Oral History Interview with Nickie Tuthill-Delute
Filipino American Oral History Project
Oral History Interview
September 15, 2020
Virtual, Google Voice Interview
By Daniel Nero
Welga Archives, Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies
UC Davis Asian American Studies Department
NERO: All right, let's begin the interview. It is Tuesday, September 15th and this is Daniel Nero conducting an interview for the Bulosan Center of Filipino Studies to record the history of the Filipino American community and we are conducting this interview via Google Voice. Let's begin. Could you please state your name for the recording?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Ah, yes. Nickie Tuthill-Delute
NERO: Then, could you spell your last name, please?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Sure, T, as in Tom, U-T-H-I-L-L, hyphen D as in dog, E-L-U-T as in Tom, E.
NERO: When and where were you born?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I was born in Delano, CA in 1953.
NERO: And then which part of California is Delano?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: It's the Central Valley. It's about 30 miles north of Bakersfield.
NERO: Let's see. Tell me about your mother and your father, when and where they were born?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: They're actually born or they're from Hinunangan, Southern Philippines. Southern Leyte, Philippines.
NERO: And then, when were they born?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh, Dad was born in March of 1902 and Mom was on May of 1918.
NERO: Any siblings?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: OK yes, so including myself there are seven of us. One had passed at birth pretty much and we have a sixth one that we discovered about 21 years ago in Philippines. So there's six of us living.
NERO: And when you said that there's a sixth one that you found, what does that mean?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: It means that we didn't know that we had a half—sister until right about the day that my mom had her stroke and we discovered by hook and crook on [Transcriber’s Note: English language idiom]. We discovered accidentally that we had a half—sister from our Aunt, she just happened to mention it and that's how we discovered it. I've reached out to her and we've connected.
NERO: And so this is in the Philippines, you said.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Yes, she is actually in. Yeah, she is actually living in him Hinunangan, Southern Leyte, Philippines.
NERO: So let's talk about your family's immigration history, how long has your family been in Delano or the United States?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: OK, so it's a two parter. My dad was, as I mentioned, he was born in 1902 and he immigrated in 1926 and he came to look for work and historically now I find out that he's a manong [Transcriber’s note: Manong is the Ilocano word for Older Brother]. Part of that immigration group that came in in the early or in the 20s. So, Dad immigrated here and he had a cousin who immigrated in 1905 and was a cannery worker in Seattle at about 1918. And my dad’s brother, our Uncle, immigrated 1926 and so my dad had that. I am aware of because I had to go through genealogy to find all this that he had two relatives here in the United States by the time he arrived in 1928. And from what I had seen in the records, his destination, once he arrived, he arrived in Seattle, Washington. His destination went to San Francisco, which I thought, “wow, that's really interesting. How did he know where to go?” When I'm figuring that it's probably because of his cousin who was, I believe, living in San Francisco at the time.
And then my mom came in 1952, it was because she married my dad in the Philippines on 1952. Dad arrived off course many years before and he was working with the Navy as a civilian, and had a break from what I understand on the records. Married my mom and he went back to the [United] States to work and she followed him several months later and came. She actually flew on a plane, which I never knew that. She flew in Acclaim Pacific—I mean Philippine Airlines and came to San Francisco. And at the time they were living— Dad was living in San Francisco while he was working and I am assuming that they were planning on living here [San Francisco]. But then, Mom was complaining that it was too cold in San Francisco. Since you’re [Transcriber’s Note: Referring to Daniel Nero] from Nevada, in in the summer in San Francisco, it's pretty cold. It's not very hot, and so she arrived here and my dad would come home from work and he would say— he told us this is the story— he told us “Gee, your mom is like a cat hanging by the heater.” And it's like “what's wrong”? She's like, “oh she's too cold” so anyway, my uncle was already migrating throughout California and he knew about Delano. He was there for work picking grapes and mentioned to my dad that there were a lot of Filipinos living there and that the weather was much better and maybe that it would be a great place for them to come to move and establish a home there. And then, next year I was born [laughs]. I was the first of the eldest, clearly. So, that's how my parents immigrated to the US.
NERO: So, just to backtrack a little bit, so your dad moved because of job opportunities?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Yeah, he was looking for a better life. He mentioned that he was working as a teacher in the Philippines and he —I'm just guessing because, my dad didn't really tell us a whole lot because I just know from personal records/ through genealogy— that his cousin was here already and my uncle or his brother was here, and so I'm sure that they probably spoke to each other and probably encouraged him to come to the States. And historically, to the United States was in possession of those things. Is that right? I'm trying to remember my history, but anyway, I know that my dad always kidded— yeah, well, he and all the other all his friends would always say “hey, you know, there's probably gold on the streets. We should look for it.” But yeah, in reality they knew that was not true, but that was a goal that I'm sure they probably had when they were a lot younger.
NERO: So, you mentioned that your mom actually flew on a plane — Philippine Airlines — Did your dad do the same? Or how did he get to America?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Right? Oh, he went by ship, from what I gather since he arrived here in 1928 to 1952 and during the 1940s and 50s he was working with in the Navy as a civilian, and he traveled and because of work assignment he was always on the ship. I never found any immigration papers or census papers of him taking an airplane. Back and forth during that time.
NERO: So, it was through like the military, that he was able to immigrate to the United States.
