Upcoming exhibition will shine a light on vibrant Filipino American life on the Central Coast

Sowing Seeds will heighlight evocative photographs as well as family heirlooms, contemporary artworks,  and oral histories. Photographs courtesy of WIITH. 
Asuncion Family Picnic at Sunset Bech, C. 1953-4. Collection of the Asuncion family.
Fourth of July Filipino Women's club car, 1957 photograph. Collection of the Sulay Family.
Sandra Lucille, "Dear Watsonville." Still from video. Collection of Sandra Lucille.

An upcoming community-driven art and history exhibition will bring the vitality, struggles, and resilience of the Central Coast’s Filipino migrant community to vibrant life with family heirlooms, contemporary artworks, evocative photographs and oral histories.

Sowing Seeds: Filipino American Stories from the Pajaro Valley will run from April 12 through August 4 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art And History in downtown Santa Cruz.  

“We are honored to collaborate on and host Sowing Seeds," said Marla Novo, MAH’s Director of Exhibitions and Programs. “I'm thrilled to continue building this important partnership with the University of California, Santa Cruz and Watsonville is in the Heart. It brings our community together through public scholarship, local history, and shared experiences.”

Four years in the making, this long-awaited exhibition will tell the story of Filipino migration and labor in Watsonville and the greater Pajaro Valley of Central California from the 1930s to the present. 

The exhibition is the result of a prestigious $75,000 Public Humanities Projects: Exhibitions Planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to Watsonville is in the Heart (WIITH). Housed in The Humanities Institute at UCSC, WIITH is a community-driven public history initiative dedicated to preserving and uplifting the stories of Filipino migration and labor in the city of Watsonville and the greater Pajaro Valley.  

“We had a shared vision with our community partners from the beginning of our work together that has only kept our efforts focused,” said Kathleen “Kat” Cruz Gutierrez, Assistant Professor Of History at UCSC and co-principal investigator of WIITH.“An exhibition has been part of that vision, and we're eager to share perspectives on Filipino American agrarian life that come straight from those who lived, worked, struggled, and flourished in the Pajaro Valley.”

Part of the exhibition will focus on oral histories and family heirlooms associated with WIITH. Sowing Seeds will feature 52 family objects and 13 oral histories drawn from 18 family collections including agricultural tools, family photographs, organizational paperwork, and photo albums.

Some of those artifacts and stories will give exhibition visitors a candid look at the Manong Generation, which consisted mostly of young, single men and some women who left the Philippines looking for work. In Santa Cruz County, they were recruited for low wage farm jobs, where they worked long hours  picking fruits and vegetables and hauling irrigation pipes.

But the exhibition will also gesture towards the present, featuring contemporary works of art that will give museum goers insightful and sometimes conflicting narratives of belonging, community formation, and memory preservation. 

“These artistic interventions offer an exciting and immersive way of engaging with local history,” said Christina Ayson Plank, PhD candidate in Visual Studies at UCSC and head curator of Watsonville is in the Heart.

Sowing Seeds will feature installation, photography, illustration, and film. WIITH has invited eight artists engaged in a range of artistic disciplines and mediums to the exhibition, all of whom have worked with or around the importance of archives, memory, and community.  Johanna Poethig and Minerva Amistoso will present works of art about the experiences of the elderly manong and manang generation. 

Ruth Tabancay, an artist who grew up in the Pajaro Valley, has created a new work of art especially for Sowing Seeds, highlighting the experiences of young Filipinas and performing femininity. 

Binh Danh, Sandra Lucille, Jenifer Wofford,  Ant Lorenzo, who graduated in 2023 with an MFA from UCSC’s Environmental Art + Social Practice (EASP) program, and Connie Zheng, a PhD candidate in UCSC’s History of Art and Visual Culture department, have been invited to work directly with community members to produce artworks that investigate their collections and family histories. 

The WIITH team has previously worked closely with the Pajaro Valley’s Filipino American community to build a digital archive," Ayson Plank said. “We've gone to their homes and heard stories about their parents, family friends, and relatives that are memorialized through the objects they've kept and preserved."

WIITH collaborates closely with The Tobera Project, a grassroots organization based in Watsonville. Dioscoro “Roy” Recio Jr. of the Tobera Project and Sociology Professor and Director of the Center for Labor and Community Steve McKay initiated a partnership between The Tobera Project and UCSC to celebrate and bring greater awareness to the long-overlooked history of Filipino Americans in the Pajaro Valley.

McKay is a co-PI on the WIITH project alongside Gutierrez. With Recio Jr.'s vision, the initiative has expanded to include several projects including oral history interviewing, digital archiving, K-12 curriculum development, and most recently, the new exhibition at the Museum of Art & History.

The exhibition will be presented at MAH with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Humanities Institute at UCSC, the UCSC Arts Research Institute, the UCSC Arts Division, the UCSC Office of Research, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, the UCSC Committee on Research, Society of Hellman Fellows, and the Rise Together Fund at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

The exhibition is made possible with the generous contributions of Cristana DeGuzman, Greg Reyes, and George Ow Jr.

Stay tuned for more information about the public programming series associated with the exhibition, including an event for educators on May 3 when the WIITH team will debut a map of Filipino history in the Pajaro Valley; THI's Night at the Museum on May 29th, which will be focused on Sowing Seeds and will feature public lectures by three scholars of Asian America (Catherine Ceniza Choy, Rick Baldoz, and Rudy Guevarra), a family scrapbooking day on July 13, and a closing poetry reading on August 4.