Monterey State Historic Park
The Monterey Peninsula
The site of the annual Bing Crosby Pro-Am Golf Tournament, home to the Naval Postgraduate School, the Defense Language Institute, and the old Fort Ord army base, beautiful Monterey Peninsula has a special meaning for me. Monterey is my adopted hometown. It was where I attended my first schooling in the United States, as a senior and a toreador at Monterey Union High School. The old MUHS stood on a hill, nestled among cypress and pine trees overlooking foggy Monterey Bay.
a replica of the '49 Merc complete
It was in Monterey where I crossed the threshold of adolescence and into the American way of life. It was also where I owned my very first car - my first "hot rod" - a customized, souped-up second hand car that Dad bought for me for $600. The "rod" was a 1949 Mercury, or "Merc" for short. It was "chopped, tunneled, and decked" and "lowered' all the way around to about 6 inches off the ground. It had spotlights on either side of the windshield, and it was painted candy-apple red. It also had drag pipes running along the sides connected to the engine manifold, a "glass-pak" muffler that produced the throaty, rumbling sound of a flat V-8 that teenagers adored. White side-walls mounted on reversed chrome rims complete the picture of this vintage Southern California "rod." Under the chromeless hood, Holly carbs (carburetors) sat atop the stock V-8 that boosted the car's horses and lowered its ET (Elapsed Time) for the clandestine quarter-mile drag races on the Monterey-Salinas highway against Fords, Chevys, and occasional Corvettes. The California Highway Patrol almost always arrived too late; the only clues left for them were the acrid smell of burnt rubber.
Cruising on the main Drag
Back in those days (late 50s and early 60s), if you were to stand in front of the State Theatre on Alvarado Street (Monterey's main street) on any given weekend evening, you were likely to be treated to the spectacle of a long parade of hot rods and custom cars of all makes and model years, cruising up and down Monterey's main drag. You will hear the rumble of powerful souped-up engines and squealing tires when the signal lights turn green. Inside each car, the driver and his mandatory date sit shoulder to shoulder while listening to songs on the radio like Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry," Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," or the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." To be "in", as in "cool cat", guys had to have a flat top haircut, and they had to wear blue jeans, white T-shirt, and a black or navy-blue nylon jacket a la James Dean. The girls wore tight sweaters, full skirts that reached the top of their white bobby socks, and wore their hair in a pony tail. The popular dances were the Watusi and the Twist among the many variations of the Rock n' Roll. One never asked his date, "let's go to the dance." It's "let's go to the hop."
Monterey is also known for many other things, both trivial and significant. The first capital of Mexican California, Monterey has traces of Spanish influence in the architectural style of its many adobe buildings. The missions in Carmel founded by Juniperro Serra are tourist attractions. George Barris, whose custom cars graced the pages of yesteryear's "Hot Rod Magazine", presided over his custom body shop on Del Monte Boulevard in Seaside for many years. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's custom car that was featured in a Hollywood movie was a product of George Barris' body shop. If you lived in Southern California during those golden years of hot rods and custom cars, Monterey was where it's at. It was a slice of Americana straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting that we know today as "happy days" - a period of American life that witnessed no dissent against the government or demonstrations on the street. It was an innocent era still, dominated by the clean, crew-cut image of the All-American boy and the freshly-scrubbed look of the pony-tailed blonde girl next door. It was a simple world that revolved around Friday night football games, Foster's ice cream drive-ins, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and hula-hoops. It was also a perfect time to fall in love with the girl next to you, just driving along the seventeen-mile-drive in Pebble Beach, while listening to the theme from the "Summer Place."
