Professor Wayne Maeda, Sacramento State University, Wayne Maeda Asian American Studies Archive

Professor Wayne Maeda
Rainjita Geesler
Agricultural contributions scholar

R: Talk about the early Issei farmers and when they first started to come to this country.

The issei farmers were essentially enticed to come to Hawaii, Hawaii plays a major role on a sugar plantation. SO they recruited Japanese from Japan. About 148 or so in 1868. It was still illegal for Japanese to immigrate, but they allowed a small group to come, and it really wasn’t until 1886 that immigration was legal. So immigration begins in 1880’s90’s. Sugar plantation owners are recruiting Japanese from southern part of Japan, so once the word gets out that they can make money in Hawaii that precipitates other Japanese to continue to come to ha and california were the wages were higher.

1:20 What were the immigrants doing when they came to these shores?

Initially a group of young student who immigrated to get an education and found that there was work available. In inland places like Baca Ville, central valley. Did the same kind of work as the Chinese decades as before, filling the need for cheap labor in agriculture.

Why did they choose farming?

2:03 Well, part of it was that most of them came from agriculture background. West coast was an agriculture economy which is diff from east coast, which was industrializing. Opps were here for the Japanese. Essentially they came to the right country at the right time, Chinese had established agriculture in California Japanese filled cheap labor slot, railroad built, fridge ration cars. Those things allowed Japanese to get into farming and stay in farming.

When did they get into horticulture?

Bay area, ½ moon bay, horticulture began in 1890-1900’s.

They were providing the fresh flowers in market in San Francisco. With trains they could ship them a long distance. Bonsai and those are all respectable occupations in Japan, sort of finding a niche and filling it.

Describe the working conditions that early agriculture workers faced

3:58 Very diff kind of work, there is a saying that Japanese carried the blankets on their backs and went from place to place. Lived in tents and poorly run labor camps. Very difficult life going from place to place. Also had to deal with labor bosses who were often Japanese who were known to obscon with funds as well. Very diff life.

How did they begin to own their own land?

4:28 Many Japanese wanted to be their own boss. They had this dream of becoming a success in America and they realized being migrant workers wasn’t going to do that, so they devised a number of ways, leasing land, share cropping, and then ultimately they were able to save money to begin to purchase small plots of land, 20-25-30 acres. So by the 1900’ds they aware already getting into farm ownership.

What kind of racism did they face?

Initially when they were coming into replace the Chinese laborers, they became the model minority. It was argued that they brought families and they worked hard and they weren’t like the Chinese, and that sentiment lasted a very short time. And people in ca began to argue that if the trend continued, Japan and the Japan would take over California.
There were a number of distinct kinds of things
Alien land act of 1913, 1920- declared ineliligable for citiizenship. So they were coming into an America that had just gotten rid of the Chinese, and so they took on the sent of the anti Asian sent in cal.

Have you seen that pattern repeated thru the generations?

6:15- well as the Japanese women coming they had children; the children were by def American citizens. They essentially grew up in a segregated world, se boy and girl scouts, pools they couldn’t go to. Second generation prior to WWII grew up in a very circumscribed world.

Talk more about the alien land law, and its impacts.’

6:48 Well the first land act in 1913 didn’t have that much of an effect, because Japanese found ways to get around the various provisions of the law, and then in 1914, and 15 US the world is involved in WWI there was a shortage of food, and the Japanese expanded in agriculture. And there were always people willing to sell them land even though it was against the law, and so it didn’t impact them to a great extent. The 1920 law had a major impact on the first generation.

What happened?

Like in our contemporary times, California legislated thru the initiative process, they put a ballot on the measure that passed by a margin of 3-1, which closed all of the loopholes, you couldn’t form land corporations, lease land, put land in the name of their children. Much harsher and restrictive law, and curtailed the Japanese in agriculture.

9:33- and at this time were they leaders in the agricultural industry?

Certain areas, growing strawberries, celery, truck farming. They used very little land in California. The perception that they controlled a lot.

Why did they create the land law? Why did it go thru when it did and impact so negatively?

When it passed in 1920, there was virulent racism all across the country. VS McClatchy and other politicians who whipped the winds of hatred and it wasn’t hard to convince people that the Japanese were ready to take over all of agriculture.

10:40- What did the workers do when they couldn’t farm anymore.

The Japanese continued to work as migrant workers, some of them gravitated back towards the city. By the 1920’s Mexican labor was beginning to, along with Filipino workers so, there were interment Japanese workers till WWII.

So they replaced one immigrant group with another…

Yes, that is the pattern of California agriculture and its still with us today.

11:22- talks about the agriculture situation before executive order 9066

I think for many of the farms who survived the depression, they were on the verge of doing quite well. I think had the Japanese farmers not been interned they would have profited from WWII. Just like many of them did quite well during WWI growing beans and other things for the military. So had WWII not come along, or had the Japanese not been incarcerated, I think they would have done quite well in agriculture, but as you know that wasn’t to be.

And do you know the percentages of how much was controlled by Japanese at that time?

In certain produce reas, 70-80 percent. Strawberries, grapes, celery, so there were areas where they did dominate, but because of the war they were incarcerated.

Talk about the impacts that exec order 9066 had on the farmers.

After the war there was an attempt to revive agriculture and it never really gained the prominence for many reasons. Suburban sprawl began to take the land that used to be farmed by Japanese so they couldn’t lease land any more. The younger people, by this time many of them are college aged, and there’s an expanding opportunity in the economy so they are off to school and getting jobs. And it’s hard to keep younger people on the farm. And then agro business kicks in after the war, huge land holdings, and the small Japanese farmers had a hard time competing against the much larger corporations.

13:40- Talk more about the patterns that you see repeated throughout history when looking at immigrant labor and anti immigrant laws

Chinese came here and it was because of the availability of Chinese labor that California was able to switch from wheat, cattle and lumber and move into agriculture now, intensive agriculture. Chinese had knowledge of agriculture. When congress passed exclusion act, we needed another group of people to come in and work the fields. Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Sikhs and Mexicans. Look at the pattern, need for cheap labor, filled by people of color, and that pattern is still with us today.

15:07- Looking at the intergenerational aspect-

I think there were quite a number of second generation who continued to farm, less so with the third generation. Because a lot of us went to the universities and found other jobs. Very difficult to compete in agro business, even today there were a large number of large Japanese farmers in Dixon, sac area, and now they are competing with china. Because they are moving canaries to china, growing tomatoes in china, and shipping the ketchup back to the US. So a lot of the farmers in Sacramento, who grew tomatoes on a large scale, are now having to go out of business.

Greatest agriculture contribution?

I think the ability to grow different kinds of products in California, in addition to that Japanese and Asians pioneered rice industry. California is one of the largest areas that grows rice. Two major agriculture contributions to California.

Anything else you want to add?

If we look at history we see that when we get into economic recession, Chinese blamed, Japanese blamed, and here we are in the 1980’s, we have a major recession and blame undocumented workers. So in terms of who works our fields, Californians want it both ways, cheap produce, but we don’t want people of color in California, so not much has changed since the 1880’s and 1890’s.