Ambrocio Galvez

This oral history was researched and written by Ambrocio’s daughter Angelina for a 1987 sociology course at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Much of the meaning is lost in the translation from the Filipino dialect of Ilocano to English.

Ambrocio Balcita Galvez was born on December 2, 1895, on the Northern Luzon of the Philippine Islands, in the small barrio of San Manuel. He was the third of five children born to Herbacio Galvez and Augustina Balcita Galvez. The birth order in his family was Pablo, Dora, Ambrocio, Sabrina, and Sergio. In a large, poor family, birth order made little difference because no one was exempt from assisting with the family’s survival. At the time, the Galvez family owned a small amount of land where they grew crops such as rice for sustenance, as well as tobacco to sell to the city markets some distances away from their home. Since everyone in the family helped with the chores, and schooling was expensive and far from their home, it was difficult for the family to send children to school.

“Lakay Eslao”

Much of Ambrocio’s early years centered around farm life. Although life was rough, and spent solely with family, he still enjoyed his childhood, especially the years prior to his twelfth birthday when he was not yet old enough to help with the big chores. His fondest memories during these years were of his maternal grandfather, Winceslao (Eslao) Balcita, who lived with the family until his death. “Old Man Eslao” was a wonderful man (“Na sayaat na tao ni Lakay Eslao”) who had an abundance of love for his grandson and knew how to show it. Ambrocio related anecdotes of lying in bed next to his grandfather (not enough beds were in the house, so family members had to share) and listening to his grandfather’s humorous anecdotes about the past and sometimes risquÜ riddles (“Ag borcha”). Two of Ambrocio’s favorites were “Umulog ag al a lodood, Umuli, gulpi?” (it slowly goes down and bides its time, but when it goes up it’s extremely quick...What is it”? and “Tinudok ni ampa lutneng, iti ubit ni ampa tanken?” (The soft thing pokes the rump of the hard thing...What is it?) Not only was Eslao generous in telling stories, but he would also buy candies with what little extra money he could find. If there was no money to purchase this extravagance, Eslao wove hats for Ambrocio—great looking hats at that! Ambrocio was amazed at the expertise and imagination with which his grandfather could spin tales and weave hats, even though e had no formal training in either skill!

Although Eslao was an elderly man, his strength seemed to continue when he was around his grandson, because, according to Ambrocio, “Lakay Eslao” could still give him piggyback rides even when Ambrocio was “too old” (seven years old) and too big to get these rides! Unfortunately, Eslao Balcita died when Ambrocio was eight. This was the first major loss in Amborcio’s life, but his Catholic upbringing and his mother’s teachings helped him accept the loss because he knew that since his grandfather was a good man, he would be in Heaven.

Early Schooling

Sometimes after his grandfather’s death, Ambrocio was sent to school to learn to read Spanish by using a text known as a “Cartilla”. (Reading Spanish was common during this period, as the Spanish still had influence over the Philippine Islands.) Ambrocio’s teacher was a male, Spanish- trained Filipino who was strict and quite demanding of his pupils. This man seemed merciless in his teaching style, if the sentence was read incorrectly, the student was reprimanded with a scolding a painful whack on the hand!

With this method of learning, Ambrocio was able to learn quickly the correct pronunciation of the required oral reading, which eventually exempted him from attending this school. However, although his oral reading was good, he never mastered comprehension of this material. At Ambrocio’s young age, education was not as important as playing and assisting with family chores.

A few years later, Ambrocio’s parents wanted him to learn English, but to do this; he had to be sent to San Fernando, a town that was quite a distance away from his home. Thus, his mother arranged for him to stay with some relatives who lived near the school. Still a child, he felt homesick, and only wanted to go home. After a month, Ambrocio’s mother came to visit him and drop off some rice to help with his keep. It was at this time that he begged his mother to take him home—even stating that he would rather take care of the carabao than be away at school! After listening to his pleading, Ambrocio’s mother took him home.

