Letter to My California Dreamer: Planting Roots in the Valley of Heart's Delight

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Calixto Racho and his youngest daughter Suzie in the front yard of their home in San Jose, California.  (Courtesy of Racho Family)

For our series “Letter To My California Dreamer,” we’re asking Californians from all walks of life to write a short letter to one of the first people in their family who came to the Golden State. The letter should explain:

What was their California Dream?
What happened to it?
Is that California Dream still alive for you?

Here's a letter from The California Report producer Suzie Racho to her father, Calixto:

Dear Dad,

You never really talked much. Mom was the social butterfly, hosting lively birthday parties and holiday meals. You were always quietly working in the background, cooking or getting the yard ready for guests.

Calixto Racho in May 1941, posing at the Hollywood Photo Studio in downtown San Jose. (Courtesy of Racho Family)

You came to California as part of a wave of  immigrants from the Philippines in the 1930s. You picked walnuts and other crops, in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”, now known as Silicon Valley.

But just because you were a migrant farm worker didn’t mean you didn’t have style. One of my favorite pictures of you was taken in a downtown San Jose photo studio: you and a friend, in sharp zoot suits with pointy lapels, your shoes shined. I still have your sharkskin suits from the '60s. They were custom-made for your 5’2" frame. Stature is just one of the things we share.

Calixto Racho (R) and his friend Benny Valmoja (L) in 1942. (Courtesy of Racho Famly)

After years in the fields, you were one of many Filipinos who volunteered to join the US Army. It was World War II, but at 32,you weren’t exactly a kid. I’ll never know what motivated you to join --was it a chance to show patriotism to your adopted country?

You went to basic training at Camp Beale in Yuba County and became a rifleman. The Army assigned you to a segregated unit, the First Filipino Infantry. I wonder how it felt to navigate this, going from living in San Jose’s Japantown to fighting the Japanese in the Philippines. You saw combat,  earning a Bronze Star. And after serving for four years, you left the Army a U.S. citizen.

Calixto Racho was stationed at Camp Beale in Yuba County in 1942. (Courtesy of Racho Family)

You never talked about this period of your life,  but I remember as a kid,  finding long shell casings in a box of your cuff links and tie tacks. I didn’t ask where they came from. Another thing I took from you was to be strong and silent.

You went back to work on the farms, but you weren’t just picking -- you were also developing horticultural skills. One of your last jobs was growing roses in one of the big nurseries in the Valley.

By the time you met Mom and had me and my sister Sandie, you’d been married twice and were in your fifties. Friends and teachers always thought you were my grandpa when you dropped me off at school.

But you were my dad, an OG DIYer.

Suzie Racho and Sandie Slife accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on their father's behalf in April 2018. (Courtesy of Suzie Racho)

There were trips to the hardware store and the lumber yard. I remember the pink playhouse you built for me and my sister, and the Saturdays you spent giving your friends haircuts in the garage. During Obon, you’d become a grill master, barbecuing hundreds of pork and chicken skewers behind the grill at the Filipino Community Center.

You also spent hours watching sports on the weekend, so I did too. Tennis, football, boxing, golf….but especially baseball. Thanks to you, I’m still a die-hard Giants fan.

It wasn’t until I began taking Asian-American history classes in college, that I realized how much of your life mirrored what I was studying. Your history in California is Filipino-American History.

So it was my privilege, 27 years after you died, to represent you as Filipino vets were finally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for service in World War II.

Just like your military service, you never talked about your California Dream. But once you settled in the Bay Area, you never left. And neither have I. So maybe the Dream goes on.

Love,

Suzie

We’d love to see your letter to your family’s California Dreamer. Maybe it was a parent, a great-great grandparent or maybe even you were the first in your family to come to California with a dream. Fill out the form here and share your story with us!

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