NERO: Let's see. So, you said that your parents, with at least in your immediate family, would be the first ones in America. Correct? Were any of your parents or relatives, were any of them farm workers?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: In the Philippines or in the United States?
NERO: In the United States.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: No, no, they I mean they were. Well, I shouldn't say that my uncle was a farm worker. Farm labor worker? My dad’s cousin was actually a cook. Subsequently though, the story is that my dad and a lot of his friends from Hinunangan eventually came to the United States. They created a benevolent society. They call themselves the Hinunangan Circle of America. And they created the organization so that they could help and support each other.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Because at the time, I thought I found out that they weren't able to own property, run a business, have a bank account, so I know that because the organization does still exist. It's a little different now. It's a little more of a social organization, than it was a striving to help each other through times of trouble, but they would help each other whenever somebody looked down on their luck and…so where was I going with this anyway? So a lot of them who came here if they weren't working in in the fields, and a majority of them were working in late [sp?] agricultural labor — agricultural farms some would even go up to the fish canneries either in Alaska or in Seattle, and a few of them were on from what I can tell I had blue collar jobs like cooks or I had one of my dad's friends with a printer here in San Francisco and somebody with a gardener in LA. But they were just a few, a majority of them were farm labor workers.
NERO: For those who are farm labor workers or just, I guess like farm worker adjacent. What were their living conditions like? If you know or if you have ever heard any stories from your relatives.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Well, I was born in 1952 and I grew up in Delano. Delano has labor camps during those times, and I know that a lot of the Filipinos single men lived in those labor camps because we would go and visit them. My mom would sell her pastries, her Binangkal or budbud or Bibinka to the Filipino men that were there, and I do know that. I mean, I didn't see them, but I have heard that there were other labor camps throughout the West Coast from Washington, Oregon, California. And their conditions, you know when you're a kid, you’re just kind of like “well, OK, this this is how they live” but they lived in like barracks [with] a single room — 8 by 12, maybe? I'm not really sure. It had a single bed, a closet. A small little closet, one window and that was that was pretty much it. And I remember when we were kids, when we would go visit and see our Manongs or our uncles, we would say “hey, can we see your room” and they would always say “no, no no, you don't want to see our room” and my uncle—I think was my uncle— finally said “OK, OK you can come see, come look in and see, but you can't stay for very long” and it was kind of like “oh wow this is great” and we go in. And it's like, “Oh my God, it's so small.” Then he had like a calendar hanging on the wall and it had a girly picture up and you know we’re kids, we’re like going “Ohhhh OK”. And he said “OK, OK now you got— now you have to leave” [laughs]. And, we're like “okay” and we’re like five, seven, ten—years old. And anyway, so they had several rooms like that, like in a barracks style. We would go there and go “we've got to use the bathroom and we go to the bathroom” and it's like this this long—Oh, I don't know—it's like a plank up against the wall with a hole in it and you go “oh can go use the bathroom” and you look down and it's like “oh it’s like dirt!” then you're like “Wow, OK. That should be interesting.” And then we would go visit the cook because my mom and dad would always offer them vegetables for their meals for the cook. It was like a large type of cafeteria in a wooden building and sometimes the cook would—if they had any food—they would feed us kids and that was that was really nice. It wasn't the greatest, but they had a place to live, had a bathroom and shower and food and so from what I understand now that those were the standard living conditions that that they lived in.
NERO: And I know that you said that that you were a child during like, when you visited these labor camps. Could you speak on any like discrimination that they faced?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Now, off hand, I never really saw it. I grew up in a very isolated type of life. So I mean, if there were, it wasn't really obvious to me, and then the labor camps by the time the Delano grape strike occurred in 1965. It was a lot of the labor camps were deemed illegal and were torn down and so by the time I figured out what was discrimination, then that was already gone. But the fact that they were already told that they were kicked out of their living—their home, which what it's called, their home—that’s discrimination there. But I know that my dad really hardly ever spoke about the bad things, so I was pretty clueless. Now of course I have other siblings so they might have different experiences, but that was—I'll be honest—I never really felt it or heard anything. Maybe I have, maybe…
NERO: Have you ever asked?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: No, not at the time. Like if I didn't know any difference at all and of course, as I've gotten older, my dad, even though he lived to be 88, I was like in my 40s and all his friends had all passed away even sooner than him. So you know the opportunity to ask was not there. That I just I missed that opportunity to know a little bit of their history.
NERO” OK, so you've brought up many things about like the Grape Strike we'll get to that in this second section of questions. I have to kind of shift a little bit and focus on you growing up in Delano. So, growing up, were you mainly around family, friends or relatives?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Mostly family and friends.
NERO: Why do you think that is?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Small town [laughs].
NERO: That makes sense
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Small town and I honestly grew up thinking that I had no relatives except for my dad, brother, my uncle and we had and another manong which was—[laughs] I find out now wasn't that much older than my dad, but we used to call him lolo [Transcriber’s note: Tagalog word for Grandfather].
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh, OK. Oh, “why is he our Lolo?” and because you know, we always figured that our grandparents were in the Philippines and I found out later that he was married to my dad’s—his first cousins—and so, I think he migrated to the United States, but around the same time. Anyway, because he was so close to my dad’s first cousin, we called him Lolo, and he was our designated babysitter. But I don't know if you want to talk about that yet, but anyway so I grew up thinking that I had no relatives and I find out years later that I have a lot of relatives in the United States and in the Philippines but I really didn't grow up with them because at that time, they weren’t quite around. There were a few, but not a lot, and so it's just mostly family. My immediate family that I grew up with and all my friends in the town of Delano.
