Agrapini “Penny” Galiro Johnson

Penny Johnson Bio

My parents came to the United States when they were teenagers. My Dad was fifteen, my Mom, thirteen, one was from Cebu, the other from Bohol. Strictness and cruelty made them run away from home. My Dad joined the Army during World War I. Mom remarried and had five (5) births; three living on my stepfather's side, 3 lived out of seven on my Dad's side. Mom died at the age of 31.

When Mom died, Dad took three of us girls with him, I was the youngest. He contracted work in different parts of California and we worked with him. He had the old fashion traditional Filipino way of strictness. My two sisters eloped at the age of 18. I vowed I would never leave my Dad like that. I stayed and helped him since he treated me as a son he never had. We worked side by side when farmed. We grew zucchinis, summer squash, tomatoes, and cantaloupes. We put up the brush and papers to shield the plants from the frost and when harvest time came, we packed the vegetables into boxes then my Dad took them to the market to be sold. I learned to make boxes and the different laboring in the fields. Outside of farming, Dad taught me to hoe weeds for a dollar an hour, to work in fruits in tree orchards, to working in canneries. The money was in packing tomatoes. Imperial Valley was very popular for tomatoes and also La Jolla by San Diego.

My Dad allowed the Filipino Community of Imperial Valley to enter me in social boxes when I was fifteen. Social boxes were very popular in the forties in raising funds and for other activities. The Filipino Community would hold dances three times a week if possible. There were so many single Filipino men then who supported the social boxes. The Community will buy any little gifts for us girls so the men can bid on which we get to keep after the social boxeswas over. They would get sometime as little as three to ten girls depending on the crowd. We would have our escorts opening our bid on our box anywhere from fifty dollars and up. Each bidder after the opening bid can bid on the girls they favor anywhere from one dollar and up. The Community keeps half of the money and the other half goes to the participants. If the Community were asked to help any other organizations, like the Red Cross, they would divide the profits for the night three ways instead of fifty-fifty. When Dad and I traveled to work in different towns, I would enter the social boxes of that town. It helped my Dad for extra income. Wanted to add a little humor to this. The Community at one time gave us a choice to pick our gift and we picked Kleenex. Since it was a hurried decision to buy before the dance, they bought sanitary napkins thinking it were the same. It was embarrassing and yet funny, something I have never forgotten.

Filipino men in those days were very good in cooking. They always threw barbecues and have camp dancing with their musicians playing. They were very talented. They roasted pigs and made many different Filipino dishes. They also enjoyed playing kick ball over volleyball net. The ball was made of basket material and very light and the shape of a baseball. They kicked the ball around to different players to keep the ball from touching the ground. They also loved playing cards as a past time activity. I learned many games from watching them and also learned to gamble. They were very generous with their money. A lot of them married different races who learned of their generosity and cooking abilities. The single Filipino girls preferred younger boys and the older men would go into marriages with different nationalities as a compensation to having a mate. A lot of them dated taxi dancers, they are a dime a dance girls and a lot of them entered matrimony. If they wanted girls, they couldn't get or have, they would shower them with gifts. I was one of them. Parents in those days want to pick the men for their daughters. It was a resentful time. I ran away after vowing not to, so I will not enter a chosen marriage. I was nearly twenty-one years old. This is my history of growing up surrounded by men in those days when women were so scarce on Filipino descendants.

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