Shirley Ginn-Long

Our valley has a rich history of immigrants who have contributed to the local economy and brought a variety of cultural traditions that enrich our lives today. Most immigrants come to the U.S. for economic opportunity, often to escape poverty and sometimes repression in their countries. The story of immigrants has not changed much over the years-most have difficulties when they arrive, many take the lowest paying job that no one else wants to do. Yet, over the generations, through grueling work conditions and despite sometimes less than welcoming a compassionate treatment by current residents, immigrants have managed to contribute to our communities in positive and meaningful ways.

A tile inlaid in Heritage Walk of Santa Maria’s Town Center West reads, “J.B.Curaza and Family, migrated to California, 1923.” This tile commemorates a pioneer family’s achievements. In 1923 young and recently married Jacinto and Rosario Curaza emigrated from the Philippines to American in search of opportunities and a new way of life. Both were able to speak English, taught in the U.S. Territory of the Philippine Islands. San Francisco was the port of entry of most Asian immigrants. Since Filipinos were considered wards of our country, the young couple was exempt from intensive interrogation at Angel Island Detention Center.

After spending a few years in Stockton and Delano the Curazas and their three babies, including a set of twins, arrived in Santa Maria Valley in the late 1920’s. The valley was home to other Asian families of Japanese and Chinese heritages as well as Filipino and Chinese bachelors. After a brief stay in Guadalupe, they settled in Casmalia across from the now renowned Hitching Post Restaurant. Mr. Curaza, a farm laborer, advanced to the position of Contractor for Betteravia Sugar Beet Company. He later planted many of the trees in Waller Park as an employee of the county. During World War II he served in the local Civilian Militia.

The family included two sons and eight daughters. The Curazas found that landlords were not eager to rent to a family with many children. California alien land laws generally prohibited ownership of property of Asians until the aftermath of World War II. However, they were able to purchase a house on Foxen Canyon Road with their eldest American-born child’s name on the deed. That house still stands today in Sisquoc.During 1942, Mr. Curaza and partners launched an agricultural business, “The Valley Farming Company”, on leased land that now encompasses Robert Bruce Elementary School and the surrounding area. He was successful in large-scale farming and contributed to the war effort. As their life improved, the family moved into Santa Maria. Jacinto Curaza passed way at an early age in 1946. His widow, Rosario, who later remarried became a citizen in 1961. She passed away in 1965.

All the children were educated in the then Santa Maria School District. A memorable experience fro most of the children was attending the one room Olive School in Sisquoc, all taught by the same teach, the late Mrs. Erina Pertuci Ontiveros. The Curaza family is acknowledged in her publication "San Ramon Chapel Pioneers and Their California Heritage”.

The Curaza siblings have been involved in the agricultural, banking entertainment, automotive, defense, travel and real estate industries. Benjamin served in the Navy submerged in a submarine under the Pacific Ocean during WWII. Espie is a 1949 Woodbury Business School graduate. Hank, honored by Santa Maria High School as Athlete of the Year in 1951, served as a class president for three years. The late coach, Joe White, was instrumental in obtaining a Cal Poly baseball scholarship for him. Hank played for the Santa Maria Indians for 12 years. During the ‘50s and early ‘60s he was a supervisor for Parks and Recreation. Hank is a popular musician performing on the Central Coast. Carol is a retired professional pianist. Following in Hank’s athleticism. Amparo and Flora are remembered by their high school peers as formidable competitors. Amparo, an honor student, was student body secretary in 1953. Flora and her husband established the TJR Foundation in 1972 to provide funding for scholarships and educational projects for the impoverished children of the Philippine Islands.

All siblings are alive except the youngest, Corazon, who died in 1956 at age fifteen. Some lived elsewhere for a time but returned to the Central Coast. Most are retired, but continue to maintain a close-knit relationship with one another. They are active volunteers in the community and their church.

This year family celebrates the 75th year of establishing the Curaza roots here in the Santa Maria Valley. Their parents instilled in them the values of honesty, kindness and respectfulness toward others, and they never forgot to practice these principles.

“Honesty, kindness and respectfulness toward others” are values we hope everyone in our community shares that can help create a quality of life that we all want. When practiced, those values can help us discover that we are much more similar than we are different.

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