Ernie Cabreana

Jo Carlson Bio

Spain beginning in 1521, and then the United States starting in 1898, was colonial rulers of the Philippines for four hundred and twenty five years – forty-eight of these under American Imperialism until 1946.

Under American rule, the first Filipinos officially admitted into the United States were Pensionados – students who came to study under pensions of small government scholarships. The first sizeable Filipino immigration occurred in Hawaii from 1906 to approximately 1934. Hawaii began to develop its sugar and pineapple industries and owned plantations requiring thousands of men to work for them. The Big Five, as the companies were called, hired their field workers through the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA).

Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese laborers were at first tried, but because of labor strikes and other problems, the plantation owners had to look for a new source of laborers. The planters’ only source left would be two territories of the United States at the time, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

The planters looked at the Philippines. There was a large rural population precisely the kind the sugar planters wanted, meaning people used to manual labor, and so the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association went into the Philippines to recruit. This was a very organized process of recruitment. The HSPA established the head offices in Manila and supervised the operation of the recruitment in two particular regions in the Philippines, the Visayas and llocos.

The HSPA paid the recruits return fares and provided housing for them in the plantation camps. They were recruited on a three-year contract- temporary immigration. This recruiting campaign was highly successful and these recruits, mostly Visayans and Illocanos saw themselves to be very distinct from the other Filipinos in Hawaii and proudly called themselves “Sakadas”.

The Cabreana, Olbenario, and Deparini families were “Sakadas”. Coming from an economically depressed area of Cebu, Calixto Cabreana, his wife, Brigida Olbenario, and their young son, Irineo(Niong), along with Brigida’s brothers, Lorenzo, Olegio, Pablo and Benito were recruited. Their uncle and aunt, Isidro and Bonifacia (Pasia) Deparini were also recruited.

Leaving the beautiful barrio of Guindarohan, province of Minglanilla, they were sent to Ewa, Oahu- arriving on August, 1922. There they worked as sugar cane cutters for one dollar a day. Plantation life was hard and hardly ideal. Work in the fields was sweaty, back breaking, stoop labor under the hot sun, which included hoeing, weeding, loading, and hauling from sunup to sundown lasting eight or nine hours. Their prime goal in Hawaii was to save money and return quickly as possible to their homeland.

At this period in the United States, the Immigration Act of 1924 that exempted Filipinos, because they were American nationals, lured thousands of Filipinos to come to California and Washington. Because of the immigration act, which excluded Chinese, Koreans and most Oriental people. California farmers were forced to accept Filipino workers as well as Mexican workers, who were exempt from the quotas established by the immigration law. Like the Sakasas of Hawaii, these West Coast Filipinos called themselves “Pinoys”.

The Cabreana, Olbenario and Deparini families became these “Pinoys”. Nearing the end of their contract, Calixto Cabreana elected not to return to the Philippines, but to find better jobs in the mainland California. The decision was made to send his 16-year-old son, Niong, on to California to find work, and the family would follow later.

In July 1925, given 60 dollars, 45 of it for the ship fare, Niong arrived in Wilmington, California, and along with 60 other Visayans and Ilocanos; they were hired on the dock by a Filipino labor contractor to work in the sugar beet fields in Casmalia. After one season in Casmalia, he found work in Santa Maria at Inouyes Strawberry Farm.

Completing their contracts in 1925, Lorenzo and Olegio Olbenario stayed on in Honolulu to find better jobs. Pablo and Sixta Olbenario and their daughter, Feling, who was born in the plantation, returned to the Philippines.

Isidro Deparini couldn’t complete his three-year contract due to a severe hand injury received while working. Still they were able to receive a free passage back to Cebu after their daughter, Euphrasia (Asing) was born.

Calixto and Brigida Cabreana went on to California to join their son. They lived in and worked in the fields around Guadalupe and Santa Maria valleys. On September 1928, Calixto suffered a brain hemorrhage and died at St Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton on December 19, 1929. He was only 55. Brigida returned to the Philippines, and died on November 25, 1976 at the age of 93. During one of his trips to Stockton to visit his father, Niong met Maria Tenequez, whose parents were also Sakadas and Pinoys. They were married on July 12, 1929, and settled in Lompoc, California, where Niong worked as a tractor driver for Guadalupe Produce. Six of their seven children were born in Lompoc, Ernie, Adeline, Josephine, Gilbertine, Clyde and Geraldine. Douglas was born in Oakland.

Pablo and Sixta Olbenario returned to Hawaii in 1927 to join his brothers. A second daughter Imiteria (Terry) was born. Soon after, they decided to join the Cabreanas in California. Carol, Virginia and Tony were born in Lompoc. Danny was born later, in Guadalupe.

In the Philippines, the Deparinis’ gave birth to a second child, Pastoria (Torang). Around 1924, Isidro went with a group of Filipinos to seek work around Seattle, Washington. The climate was much too cold, and he worked his way south, landing in Guadalupe, earning enough money to return to his family in Cebu.

In 1931, the Deparinis left Cebu to join the Cabreanas and Olbenarios in Lompoc. Four more children were born in Lompoc – Vicente, Conchita, Albert, and Calbert. Isidro Jr was born in Santa Maria.

In Lompoc, the families lived together in the same camp called “Campo”. The older children, Feling, Terry and Carol Olbenario, Ernie, Adeline and Josephine Cabreana, Asing, and Pastoria Deparini began their schooling at Artesia School, a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher, teaching first to sixth grade. It was there where they learned their English, having spoken the dialect of their immigrant parents.

Around 1928, the Olbenarios wanted to return to the Philippines when the U.S. government offered free passage back to the Philippines for those persons who wanted to return. By the time they could finalize their plans, the offer ended, so they moved to Guadalupe and worked in the fields around the valley. In 1946, Pablo purchased three acres in Oceano to grow his own crops and to into semi-retirement. He died June 10, 1973 and Sixta passed away August 1983. The Deparinis stayed on in Lompoc, and after the Second World War began, they went into farming in the Oso Flaco Valley. Isidro grew vegetables and had his own vegetable labels printed. He bought a house in Santa Maria on the corner of North Railroad and West Fesler.

He suffered a stroke, becoming disabled. He had a home where the family gatherings were held every holiday and birthday celebration. The home had a lots of rooms and a huge yard, where, our children, the cousins got to know each other and play together growing up. He passed away January 1987. Pasia preceded him in 1979.

The Cabreanas moved to Oakland in 1940. Niong worked at the Mare Island Navy Base in Vallejo as a machinist helper. During the Second World War he worked as a certified wielder at the Kaiser Shipyards in San Francisco, until his retirement in 1974. In 1975 he returned to live in the Philippines.

In 1942, Niong and Maria separated with each marrying new spouses. In 1950, Niong married Anna Bovich and a son Ernie “Ging” was born of this marriage. Maria returned to Santa Maria in 1953 and married Ben Casunite. Mary and Loretta were born to Maria and Ben. He died November 1988.

To these hardy immigrants, we owe so much. They were the papas, mamas, and uncles working in the fields, stooping from sunrise to sunset, sweating in the layers of dust that clung to their skin. They overcame discrimination, the onslaught of racism, and the depression years. They have raised proud descendants.

We are the descendants of these proud families. We are the Second Generation, bridging the past with the present. We are the Third Generation, the now generation, divorced from the discipline and endurance of our grandparents. Truly, we are the sons and daughters of an extraordinary ethnic group.

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