
days later, on January 20, a group of Filipino men met with a group of white
men near the Pajaro River bridge to settle the score. A group of hispanic men
then arrived and took sides with the whites. The riot began and continued for
five days.”

“Hunting parties were
organized; the white mob was run like a “military” operation with
leaders giving orders to attack or withdraw. They dragged Filipinos from their
homes and beat them. They threw Filipinos off the Pajaro River bridge. They ranged
up the San Juan road to attack Filipinos at the Storm and Detlefsen ranches; at
Riberal’s labor camp, twenty-two Filipinos were dragged out and beaten almost
to death. A Chinese apple-dryer that employed Filipinos was demolished; shots
were fired into a Filipino home on Ford Street; and 22-year-old Fermin Tobera
died after being shot in the heart when he was hiding in a closet with 11
others, trying to avoid the rounds of bullets fired at a bunkhouse in Murphy
Ranch in San Juan Road on the 23rd.

“The police in Watsonville, led by
Sheriff Nick Sinnott, gathered as many Filipinos as they could rescue and
guarded them in the City Council’s chamber while Monterey County Sheriff Carl
Abbott secured the Pajaro side of the river against further riot.”

The violence spread to Stockton, San Francisco, San Jose and other

Filipino American actor Gabe Pagtama.

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