NERO: In a sense, the people that you're surrounded by are practically your family now too, like everyone’s your Tita [Transcriber’s Note: Tagalog word for Aunt], everyone’s your Tito [Transcriber’s Note: Tagalog word for Uncle].
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh, yeah.
NERO: Speaking of, let's talk about the Filipino community. Were all the Filipinos close with one another?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh God, yeah. It's like everybody knew you knew each other. So I mean, it's small, I grew up In in a town, it was only at that time about what 10,000 people or something, and we had a Filipino community hall and we used to go to all social events, Christmas parties, Easter Egg hunt parties, birthday parties. You know everything that you can imagine. My brother in the in the 60s was a king of hearts [laughs].
NERO: What is that?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: It was Saint Valentine’s Day.
NERO: Oh I love it.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I don't know if they do that anymore, but it was a social box and they crowned the king and queen. You know, little kids for Saint Valentine's Day and my brother was, amazingly, amazingly enough [laughs] was the King of Hearts. So anyway, so we’re a very close—knit community. We all knew each other. We all went to school together. I mean, there were the farmers and the business owners and we always figured to label our town because of the railroad line that that was right down the middle of town. So we had the east side of Delano, where all the white people lived, and then the West side of Delano, where all the minorities who have all the Filipinos, Mexicans, African Americans all lived on that side of town. So we had one elementary school and we all went to that same elementary school. So it was a combination of K through 8 [th grade], so we all knew each other from kindergarten from five years old to 8th grade to 14. So we all kind of knew each other. We all knew all the families and we only had one high school. So then we all integrated with the Caucasian students from the east side of school in our town. So that yeah, the close knit community.
NERO: Let's focus on the Filipino community first and we'll talk about the heterogeneous mix of the groups. Were there any tension between the Filipino ethnic group?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: No, not that I grew up with…No, I was thinking about that question and I thought, “well, you know, maybe later down the road,” but when I was growing up, no, and not at all who we all got along pretty well.
NERO: OK, what about between like Filipinos and Mexicans, Filipinos and white folks, like any tensions between like interracial tensions.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, I didn't really see too much of that, then again, the problem I have is that I was pretty sheltered on being the oldest girl and I was not able to see any of that, at least I think that's what my parents did. You know, protected me, but I mean, I know that there were some tension. You know in the 60s, but it was mostly the…
NERO: Civil rights movement?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Yes, thank you, that! The civil rights movement and I was more into the Identifying [with] the feminist movement. I'm not sure they called it the feminist movement yet that came in the 70s, but you know, I was remembered as a kid, I was kind of like “I don't want to be like these women, don't want to be like little girly girls and all like those stuff” but anyway. So in regards to Mexicans and Filipinos, I don't know, we all seemed to have gotten along. I just personally mean, I'm trying really hard to think about that, I mean it didn't happen until much later.
NERO: And by much later you mean like not growing up, but during the 50s, 60s?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: In the 70s actually, I mean in the 70s mostly, I was in.
NERO: I understand.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I was in high school when this was all coming out. I mean when the Grape Strike [started] and that created a lot of tension. But again, this is the Grape Strike. This was like in ‘65, but even then, I was kind of clueless until later, but we can talk about that later. You're ready to ask me questions about it?
NERO: OK, OK so we're switching back and forth. Let's go back to the Filipino community and earlier you mentioned the Manongs. How did the Filipino families view elderly models?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh well, you know, like they’re relatives, a lot of them. I mean we did, we would have them over our house and they would stay whenever they were visiting, and so our Lolo was Manong, my uncle was Manong, so many of my dad's friends from his benevolent society, they were all Manongs. I mean, now I know the word and so that what it means and I grew up with them and I thought my dad was the only old guy in in in my life and I realized later that everybody in Delano all the fathers were that old and all my dad friends were all that old.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: You know how it is, there's Asian Americans, or I mean, Asians, Filipinos. You know, they look so young you don't realize that they're already in their 50s or 60s when you're like 10 years old.
NERO: Well, you mentioned that. You now know the word and you know what it means, so can you give me a definition of what a Manong is?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Well, a Manong is older Filipino and it's a term of endearment to respect. And it usually categorizes in what we’re speaking to right now. It categorizes the men, the Filipino men who arrived in the United States back in the 20s and 30s. I mean, I know now you can say to any older Filipino man for respect. But I associate now Manongs with the older, the really older generation of like my dad. I mean if he was alive now he would be over 100 years old.
NERO: Let's see, do you have any memorable experiences about a Manong that you'd like to share?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh gosh, I have so many. Oh OK, well you can talk about my Lolo and he was, as I mentioned, was married to my dad’s first cousin, so there were very close friends. He would come to visit us in our home in Delano when you know, and I could never figure out when he would come visit, but he would come visit us and there were times he would come and babysit us and so, I thought “wow, he's a great cook.” I mean, if food always came out and he just you know [his] Filipino cooking, just wonderful. And he would always tell us his kids “Pick a vegetable, pick a vegetable” and because my dad grew all this vegetable at our house. And [he’d say] “pick a vegetable and bring it over and I'll cook something,” I go “Oh yeah, oh OK. Great!” Beans or eggplants or whatever and he’d say “Oh, Okay!” and he’d go ahead and cook something and we’d go “Wow this is really good; I mean he could just whip it up like that.”
