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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

The Japanese Perspective                                 Kieran Delaney


Valerie J. Matsumoto was a third generation Japanese American from a tomato farm that desired to give the story of the previous generations of Japanese in America. She was able to accomplish this by interviewing over eighty people from all of the generations, and supplying the reader with an image of how they lived and what life was like in 1950s California. Her parent¡¦s stories and rural lifestyle influenced her to research as an insider and outsider.



Valerie J. Matsumoto wrote Farming the Home Place in hope of providing readers with sufficient information and extensive detail about Japanese Americans. She researched the Cortez Colony in California in order to show ¡§the complexity of choices and limitations faced by three generations as well as the resources with which they met these challenges.¡¨1 Her research allowed her to show the interplay of gender, work, and interracial relationships of the Japanese Americans throughout the 1900s. Through interviews of several different generations of Japanese Americans and their first hand experiences in America during post war and after war periods, she tells a story of their hardships and changes as time went on.

The story begins with the immigration of Japanese people to America in the early 1900s. Most relocated to the western part of the United States in hopes of starting life anew and making money in the land of opportunity. The Chinese found work by helping to build railroads, and after the railroads were complete, they began to work in agriculture. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Japanese began to take over the agricultural work of the Chinese. The Japanese farmers of California formed a community that became known as the Cortez colony. Valerie J. Matsumoto used this colony and the people in it for her research, and explained the struggle of the Japanese in America. The Japanese faced endless struggles including: racial land laws such as the Alien Land Law of 1913, disease, primitive living conditions, intense farm labor, and racial violence after 1920. Even with these struggles, the people were happy for the most part. One farmer, with the name of Naka told Matsumoto, ¡§We love these little farms as if they were our own children.¡¨2 As the Japanese population grew, they formed groups like the Cortez Growers Association (GCA). This group caused the formation of cooperative farm organizations, and these organizations helped the Japanese get through the Great Depression and the postwar period. The author also stresses the importance of the Japanese peoples¡¦ ability to adapt to change. The Japanese had to adjust to the changing crop interests and laws of Americans. Even with these challenges, they were able to produce two-hundred different crops and fuel America through the Great Depression.          

The Japanese became aware of the social barriers between them and Americans in schools and jobs. These barriers grew much worse after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese aircrafts. The author explains how all the Japanese in Cortez and the west of the United States were forced to leave their beloved farms and were sent to the Merced Assembly Center. They once again had to adapt to new jobs and significant change from previous patterns of social life. The author explained that ¡§life in the Merced Assembly Center, as in all the assembly centers, was crowded, noisy, and uncomfortable.¡¨3 Many evacuees were very upset with the harsh living conditions. As soon as the Cortez Colony resumed life on the farms, they were informed that they had to be moved once again, this time to the Amache Camp in Colorado. The Japanese Americans tried to stay positive and maintain normalcy, but they missed their farms.

Life for the Japanese farmers was becoming more and more stressful in the relocation camps. ¡§In addition to economic and psychological losses, internment altered family roles and accelerated the trends that differentiated the second generation from their parents.¡¨4 They started to become angry with the United States, but their only option was to do arduous labor for poor wages. The Amache Camp provided supervisors, and the government provided water, equipment, seed, and technical personnel to help promote agriculture and maintain peace with the Japanese. The Japanese of Cortez began to rely on a network of friends and family in order to be successful in job hunting and traveling. In 1945, the United States Army put an end to the mandate that excluded Japanese American citizens from the West coast. All the evacuees finally had a chance to return to their farms in California. The evacuees only had to get an approved relocation plan to qualify for WRA assistance. The Cortez people were eligible for this assistance, however all good things come with a price. By 1945, fifty-seven evacuees returned to eight homes in Cortez, however they were greeted by angry Americans known as ¡§nightriders¡¨ that attacked the returning farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. After the WRA began ending this unlawful violence, the Cortez farmers (according to the author) had two major changes in farm practices to accomplish: a new method of orchard cultivation and an increase in the mechanization of farm work.

After 1950, all farming shifted from ¡§row crops¡¨ (eggplants, onions, strawberries) to vineyards and almond and peach orchards. ¡§Peaches were a lot more profitable,¡¨ was the response of Sam Kuwahara to the new crop pattern. The fluctuations in global markets and new foreign competition, in addition to increasing costs of technology, had increased the stakes for farmers as well as their productivity. As a result, agriculture in California was becoming a highly technological and capitalized industry, and the facilities of the Cortez Growers Association (CGA) grew steadily to meet the needs of the increasing population. The main issue the Japanese were concerned about in this chapter is the new gender roles and marriage arrangements in American society. The Cortez people were mostly concerned with two major trends: ¡§the rising rate of interracial, or exogamous, marriage and an increase in divorce among the Sansei.¡¨5 As the people of Cortez grew, they were becoming increasingly accepted by the American people. Many non-Japanese Americans joined the CGA, making it possible for the Cortez Colony and the rest of the Japanese farmers to be successful. This caused the United States to become the most powerful agricultural nation in the world. The Japanese farmers could finally live in peace and by 1991, their large networks allowed them to operate a vast amount of family farms and share profits.