The Monterey Cypress Rocks
The Monterey Jazz Festival, held annually in the Fall, is an event that draws an international crowd. Days before the start of the Laguna Seca Sports Car Races - Monterey's answer to Le Mans - racing aficionados begin filling area hotels. The rich and famous flock to the antique car shows and dog shows that are held on the carefully manicured grounds of the Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach, just a stone's throw from the most photographed tree in the world - the Cypress tree that sits atop a huge rock jutting out of the water along the world-famous 17-mile drive. The greens of Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill are unmatched anywhere in the world. Bing Crosby must have purposely chosen the month of January to hold his annual golf fest there because it is usually the rainiest and windiest month of the year in the Monterey Peninsula. The butterflies of Pacific Grove and the return of the swallows to Capistrano on the same day of every year are much-heralded events for Montereyans, as well as visitors.
Monterey of old was the Sardine Capital of the world. Its Cannery Row, where sardines were packed, was an inspiration for John Steinbeck's prize-winning novel of the same name. Monterey sardines inevitably found their way to Salaza where, as a little boy learning to read, I would read the label on the oblong cans and wonder where Monterey was.
Sardine Packers Mural
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, Clint Eastwood's restaurant, the Hog's Breath's Inn, smelt of pine trees and expensive accouterments of the perfumed rich and the beautiful. For the newly-weds, what better place to spend their honeymoon than a night or two at Highlands Inn's secluded cabins nestled among pine and cypress trees atop Carmel Highlands, where the only sounds one hears day and night are the cries of sea gulls and of the ocean waves lapping at the foot of the cliff below. John Steinbeck's hometown of Salinas nearby was the movie setting for "Giant" that starred James Dean.
Monterey and the Filipinos
Now, what has this got to do with Zambales or Filipinos?
The Monterey Peninsula has been, and is today, home to many Filipinos, a great number of whom are professionals who immigrated to this country as a consequence of the liberalization of the United States Immigration act of 1965. The peninsula, comprising of the cities of Monterey, Seaside, Marina, Pacific Grove, Carmel, Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands, Salinas, is also home to the descendants of Filipinos who arrived in the region during the 1920s, and through pre- and post-World War II. A good number were the Filipino dispossessed who roamed the Pacific coastal towns in search of farm work. Endearingly called "old-timers" by the nouveau Filipinos, they were the peasants from the Ilocos regions who arrived at two points of debarkation in the United States: San Francisco and Seattle. One such immigrant was our friend, Carlos Bulosan. The closest he got to the Monterey Peninsula, however, was in Salinas where he stayed briefly.
Monterey cannery sardine worker's home
It was in the agricultural valleys of Salinas, the artichoke fields of Castroville, and garlic farms of Gilroy that I was first introduced to the world of the "manongs." I watched these Ilocano farmers cultivate the earth with the same ancient skills passed on to them by their forbears in the Philippines. I picked strawberries with them, bunched onions, and harvested garlic under the "blinding heat" (Carlos Bulosan) of the sun. Squatting on the ground as they were wont to do back home, the "manongs" ate with their bare hands, balling rice in the palm of their hands and dipping it in "buggoong." I reminisced with them about dreams and lives they left behind. I was utterly fascinated by their thick accents, their toothless grin, and their amusing Ilocano nuances. Their sad faces and bony physical features tell of a heart-rending story. Despite their small stature, these salt of the earth projected great stamina and strength, resiliency, and a great determination to survive in this land away from home. For many, assimilation was out of the question, given the racial prejudices that they have gone through, from the sugar plantations in Hawaii to the canneries of Alaska to the strawberry fields of Salinas. For them, America was only in the heart, nothing more, and having already burned bridges behind them, many chose never to return home.
The immigration wave continued after the war, and throughout the 50s and the 60s, when former Philippine Scouts were offered enlistment in the United States Army and automatic citizenship. Fort Ord, the former Army base in the Monterey Peninsula, became the popular destination for these former Philippine soldiers and their families, including mine. The cities of Seaside and Marina in Monterey became, as a result, a modern day Filipino ghetto, where a Pinoy longing for native foods could easily find in his neighborhood a Filipino grocery store or restaurant that sell patis, ampalaya, and saluyot.
This was the Monterey Peninsula that I knew and left behind.
special thanks to Betsy Malloy
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