And there were times when I knew that he was lonely because he would Drink a little bit too much. It was kind of like, that's our lolo and then he would start crying like all the sudden. He's like sitting there and he would be drinking and then he starts crying. My mom would sit there and say, oh “don't do that in front of the children”. You know, “don’t be drinking in front of them” and we’d like going. “Oh well, that's our lolo”. You know, and he would get like you know, even sadder because my mom is yelling at him. But I realized at that time because he must have been lonely because he left [Transcriber’s Note: The Philippines] years ago. This [happened] in the 50s— 60s he left like in the 20s. He left his wife, he left his daughter and he had never went back to the Philippines. He stayed all those years. So anyway, that's happy and sad. That's one story.
NERO: Kind of switch gears a little bit. How was your relationship between Filipinos born in America and Filipinos born in the Philippines?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: When I was born in the 50s, you know that mix wasn't great. It came much later when I was in my teens where we had more Filipinos started to come in and coming into town and working and living in the camps. So the story is this. This is how we had the Filipinos from the Philippines who are living in the camps or maybe some who were living in town with relatives and then there was us: The Filipino Americans who would sit there and try to try to emulate them, or they try to emulate us. And there was some tension and I'm not really sure about all this. My brother saw more so because it was a guy kind of thing but they used to play basketball with each other and they would have like fights. From what I understand but I wasn't really quite sure about it exactly.
So there was that kind of tension going on. It's about somewhere in 1975 and my brother and a bunch of his friends of the local guys decided to have a Filipino Basketball tournament in Delano and it would be Filipino Americans and the Filipinos from the camps or around town. They would like have basketball games with each other and my brother would always say “You know it was like really difficult because they would play basketball like they were in the Philippines. They were like really rough. They would like hit each other, hit us and you know play really rough” and so they had to change it and they mixed it up. They would get the camp guys with the Filipino American guys and they created teams and so they created that Basketball tournament, which led to what is now the Delano Philippine Weekend that happens every summer in July, which started with the basketball tournament. And that basketball tournament created the Fiesta [Transcriber’s note: the Philippine Weekend Barrio Fiesta] and now they have a [Beauty] Queen show, they have a Mrs. Queen show, they got tiny tots on competition. And what else did they do...they still have the basketball tournament.
I mean to this day they still have It. It would have been the 45th anniversary this year except for COVID [Transcriber’s note: COVID—19 Pandemic], that it didn’t happen. And so what happens is that the basketball tournament was so popular that people from all over they were people from San Jose, California, from Stockton, from Sacramento, from Fresno, from Los Angeles, San Diego. Their Filipino teams would come up or come to Delano for this this tournament. OK, so I have this one story. My mom was in a nursing home in the 90s and you know the nurse who was taking care of my mom was Filipino and she was asking us, "what we were going to be doing for the weekend” and while she was asking how she mentioned that she was going go out and go out of town to this to this event—this Filipino event that happens every year and she was like "my son goes to it, he plays basketball in this tournament” and we're like “Oh well where is this?” I thought maybe Stockton or something., and she goes “Oh, it's probably some place you never heard of,” “Oh well, tell us” and she goes “It's Delano, California. My husband and I really like “Delano!? Oh my God, I grew up down there” and she goes “no way! My son goes and he plays in this Filipino basketball team and this is here in San Francisco, and we go there every summer” and I go “Yeah, my brother helped put this [Basketball tournament] together, I go down there and whenever I'm visiting and help with scorekeeping or whatever.” So anyway, it's a small little town, a big event. it's like wow, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how popular this event is.
NERO: But it also goes to show how truly network the Filipino community is?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Yes! Oh my God. I mean I would go down every year to watch the basketball game because that was what really put this thing together. And I would see all these teams from all various parts of California. I think there was a Vegas basketball team that frequent them. And I was like—I mean, the guys in Delano, they got the word out, and there they were and I was always looking forward to [saying] “wow what Filipino basketball team is from where?” You know, it was really cool just seeing this.
NERO: So you talked about the Fiesta, you talked about the basketball tournaments every year? Does this happen in the community hall or...?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh gosh. OK, so it happened everywhere in town.
NERO: Oh, OK.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Because Delano, it's maybe now 50,000 people. But you know, it grew slowly over time. But yeah, we had a Filipino hall [where] they would do it at the time. The Queen show or whatever in the early days, the basketball tournament occurred in the high school. The school district was very accommodating to the Filipino community. I think it was around that time that we had our first Filipino Mayor in Delano, so that helped quite a lot and we did have I believe a couple of teachers who were also Filipinos and come. But see we had it at a park eventually on various high schools for the tournaments and The Queen Show and all that, it just grew so much. It grew so big. That they had to do it in like in larger venues like the High school auditorium, the Filipino Community Center. Yeah, I mean it could maybe hold 100 people, but it's pretty tight. It's pretty small, in a small stage. So eventually that moved out.