For the next few years until the age of 15, Ambrocio not only tended the carabao, but also—as he got older—became involved with the harvesting of crops. By age 10 he was helping to plant the rice. During this time, Ambrocio suffered another loss; his father. Herbacio was a gambling man, he wanted more than what he could give the family-hoping for the big win. Herbacio gambled too often, and they had to sell the property to clear his debts. He passed away at the age of 80 years old.

The Hawaiian Adventure

Ambrocio was encouraged by his brother-in-law Balbino Tomboc to accompany him to Hawaii around 1918. Ambrocio worked in the sugar cane industry sending money home to his motheruntil her death. While in Hawaii, he found himself working long, hard hours at Ewa Mill, mostly cutting sugar cane for 75 cents an hour. He again attempted schooling by enrolling in night school to learn how to read and speak English. It was at his school that he met several of his friends who later join him in the Unites States. He continued his night school twice a week while working long hard day at the plantation.

One of his favorite anecdotes that he often related came from his first today of class, in which the instructor held up a pencil and asked the class, “What is this?” No one answered, but it was obvious to Amrocio that this was a pencil, so he raised his hand and said, “Pencil”. At this, the teacher stated, “That is incorrect. THIS IS A PENCIL. Now everybody, repeat after me, “This is a pencil.” Ambrocio was a quick learner, and was the first in his class to receive a book to read printed in English. He was proud of his accomplishments, fatigue eventually overcame him and he dropped out of school. It was not long to persuade Ambrocio to go to United States because he felt it was so close, and had heard so many great things about it-such as the streets being “paved of gold”-that he had to see it for himself! Thus, he bid farewell to his brother-in-law and purchased a $40 one-way ticket on a Japanese ship to come to the United States.

Starting in America

At midnight on January 1, 1920, Ambrocio sailed into San Francisco just in time to hear the factory whistles blow to mark the New Year. Not only did this signify his first day in the U.S., but it also marked the start of a long life of hard work, for when he got off the boat, a Filipino farm labor contractor approached him and asked him if he needed work.

Since this man was of the same ethnicity, Ambrocio trusted him, and accepted the man’s offer. For the next two months, Ambrocio found himself in Salinas, again working long hours, hoeing sugar beets, and working with a diverse ethnic group-including Filipinos, Mexicans, and Anglos.

Even though their jobs were physically demanding, he did not think the work was too band, considering that he was given a place to stay (the ranch hand house), food and 40 cents an hour. After two months, his contract was over and it was time to move to Casmalia, where he again worked in the sugar beet industry, this time not only hoeing beets, but chopping them as well. After one month, his contract had ended and he decided to look for jobs himself. He had heard rumors that the railroad company needed men to lay down the railroad tracks from Casmalia to San Luis Obispo. He was tired of farm work and he inquired as to the railroad work. He signed on with a job with the railroad and this where his Hawaii school friend separated.

For two years, Ambrocio assisted in laying planks and rocks in the construction of the tracks. He worked 10 hours a day, beginning at eight in the morning, in what was called the “Extra Gang”, comprised mostly of Mexican and Filipino men working under an Anglo boss. The work once again was physically demanding, but the workers were allowed to sleep in the sleeper cars and food was provided. The most irksome was trying to get a drink of water.

The water boy carried a tub of water with a ladle. He was behind a man with a long droopy moustache, and when the man took a drink of water, using the shared ladle, many of the food particles found in his moustache ended up in the watering tub. Ambrocio was disgusted and found a way to carry his own bottled water.

Working All Over California

After working for the railroad until 1923, Ambrocio found himself in San Luis Obispo working for a Japanese family picking and hoeing strawberries for 35 cents an hour. Once again, he worked 10-hour days, but at least he had food and lodging was provided, so at the end of the day he did not have to prepare his meals. The biggest difference between this job and the others that he had had was that he did not work with Mexicans because the owners disliked them. Thus, the workers were either Asian or Anglo.

