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Learn how laws were passed to prevent Japanese farmers from owning land, and how school children went to segregated schools.
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How the Japanese Issei Settled in America Part 2/6
Jan: Hello! I’m Jan Yanehiro. Japanese sellers began coming to California during the late 1800s and by the turn of the century, thousands of Japanese were making a living as farmers here in the Central valley and in other part of the west and from Japan, they brought an intense work ethic and appreciation for nature and a will to succeed.
Kiyo Sato: The Japanese have a great respect for nature and children grow up with it and all the children know what a haiku poem is and they know what a pine tree is and flowers and I think it was natural for them.
Jan: By 1910, Japanese farmers were an integral part of California agriculture; responsible for successful potato and rice crops, track farming and an empire of strawberry crops. In 1942, Japanese Americans were reportedly controlling 68 million dollars worth of California farmland. They earned a reputation for being great innovators.
Georgiana White: You see farmlands sitting there that other farmers had rejected as not farmable that they quickly went to work and found ways to make the land very productive and then on top of that, they showed great ingenuity for instance, in the Florin area where you see the growing of the grapes and then figuring out that now they can plant strawberries down between the rows of grapes, so they’re making the land twice as productive.
Jan: Despite their productivity, Japanese-American farmers faced racial obstacles and hostilities. Here in Walnut Grove in Sacramento County, children of Asian descent were isolated and force to attend the segregated school in this building behind me. Three other northern California towns also opened up segregated schools. Japanese-American farmers still face more isolation and discrimination when the California Legislature passed the Alien Land Law in 1930.
Wayne Maeda: Essentially, it prevented aliens who were not eligible for citizenship from owning a land in California and they phrase it that way as a euphemism and it was clearly directed at Asian-Americans because they were the only ones who could become citizens of the United States.
Jan: Many Japanese-American farmers found loopholes in the law and purchased land in the names of their children or a friend who were American citizens.
Kiyo Sato: I remember my father saying, “We borrowed the name of citizen.” And many farmers did that or some of them belonged to corporations.
Jan: Still, the Alien Land Law did discourage many Japanese-American farmers from becoming anything other than laborers. The law was clearly designed to prevent them from becoming a competitive threat in the farming business.
Wayne Maeda: Japanese are only farming two percent of the improved lands here in California. It’s not like they control all of the land here. It’s just a very minuscule amount of land here and yet such reaction against the Japanese indicates there was quite a bit of that hostility against the group that essentially came here wanted to fulfill the American dream.