But yeah, we had tournaments at the high schools, the Fiesta still was at a major public park. They had a parade down Main Street and they had all the queen shows at the High school auditorium.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: So it was pretty popular and the only Filipino—owned business was the Filipino Community Hall. They would occasionally have a few things there, but it actually just eventually outgrew it.
NERO: OK, so we're going to switch gears a little bit and talk about the Grape Strike. So you mentioned that you're born in the 50s and then throughout like the 60s—70s, that's when the growth has happened. Do you remember about the Strike? Like, can you talk about the atmosphere any significant events that? You know, like you witnessed?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: OK, so I lived through it that I didn't participate because it was in a sense...
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Kind of an intense situation. I just remembered my parents, who would argue at home and I just remember them arguing about going to work because you wanted to honor the strike for the benefit that they were achieving. But at the same time my mom would sit there and say, “well we can't stop working because we have children.” I think [it was]1965—I don't know. My sister was maybe six or something, she was the youngest between me being 12 and she being six. You know, young children. So my parents were hard pressed to say “well we have to honor the strike.” So what I recall we would go to school and in the summers we would work in the fields with our parents, and the strike was a long strike, it was like for five years from ‘65 to 1970. So every summer we would work in the field and what I always remembered was we would go to work and then suddenly we were told get out of the field, put all the stuff that we were working with, [and] just put it under the vines, walk away, get into the car and leave. And then we find out later that my dad and the crew boss who knew that strikers were coming over and they were going to come over in and badger us, to say “get out of the field” and so my parents, all the families that were picking grapes would want to protect their families and themselves to get out of the field, get int the car and leave and so that nobody would get hurt because they were some violence that occurred. So it was kind of one of those.
This is what the strike was all about and there were times when my dad couldn't go to work because they were striking in a certain areas that they were supposed to be picking, and then that would be the time when my parents would say “the kids won't go to work with them, they would go by themselves.” So what may have happened, they would not tell us, but that was that. That was what I had experienced and there were a lot of news about Delano on TV and on newspapers, so one of those things where you would see it in the news, in in your own town and you would go to the grocery store and they were strikers there and they would say, “don't buy grapes” and sometimes they would hassle you, and bully you. And a lot of people from what I remember really didn't appreciate it and I think a lot of people didn't like the strike because of the way that they were being bullied. As they're going into to do their shopping because we only had, I think at that time just a few grocery stores. Safeway was our major grocery store, and we had a couple of smaller grocery stores. And the strikers would always go to come to Safeway, and that's where they did all the heavy picketing. I mean, so that was my experience with the Delano Grape Strike. I'm trying to think my parents were arguing. Yeah, all the news. I mean, it was like “Geez, all this news on about Delano?”
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I do know that my mom had a cousin and he would stay [with us]. So what happened was that we used to live in a very small house on our current property and as the family got bigger, my parents decided to build a bigger house. You know, four bedrooms—three baths versus a two bedroom—one bath. Anyway, but they still had that house and they rented it to my mom's cousin and he actually was working for [Larry] Itliong during the strike and what I always remembered about him was that he was always one of the strikers. He was always out there carrying a sign and yelling at people and I always figured he was one of those violent kind of guys, I mean, even though he was my mom's cousin and so he used to live right next door with us and we would see him around town and at the grocery stores and yelling at people. And so I always figured you know he was a diehard striker and I always figured, “oh he’s probably a henchman for the United Farm Workers and my mom would get really mad at him because whatever he does, that's what he does. But he used to come over and bring all these—= my parents [would say] “Who are all these people that are that are staying at the house” and they were all part of the strike. But they were Caucasian, and we would call them at the time “the hippies” because they were young Caucasian, you know long flowing clothes and hair, they were loose, all that kind of smoking and drinking, and they were hanging out and we’re like “wow what's going on over here?” And my Mom yelled at him and said “Hey whatever you do, just don't bring any of your work over here.” I mean, I can hear him arguing in Visayan [Transcriber’s Note: Filipino Language spoken primarily in the Visayan Islands] he would yell back at my mom, [I’m] like “Geez, nobody yells at my mom” and he would yell back at her and saying like “you should honor the strike” or something like that. I vaguely remember that.
But other than that, that's what I remembered. And then, of course, the Forty Acres being developed.
NERO: What do you mean by the Forty Acres being developed?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh, Forty Acres. It's a location now in Delano. It's kind of about a couple of miles outside of the main part of Delano, and it's where Cesar Chavez—he did his fasting over there and then when the strike—when it was successful—they opened a clinic, and that's where a lot of the people, and even myself would go over and have affordable health care. Doctors—I'm not really sure how the doctors came—but the doctors were there. I don't know if they volunteered or if it was something, maybe they got some benefits or something, but they would be out there with some of the nurses and they would take a lot of patients. And then the hiring hall was created, and anyways that's where the office was located for the United Farm Workers. And eventually the Agbayani Village was built there, which was the housing for all the Manongs that were displaced after the strike was finished, because a lot of them, got kicked out of the camps because the Camps were deemed as illegal. So they moved all the Manongs out. A lot of them had to censor themselves and so that's when Larry Itliong, [Philip] Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco put together the housing units for the Manongs that were displaced.