After a year, he found himself without a job, and sought temporary employment all over California. Luckily, at the end of the season, he was able to sign on with another Filipino contractor who found him a job in Guadalupe, picking lettuce for 40 cents an hour. Again, Ambrocio was working 10-hour days, but compared to picking strawberries, picking lettuce was easy. One of the drawbacks to his job was that lodging was not provided, so he and three of his fellow workers found an apartment in town and rented it for $5 a month. Here he stayed for two years, before moving to Los Angeles (specifically, the Orange County fields where Disneyland now stands), where he picked lemons for one month for 30 cents and hour. He then moved to Delano and worked for an Anglo contractor, picking grapes for one month and receiving four cents for each tray picked. Next he moved on to Walnut Grove where he stayed for one month, picking cherry tomatoes. The next month he found himself working in Watsonville at an apple factory, where he peeled apples with an apple peeler. This contraption required that the worker poke the apple into a holder, hand-turn a crank to hour, and worked eight hours a day. This job lasted only a month, since this was seasonal work, and Ambrocio spent the remainder of the winter months in an apartment in San Luis Obispo, visiting friends, and resting for the next working season. When harvest season came, he again made the rounds of farms in search of work.

During World War II, Ambrocio found himself working in the Imperial Valley, where he and a friend rented 10 acres of land. Here they planted and cared for tomatoes. Because he had crops to care for, he became exempt from going into the military. This was due to the absence of Japanese farmers to work on the land, since they were sent to relocation camps.

Hard Times in Los Angeles

After the war, Ambrocio decided to venture out into the city of Los Angeles for a change of scenery. Once there, he tried searching for employment by walking the city streets, looking for signs in windows that resembled (since he could hardly red) “Help Wanted”. Eventually, he found work in a restaurant, where he worked as a dishwasher and ultimately moved up to the position of busboy. Dishwashing was the worst, since the water temperature was so hot, and he was constantly wet from his own sweat and water being splashed about. He was very grateful to get out of the kitchen (when promoted to busboy), yet he found that it was almost as bad, since he had to quickly clear off tables and set tables for the waitresses, tips, free meals, and was allowed to wear “nice” pants and shirts. Gradually, he realized that working at one job did not bring in a sufficient amount of money to live in the city, so he decided to work another restaurant during the day. He was able to keep working at tow jobs for about a month, but since both were physically demanding, he eventually got too fatigued, became ill, and was sent to the hospital. During the few weeks’ recovery time, he decided that he could not live in the city and work at two jobs, so he decided to return to farming.

Romance with Rosalia

After getting out of the hospital, Ambrocio quit both restaurant jobs, and once again moved north to seek employment as a farm worker in Morro Bay. Here, he found a Filipino family to work for, by the name of Cortez. Once again, he assisted in farming chores, such as planting, hoeing, plowing the fields with a horse and plow, and picking crops. He was provided with boarding and meals the food was cooked by Mrs. Maura Cortez. Mrs. Cortez seemed to like Ambrocio and thought he might like to have a pen pal- her niece, Rosalia Yapit, who lived in the Philippines. Mrs. Cortez asked him if he would like to correspond with her niece and he agreed, which was customary at that time. However, he had a problem he could not write his name or read in English. Mrs. Cortez thought nothing of it, and wrote the letters for him. He looked forward to having his letters read to him and looking at the pictures of Rosalia. He saved enough money to fly to the Philippines to meet Rosalia. In 1956, he bought a round-trip airplane ticket for $1,500 to visit his family and meet his possible bride.

Once in the Philippines, he visited his family for the first time after 44 years. Several years earlier, he attempted to go home to see his Mother who was very ill, but she passed away and he decided not to go home. After spending time with his family, he went to meet Rosalia. There first meeting was at her house to meet her and her family. He did not realize that she was only 32 years old and a little taller than him. She asked him how old he was and he told her that he was fifty, but he was actually sixty!

One day, after one month stay, a letter arrived at Ambrocio’s Philippine home informing him that he must return to United States, or pay a fine. This was his chance to propose to Rosalia and ask her to come to America with him. After thinking and conferring with the family members, Rosalia agreed to marry Ambrocio, and the two were married within a week.

