When my cousin’s family moved to Cambria in the early 1930s, my cousin came home from school her first day in tears because she felt so isolated — her last name ended in a consonant instead of a vowel. At that time the Swiss, Portuguese and one Spanish name were predominant — Silveira, Bianchi, Fiscalini, Camozzi, Soto, etc. She was soon included, however, and became lifelong friends with some of the girls. At one time during World War II they were “Rosie the Riveters” in Burbank.
Although I had spent my summers up here on San Simeon Creek Road with my grandparents on what then was the L.W. Gregg Ranch, now the StepladdeR Ranch, I finally moved to Cambria full-time in 1946, and spent my senior year at Coast Union High School. From then on, no matter where I lived, Cambria was my hometown.
Eventually my cousin married a local boy whose mother was a Van Gordon, of Van Gordon Creek fame. In her youth she used to recount how, in the late 1880s, local ranchers would split up their ranches into smaller parcels for their children. The smaller parcels, however, were not big enough to provide the income to sustain the lifestyles the children had grown up accustomed to, so they began selling the smaller parcels.
The work ethic of the Swiss, and probably the Portuguese as well, was to work, save — then eat. Consequently they had the money saved to buy up the smaller parcels and, after not too long, they became the predominant landowners in the area. This, of course, upset the established Anglo community, who began
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denigrating the Swiss — calling them “dirty Swiss” out there on the ranches, where all in the family worked really hard. (This according to my cousin’s mother-in-law.)
Most of the Swiss and Portuguese were Catholic, which meant they couldn’t join the Masonic Order at that time, which was the predominant social organization in the community. The story goes, and I’m not sure whether this one is true or not, but that is why the Native Daughters and Sons Organizations became so popular. It gave the Swiss and Portuguese a place to gather socially as well.
My roommate in college was a local girl, a Bianchi, so we came down from San Jose where we had both graduated from college and found jobs, to Cambria for the second annual Pinedorado. I met her cousin, a handsome tall young man, and we eventually married. Although a great many members of my family did come to our wedding, my parents would not. They were “old school,” and refused to accept the fact that I was marrying a Swiss, and in the Catholic Church, as well. It was years before they could accept the fact that the world had not caved in as a result of my action. I think it was the obvious affection our children had for their grandparents that convinced them!
Knowing a very small part of the history of the various waves of immigrants to Cambria, I very much welcome the vitality and family-oriented culture of our newest wave of immigrants, the Hispanics. I know that some are from Mexico, some from Guatemala, and so on, but nonetheless, they are doing exactly what my husband’s
family had done — come to the United States and Cambria to provide for a better life for themselves and their children. I recognize that some have come here illegally, but the vast majority are here legally.
I am really quite curious, although I may not be around to see it, where the next wave of immigrants after the Hispanics come from. Wherever it may be, just as the very first wave, the Spaniards, northern Europeans, including the Welsh who worked in the mercury mines, then the Swiss and Portuguese, and now the Hispanics, the new immigrants will bring a vitality to the Central Coast that will be most welcome, as well.
Shirley Bianchi is a longtime Cambria resident and former county supervisor. She lives on San Simeon Creek Road. Email your “Your Turn” musings about Cambria — what it is, how it affects us; what we like about it and, for that matter, what could be better — to cambrian@thetri bunenews.com.