NERO: So that's actually one of my questions about the Agbayani Village. I want to go back to a little bit of what you said about your mom and your cousin, so there's a lot of that contention between Filipinos about the strike. Why do you think that is like? Why do you think that tension exists?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I mean this is my own personal experience just because my mom. OK, so that I was treated with like “we don't want Nikki to see all this stuff” and my mom was always like “we got to show this, like this perfect or a perfect family, we have no problems” [laughs], and it's like, “OK, well that's being a hypocrite.” So and then there's my mom cousin who was part of the strike and he believed one thing and she believed in this perfectness, and they would clash. That's how I kind of saw that as kind of an attitude perception of how their lives would be. I mean, I grew up thinking that my mom really never wanted to address the negative part of life and yet, at the same time she was like really being overprotective. Because I mean every time I went anywhere she was like following right behind me like I would go to a dance and then lo and behold, here she is! You know, in the darkness making sure you know “OK is she behaving herself,” that kind of thing. But there's always that tension, I believe and it might be, just something that's part of our culture. I mean, I can never understand it. And yet to this day I do still see it in in other families and sometimes I catch myself, pretending like everything’s fine, you know nothing to worry about. And I think being honest and showing how you truly feel about things, I think it's more honest which we were not always until they expressed that way. One of the things I do want to bring up was my mom— [about] our half sister— because this is that that part of her life where you think that maybe she would tell us, but she never did. She never told us. I mean, when she had her stroke she lost her ability to write and speak then when we finally said “hey mom, we know” she just kind of looked at us and you know, like, “oh OK”. It's like she couldn't really say anything and it was just one of those things where you sit there and you go “Mom, all you had to do was tell us we would have been OK” and she kind of like nodded and said “mmm hhh”. Like it would have been just nice to know what you went through. And I was telling a cousin of the events and her takeaway was, “well, If your mom had shame so she didn't want to talk about it.” I go “this is our half—sister”, and we celebrated when my brother had his daughter and we said, “Mom, your first grandchild.” In reality, she already had four grandchildren we didn't know about! [laughs]. You know what I mean? It was like that. All of a sudden, life became immeasurable because of the…well, I don't know, the lies, or the secrets that people have. Anyway so, it's great to know that she had grandchildren much sooner than we realize because my half-sister is 20 years older than I am. It's like wow.
NERO: I want to ask about the Agbayani Retirement Village. Do you know anyone who volunteered to help construct it?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh gosh, no. You know what. Wait, yes, I do Max Bacerra and some locals[s]— Lorraine Agtang. I do know that they were there. Let me turn my Bluetooth headset off so I can go… [Transcriber’s Note: Tuthill-Delute switching audio capturing device].
Can you hear me still?
NERO: Yes I can.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Hang on, you could turn up my volume, OK. I did know some people, local people who did help build it. I mean, even though we had a lot of volunteers from what I understand, I think there were a lot of college students, who came there.
NERO: Do you have any experiences during the construction, I guess? Like can you talk about the construction in itself from your perspective?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I was already living here at San Francisco and I would only experience it whenever I visit in town. That and that was it.
NERO: OK, that's actually a good segue for like the last section of this interview. Let's talk about your post-high school years. What did you do after graduating high school?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: After I went to high school and graduated I went to college and I worked. And I would visit home every other month while my parents were still alive, and that, how would I say, the caged bird needed to spread her wings.
NERO: Where did you go to college and what did you study?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh OK, so I went to a couple of colleges; Community College from Bakersfield and I did Cal State University, also in Bakersfield, which just opened at that time. And then, really, for as long as I can remember I wanted to get into design and art and wanted to go to New York. I wanted to be a designer and it's like my parents would always sit there and say “Sure. Yeah, how are you going to get there? Who's going to pay your way?” I go “Oh. Aren't you going help?” My parents would sit there and say “We can't afford you going to New York.”
So anyway, so I was going to college and I thought, well, I'm going to fill out an application to transfer to a bigger university, and I applied to San Francisco State and I got accepted. I was like, “Oh OK, it was like wow, great, I can't believe it. I'm going to San Francisco.” My parents were so…Anyway, so I said “hey mom, dad, I just got accepted San Francisco State. I'm going to go to college there.” I just like flat out said “I'm going to college there.” My dad was like “Oh. Well, why did you do that?” “Why did I do that?” “Well, you could go to college here in Bakersfield.” Like “Oh no, I'm going to San Francisco. It’s simple as that.”
I know that my parents weren't very happy about it, but you know, I was the first woman [in the family] going to college. Subsequently, of course, my brother went to San Diego State and did much better than I did [laughs]. I went to San Francisco State for a couple of years and then I dropped out in the 70s but eventually went back in the 90s and got my Bachelor’s. My interest had always been in art.
That was when I had great time expressing myself and was doing a lot of artwork doing mostly ceramics and sculpture. And then of course I graduated and then I hear my mom's words: “Well, what are you going to do with it?” I know, it's like “OK, now what am I going to do? Where do I begin?” So I started working in a couple of places. I remember working for the classified department in the San Francisco Chronicle and I was trying to get into their art department, but it was kind of an old boys school. You know, printing departments in newspapers, and so I just — hard as I tried, I couldn't get in there, so I eventually left, finally got a job working in an ad agency and that was about as close as I ever got to working with creative people and I've been working in that field. Well, pretty much now, but not in the art field. I was more of a project manager, so I got to work with print managers, art directors, writers, and then of course the account people. So I got to see a lot of radio commercials being produced, even produced a couple of myself. I oversaw a couple of commercials being produced and newspapers and newspaper ads. Those are the days and now of course everything is all Internet —but they still do commercials.
