Monterey’s Legacy of Diversity

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), located on the site of the former Fort Ord, has one of the most diverse student body compositions of the 23-member California State University system.

In addition to students coming from the local communities and throughout the state of California, there are some who come from out of state, as well as hundreds who come to CSUMB to study from countries all over the world in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South and Central America. CSUMB is truly a cosmopolitan and diverse community that enriches the legacy of diversity in the region.

In 1948, Ford Ord became the first integrated military base in the country. An interesting side note is that concrete bunkers – some still visible on the property owned by CSUMB – were built by German World War II prisoners of war. The cities closest in proximity to CSUMB – Marina (incorporated in 1975 and the newest city in the county) and Seaside (incorporated in 1954) – have the most diverse populations in Monterey County. Marina was named by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1994 as the seventh most diverse city in the nation. Seaside saw its greatest demographic change during World War II with the influx of diverse military personnel, including those of Filipino and African descent. The largest minority in both cities are those of Hispanic descent. Although never in a majority, the city of Seaside has the largest population of African descent in California between the cities of Oakland and Los Angeles. Rosa Parks and Dolores Huerta, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1961 made visits to Seaside.

Taking a walk back into history, diversity is nothing new for the Monterey region. The Rumsien/Ohlone peoples, thought to have migrated from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River area, were the original inhabitants of the Monterey and northern California coastal regions prior to the invasion of the Spaniards that began with the maritime explorer Sebastian Vizcaíno in 1602. The Spanish acquisition of land started in 1769 with the expedition of Gaspar de Portolá y Rovira who met up with Junípero Serra y Ferrer and his party traveling up from Mexico to the San Francisco Bay with a diverse group of participants who arrived in Monterey on June 3, 1770.

The 300 members of the second Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition had soldiers, as well as settlers, recruited from northwestern Mexico towns including Culiacán, Villa Sinaloa, Altar and Horcasitas. They arrived in Monterey on March 10, 1776 at a site not far from CSUMB. The group included a significant number of Afro-Latinos who later gained prominence in the Mexican-era California and included Santiago de la Cruz Pico, the grandfather of the future California Governor Pio Pico, and Juana Briones, a woman of mixed African, European and indigenous heritage who later became a prominent personage during the Mexican and early American periods.

Prior to Mexico gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Argentinians under the leadership of Hipólito Bouchard seize Monterey from 1816 to 1818. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1820, Monterey swore allegiance to Mexico in 1822 and became the Port of Customs for foreign merchants who made Monterey their home. Twenty-four years later in 1846 with the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Navy Commodore John D. Sloat raised the U.S. flag over the Monterey Custom House on July 7 and claimed California for the United States. That was the beginning of a major influx of individuals from the eastern and southern states, which included some of African descent, both free and enslaved. Added to the mix, especially after the start of the Gold Rush in 1848, hundreds of individuals came to the region from countries all over the world including Chile, Peru, France, Germany, England, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Russia.

Members of the Chinese community traveled to California to participate in the gold rush and some came to Monterey in 1851 to set up fishing camps, initially at Point Lobos then at Pescadero (now called Stillwater Cove) and Point Alones (near today’s Cannery Row). There were 500 to 600 Chinese fisherman by 1853 at Cabrillo Point, known as “China Point” (the site of today’s Hopkins Marine Station) and they launched the first commercial fishing industry in Monterey. Monterey was unique in regards to Chinese settlement, as they settled with families and not only single men as was true for the mines and railroads. It was common to see the uniquely designed Chinese squid and abalone fishing boats in the bay waters. The 1850s also saw members of the Portuguese community establish whaling stations on Monterey Bay. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 opened the door to Japanese immigration and it was during this period also that Sicilian fishing families began moving to Monterey.

The change in the workforce mirrored a change in the focus of the catch which moved from squid and abalone to salmon and sardines. By 1919, there were about 400 Sicilians with expertise in sardine fishing. Between 1915 and 1950, Monterey was known as the “Sardine Capital of the World” – the largest fishing industry in the U.S. with a catch of about 235,000 tons of sardines a year. Before the second World War, Sicilian and Japanese Americans dominated the fishing industry with Japanese Americans owning more than half the fishing companies on Fisherman’s Wharf, but in 1942, Monterey’s Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to detention camps.

Another milestone in the legacy of diversity in the region is that of Cesar Chavez, incarcerated during the Salad Bowl Strike of 1970 in the old jail in Salinas, not far from CSUMB. Initially a farm worker who later became a national labor leader and civil rights activist, Chavez co-founded with Dolores Huerta in 1962 the National Farm Workers Association, later called the United Farm Workers union (UFW). The UFW led to significant improvements for farmworkers not only in the Monterey region, but also throughout the United States.
Space limits recounting additional examples of the rich legacy of diversity which has left its impact on CSUMB and the surrounding communities. Some of the examples are painful and some deserving of accolades, but all contributes to the fabric and history of the region.

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