Santa Cruz County is the second-smallest county in California, but its two largest cities couldn’t be farther apart.
Cultural and economic differences have led to a deep divide between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, and this split is the topic of a lecture by renowned local historian, Sandy Lydon.
“Community rivalries are very common, but this is a different animal," Lydon said. "This is not just a Friday-night football rivalry. This is genetic; it is in the coding.”
Lydon is wading into the fray from his neutral perch at Cabrillo College in Aptos, about halfway between the cities. Lydon, history professor emeritus also known as “the History Dude,” has a lot to say about the rift.
Lydon will tell the stories of this ancient feud in a lecture from 8-10 p.m. Friday on the Cabrillo campus, Room 405. Tickets are $20 and available at the door or through Cabrillo Extension.
Watsonville and Santa Cruz have been mismatched since the county was founded in 1852. Agricultural Watsonville wanted to be connected with the rest of the Pajaro Valley, San Juan Bautista and part of Salinas, but the state Legislature decided to lump the town with Santa Cruz and, inexplicably, put the county line right down the middle of the Pajaro River.
Over the years, Watsonville has tried 14 times to form a new county with its more like-minded neighbors but was never able to successfully disassociate itself with Santa Cruz County.
While Watsonville developed as a hub for agriculture, Santa Cruz was a manufacturing town full of aggressive, Protestant entrepreneurs who sometimes tried to dominate the county. Watsonville would often act as a spoiler to their plans. It has gotten to the point that just the two words, “Santa Cruz,” are enough to torpedo any initiative in Watsonville, just on principle.
There have been dark moments.
Santa Cruzians burned the Aptos Bridge during the small pox epidemic and boycotted strawberries in retaliation for Watsonville’s support of Chinese immigration.
But there also have been rare moments of hard-won cooperation, such as the creation of the railroad between the cities and Cabrillo College.
Lydon's advice to continue those collaborations? Start by always pronouncing "Pajaro" with the emphasis on the first syllable if you want to be taken seriously in Watsonville.
Lydon is considered a local treasure and a fountain of information, stories and good humor. He has taught local history for more than 40 years, has collaborated with and inspired many historians and wrote the book on the history of Chinese immigrants in Santa Cruz County, Chinese Gold.