NERO: So is that the career that you stayed at for your adult life?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Pretty much. Pretty much until I can't work any longer and that's the druthers. Now as you get older, I'm now in my 60s. I'm having a hard time finding work and now with COVID, forget about it. I'm weary to go back to work and getting infected.
NERO: Were there any other Filipinos in your field of work?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: There were a few. There were a few. Not a lot, but most of them were more in administrative and you know, like clerical. But not a whole lot. I did grow up with a couple of guys, [Asian] Americans who went to San Francisco State also majored in art. And they were art directors. They were very successful last batch. But they were. You know, one of the few.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: I mean, most of them were Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans. I mean, now I, believe there are a lot more Filipino American artists in the industry kind of world. When I was looking for work in the from the 70s to the to the 2000.
NERO: So you mentioned that Delano's population grew. What about the Filipino population and how did it change During your adult years?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: In Delano. OK, well it has changed quite a lot. What has happened is, is that a lot of the Filipino families have migrated to the City of San Francisco — I mean the City of Delano. Sorry and, some are teachers or doctors — professional jobs. And they stayed on and they brought other friends and families to the point where there are more in the blue collar—white collar jobs and or white collar jobs and the labor. Yeah I would go down and say “hey you know I used to use a picked grapes” and they look at me and they say “You picked grapes?” I go “Yes! There are Filipinos that used to pick grapes” and because only the Mexicans now pretty much pick grapes and most of the Filipinos have migrated over to the packing shed because they have better benefits there, working conditions [are] much better than working in the field. So that's where a lot of the Filipinos ended up.
And anyway. So what happened also to and because of the population has increased, more Filipinos, and also more Mexicans. The town has changed. Main Street used to be of course, owned by — well, I mean you don't know that — but it used to be owned by a lot of Caucasians. But I mean they were also immigrants because they came from Slavonic countries and some came from Italy and in other places, and they own the businesses, they ran Main Street Delano. Now you go to Delano and Main Street Delano is owned by all minorities — Mexican Americans, Filipino Americans and your Caucasian business owners, is very few there. And we would kid around and say “What happened? Do these like kick out all the White People in Delano?” They always wondered about that. It’s they're still around because I know that the family names are there. They always wondered about that. You know, it's just they're still around because I know that the family names some have stayed on because they still have like their vineyards, their growers. They're still there, and some have married, you know, inter marriage, they married either another Filipino — a Caucasian married Filipino or Mexican — and so they stayed and had families over the years. So, the town has changed quite a lot. I mean, we have a lot of Mexican restaurants, hardly ever when I was growing up. Same thing with Filipino food. I mean the only Filipino food you can find was at somebody’s home. Now, there are a few restaurants where you can get Filipino food and it was rare to find anybody who would sell Lechon [Transcriber’s Note: Whole Roasted Pig, Filipino Style]. Now — I mean, my parents would wait until there was a special occasion and buy a hog and then we would have a barbecue at our property. But now it's more common. It's I mean — thank God, but our history needs to change. We need to talk more about our Filipino American history.
NERO: So speaking of, let's talk about FANHS [Transcriber’s Note: Filipino American National Historical Society]. So how did you get involved with FANHS?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: OK, that's an easy one. My brother who is in San Diego was involved with FANHS because his wife was a president of FANHS and he was mentioning, “oh, you know, we're having a conference in San Diego” and I always love going to their [conferences] because my brother is a teacher — was a teacher — [and] a school administrator and I would love to go to a lot of his teacher conference, because I get to meet all these educators and I see all these vendors, and all the books and art stuff. And I thought “Oh OK, FANHS yeah. OK, Filipino American history organization. Sure, you know this looks really great.” I wanted to volunteer and help out. I went to the first FANHS Conference in San Diego in 2014 and saw how it was run. My poor brother was running ragged because he was helping putting it together. So I would help with the managing people, moving them here and there and I would be a moderator at a panel and I thought. “Hey, this is really great.” My brother would say, “Hey you know, if you want to go to a panel or workshop or something, by all means, go ahead and join in.” And like in a panel and a FANHS Chapter in the Central Coast was talking about people that she was interviewing and I sat there and I thought, “Oh my God, those are my cousins,” because they owned a Filipino market in Pismo Beach. And I thought “My God, I know those people were my relatives!” And then somebody was doing some research in New Orleans. And they were like looking for Filipinos that were in the New Orleans area way back in early 1900s and I went “Oh my God. Let's see if she has my uncle there because my uncle was in New Orleans in 1930.” And lo and behold, she found his name! And there it was on the presentation. I was like “Wow, these people are pretty cool!”
We became members and that's where I learned more about like Manongs, the Bridge Generation, the Filipino history in America and I thought “Well, this is great” so that became into the Delano chapter. My brother calls me up one day and he says “hey, you know what? We got to do a Delano — FANHS Delano chapter. I want you to help put it together, and we're going to put up an event and it's going to be on the anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike. It'll be 50 years.” and I went “Sure, sure I'll do it. I'll help. I'll put this chapter. I'll help put the chapter together and I'll help put this event together” and so that became the Delano Grape Strike: The Bold Step [Transcriber’s Note: Event title for the FANHS Delano chapter’s event] and that was in 2015 and I helped along with the officers, helped put this event together. We became a chapter like in June I believe, through July, August, September. The event was in September. We had three months to put it together.”