Difficulties for the Newlyweds

One month later, Ambrocio found himself with a sad bride in the ranch house in Morro Bay. It turns out that the new Mrs. Galvez had high expectations in America, for she had heard that “the streets were made of gold” and everyone prospered. But upon arriving at the ranch house covered with dust and living with men who were just as dusty, she realized that the rumors were false and became very unhappy. Ambrocio did not know what to do because he could not send her back to the Philippines since he had spent most of his money to bring her to the United States. Eventually, Rosalia became accustomed to her surrounds, thanks to her aunt and some of the neighbors.

Nine months later, Ambrocio and Rosalia had their first child, and to Ambrocio’s delight, it was a boy (to carry on the Galvez name), whom they named Henry. Now Rosalia seemed to be happier. That same year, they moved to a different area so Ambrocio could change his role in farming by renting his own land to farm instead of working as a farm hand. A little over a year later, they saved some money, but did not make enough to buy their own land. Since the crops did not flourish as well as other area, they decided to move again, and try renting land elsewhere.

During the second move, Rosalia had their second child, Mary Rosalie (known as Rosalie). This was a bad year for the Galvezes, for the crops were not doing well and the prices were low. A few years later, the Galvezes moved once again to Los Osos in the hope of finding a better land. There, they lived in an old, run-down schoolhouse, which featured the stench of horse manure when it rained. The roof leaked and the house was rather drafty, but they survived. This place was not too bad since the Galves could work on their crops nearby their home, and Henry and Rosalie’s school was four-minutes away. Both Rosalia and Ambrocio toiled the fields until dusk, for the children were nearby, and could be watched. Eventually, Rosalie was old enough to assist and prepare the rice and the rest of the meals, which made it easier on Rosalia after working on the fields all day.

Ambrocio’s Dreams Realized

In 1965, Ambrocio and Rosalia’s third and final child, Angelina, was born. Although, Angelina was born a healthy baby, her parents found after taking her home that she was susceptible to catching colds; Angelina eventually caught pneumonia and required hospitalization. After the child’s recovery, the physician warned the Galvezes that if they wanted their baby to survive, they needed to move to a warmer house. This was beyond their means, but they prayed to have some luck with their crops, for they did not want their child to die. It would be their fault, they felt, if they lost their baby; after all, this was America where physicians had more knowledge of preventing sickness than those in the Philippines. Fortunately, the crops did well, and the market prices for their crops tended to be high, so after two years of hard work, saving, and trying to keep the children healthy, Ambrocio and Rosalia were able to purchase five acres of land and build a house. That same year, they were able to purchase a tractor.

Finally, they owned their own land-a dream came true! Ambrocio thought only in America a man without an education is able to own a home and land. He did not want his children to work as hard as he they did all their life, and thus encouraged education. Education, in Ambrocio’s eyes, was the key to success. Before he was married, he routinely sent part of his wages to the Philippines to help his family member get an education. Later, he frequently related the importance of education to his children by saying that had he stayed in Hawaii instead of foolishly coming to America, he would have learned how to read English, gotten a better job, and perhaps would have “been smarter than his children”. He also told of an experience in which he had been swindled out of $2,000 by a Filipino insurance salesman. Because he was a countryman, and even spoke the same dialect, Ambrocio trusted him; later, he felt that if he had been able to read English, and had more schooling, he would have seen the flaws in the document. Thus, his children centered around his hard life, the importance of education, and looking out for yourself. No matter how hard he had to work to put his children through college, all would go.

A week before his death on January 19, 1995, Ambrocio spent a couple of hours reminiscing about his brothers and sisters, “Lakay Eslao”, and working in Hawaii. Even in his difficult last days, he was able to remember with fondness his time as an adventurous youth. He leaves behind Rosalia, Rosalie, Henry, and Angelina. Through his wife, children and grandchildren, Ambrocio Galvez leaves a legacy of hard work, optimism, and determination. His 99-year life has inspired all who have known him.

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