January 19th, 1930

White Mobs Attack Filipino Farmworkers in Watsonville, California

Beginning on January 19, 1930, mobs of upwards of 500 whites roamed Watsonville, California, and the surrounding towns and farms, setting upon Filipino farmworkers and their property in a rage after Filipino men were seen dancing with white women at a newly opened local dance hall.

In the days and weeks before the rioting, politicians and community leaders had ramped up their anti-Filipino rhetoric, calling the farmworkers “a menace,” and demanding that Filipinos be deported so “white people who have inherited this country for themselves and their offspring could live.” A local judge stated, “The worst part of [the Filipino man] being here is his mixing with young white girls from thirteen to seventeen. He gives them silk underwear and makes them pregnant and crowds whites out of jobs in the bargain.”

The Watsonville mob was initially turned away from the dance hall by security guards and the armed owners of the hall, but returned in full force to beat dozens of Filipino farmworkers. The beatings continued elsewhere in the area, and on the night of January 22, a mob ransacked Filipino farmworkers’ houses and shot into the dwellings, killing Fermin Tobera. No one was ever charged with that murder; seven men were later convicted of rioting, but received either probation or 30 days in jail.

The anti-Filipino frenzy continued in California in the months after the Watsonville riots ended on January 23, 1930, with violence breaking out in Stockton, Salinas, San Francisco, and San Jose. In 1933, California amended the law to prohibit marriages between Filipinos and whites. And in 1934, answering in part a long-standing request of California's government, Congress reduced Filipino immigration to the United States to just 50 people per year. In September 2011, the California legislature officially expressed regret and apologized for these events and actions.