NERO: Oh wow, three months for the 50th Anniversary?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Yes, For the 50th. And you know. People in the officers and some of the volunteers would…You know, because I've done these kind of events because I was working with Oracle at the time and one of the things that Oracle has— It's a it's a software company here in Silicon Valley—and they do this big event every year in San Francisco. You know, they close the street down. They take over the Convention Center. They take over this and that. Anyway, so I kind of knew a little bit of planning, an event, a big event, but so, what I was trying to say is that 50 years and I knew that this was going to be a big event, and I kept stressing to them “Well, it's got to be more than just one night. It's going to have to be a weekend thing” Especially because then Dawn Mabalon and Robyn Rodriguez came into the fold to help us put it together. They helped get guest speakers and suggested topics for our workshops with panel panelists. And I thought, “wow, this is just like a FANHS conference, but you know, it's a Delano chapter event.” So it became a three day event Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And we there are a lot of people who attended and I think a lot of people in Delano and were like “Oh, I had no idea that this could possibly happen” and but what's really interesting is that the people who planned it realized the scope of the history in Delano, but the people in Delano still don't really know it, interestingly enough. They don't go to a lot of the functions that occur there. So that's my contribution to FANHS. And then of course because I'm still here in San Francisco, I decided to join the San Francisco FANHS chapter [laughs].
TUTHILL-DELUTE: So then they kicked it off this year in right before the pandemic and we have a lot of members, a lot of students. And the President or the person who's kicking off is a Filipino American college professor at the City College Community over here. So she's — she happens to be a student many years ago in San Diego and she knew my brother because he was a school administrator and at the time his wife — She passed away of cancer— but she used to be a student of hers. I mean, of my brother's wife at the time because she knew my brother and his first wife. So, she's got knowledge and information, which is really great.
NERO: So we're now just winding down to the last part of the interview. Talking about the Bold Step Event. Why do you think that event was important?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Oh my gosh, why is it important?! It's because of the Filipinos that were involved in it that people don't know anything about. You know they thought Cesar Chavez was the Delano Grape Strike, I mean. Even the people who grew up with it, we all know Cesar Chavez but nobody made a point to say “hey, no, let's get this straight,” so that's my big takeaway is that when I realize that you know this is history that needs to be told correctly. Then our event became the big kick off. I mean, I understand that there are other stories about it, but this was the big kickoff to get the story right because you know we made— we had a couple of people from the from Cesar Chavez Foundation who came and actually said “Yes, Larry Itliong started it.” If it wasn't for him, the Grape Strike occurred because he was the guy who came into town and said “hey, we need to make this change, we need to get more money for our workers and the only way we can do it is to strike.” I mean it's like “Oh my God, let's get this right, let's get it straight.”
NERO: And then, second to last question, do you feel that Filipino American history is getting enough recognition?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Enough? No. it needs more, it needs more and I can only say that because in the town of Delano where the Grape Strike occurred, not everybody still knows it and so we need to— I understand that we've now got the curriculum for Filipino farmer history into K-12— but I haven't seen it implemented. Yeah, but it's more and more events. And I now that I'm part of FANHS and I am in the Delano chapter, I try to bring awareness through FANHS with events, and we have a tour that we do every year — er, not every year. That if people request it, they can do a tour of the Delano Grape Strike locations where the Grape Strike occurred. Out in the field the Filipino Community Hall where they held their meetings, where Cesar Chavez took the agreement at the Guadalupe Church, which still exists, and where Larry Itliong is buried, he is buried in Delano. And of course the development of the Forty Acres where Cesar Chavez had his fasting, where the clinic was developed where the hiring hall was, and where Agbayani Village was created. Then of course the other history, which is the Delano Chinatown which is now like bulldozered over. But that's where all our Manongs used to go. You know, go shopping, go gambling, go drinking, go eating. Extracurricular activities and but that in itself is history. And so anyway.
NERO: And then here's the last question for the interview. What advice do you have for young Filipinos like me and many others?
TUTHILL-DELUTE: Come to Delano.
NERO: I'm tempted when you said there’s Lechon everywhere, I'm so tempted.
TUTHILL-DELUTE: [Laughs] Yeah, they're— Oh my God. Well, there is one main person that really makes it and you got to go to Delano. And when I mean Delano is a really—I mean in in a whole lot of ways, It's still a small town and it's in the middle of really nowhere, and the freeway runs right through it. But the thing is, is that Filipino history is in all our lives. I mean, it's in Delano, Stockton, Sacramento, Coachella Valley down over by Morro Bay. Down over by. Where the Manila Men in New Orleans are. The kids, the youth, I think are better off than when I was a youth of our Filipino history, but we need more of it, so that everybody is aware of who the Filipino Americans are, how we came here and that our history is part of American history.
NERO: And what a great way to come to close the interview. Thank you for thank you for your time. So this concludes the interview with Nickie Tuthill-Delute, and this is Daniel Nero signing off for the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. I'm now going to stop the recording.
- Date Added
- September 14, 2021
- Filipino American Experiences Oral History Project
- Item Type
- Oral History
- “Oral History Interview with Nickie Tuthill-Delute,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed September 18, 2021, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/757.