Matsumoto¡¦s thesis is to show her readers how the Japanese Americans choice to cultivate ethnic community reflects shifting needs, as well as shared history. Matsumoto uses the Cortez Colony to show the persistence and the flexibility of the ethnic community through these troubled times. An example is when after the war, the farmers had to produce crops that they had never grown in order to survive. One farmer (Sam Kuwahara) explained that ¡§A lot of growers didn¡¦t like peaches because they took so much labor and were an exacting crop.¡¨6 Japanese farmers quickly adapted out of necessity and began producing peaches and almonds rather than the less profitable crops like onions and eggplants. The whole book supports the notion of how the Japanese Americans are always adapting to change; whether it¡¦s living conditions, producing different crops, or familial, gender and generational relations.

Matsumoto¡¦s parents inspired her to research this topic and gain insight about Japanese American heritage. Her parents explained Japanese American culture and the rhythms of their rural life. She states that ¡§while I did not grow up in Cortez or in a Japanese American community, my background as a Sansei woman whose parents had raised tomatoes in southern California gave me some familiarity with Japanese American culture and the rhythms of rural life.¡¨7 Matsumoto wrote this book in order to answer the many social and cultural questions raised by urban researchers. She was able to accomplish this by interviewing many different generations of Japanese Americans, providing their personal accounts and stories from 1919¡V1982. Although she seems to maintain an unbiased tone throughout the story, she only presents one side of the story and focuses on the Japanese point of view and their experiences.

Sucheng Chan evaluated Matsumoto¡¦s book in the Pacific Historical Review. Chan believes the book was well researched and interpreted beautifully. Chan feels Matsumoto was very accurate in her presentation of the origins of Cortez, the growth of the community, and life in the assembly centers. The only critique of Matsumoto¡¦s book was that it stopped before the 1990s, which is when more opportunities became available to the Japanese Americans. Chan wished the book would have discussed the topic further, but says that overall it was ¡§an excellent text for classroom assignment.¡¨8

Lauren Kessler describes Matsumoto¡¦s work as ¡§¡Kgood history with a healthy dose of sociology¡¨ in her article featured in the Journal of American History. Lauren Kessler focuses her review on the relationship between Japanese American history and the importance of community. 9 Kessler believes this book is really unique because of Matsumoto¡¦s use of historical oral interviews. She feels that the interviews really make the book come alive and add flavor to the story.          

This novel is brilliant and well written however it only gives the Japanese point of view. The information that Matsumoto obtained from countless interviews is impressive especially since she supports the evacuee claims with substantial evidence. She also provides excellent detail of the different generations of Japanese Americans (the ¡§Issei, Nisei, Kibei, Sansei, and Yonsei¡¨) and how they were affected by these changes.10 Another notable quality was her elaborate discussion of gender and family relations, and how they became more important over time. The only real negative thing about her book is that it is very biased, and as a result the evidence is slightly less convincing. Although she tries to maintain a neutral tone, she leans toward the Japanese from the beginning to the end.

The East Coast and the rest of the United States did not have much of an effect on the Japanese farms in California or the Japanese Americans. The only effect mentioned was an increased desire in the academic community to learn more about the heritage of the Japanese in America. This is demonstrated in the following quote: ¡§¡Kthe historiography also evidences a gradual geographic expansion of scholarly attention beyond the East Coast.¡¨11           

California was distinctive to the rest of the country on the issue of farming for several reasons. One reason is the importance Japanese immigrants ¡§and their children have played in the development of the billion-dollar agricultural economy of the West- particularly in California.¡¨ 12 Japanese immigrants traveled to the West, primarily California, since it offered work, a close knit community in Cortez, and maintenance of ethnic identity. California and the West were the first places to experience cultural diversity. These reasons among many others made California unique. Many immigrants from around the world saw it as a golden opportunity for success. The reason Matsumoto chose the West was because ¡§The West is particularly important to the examination of Asian American, Mexican American, and American Indian cultural processes.¡¨ 13 Thanks to these immigrants, the West led the nation into becoming the most powerful agricultural nation in the world.

Matsumoto¡¦s book really gives the reader an idea of what the Japanese immigrants had to go through in order to make it in America. Whether it was the unbearable internment camps of World War II, or the violence of the United States citizens toward the Japanese, she gives every detail. Lauren Kessler believes ¡§It offers insight into both the history of Japanese Americans and the dynamics of community.¡¨14 Matsumoto¡¦s book would be more convincing if it provided American and Japanese view points. Overall, the book is very informative about the experiences and hardships the Japanese endured. The extensive amount of research is notable. The analysis of the Cortez Colony demonstrates the changes in gender and family roles very accurately. The interviews and first person accounts really help the reader understand the Japanese perspective. Although the one-sided nature of the book makes some arguments less convincing, it is still very well written.



1. Matsumoto, Valerie. Farming the Home Place. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.

2. Matsumoto, Valerie.

3. Matsumoto, Valerie.

4. Matsumoto, Valerie.

5. Matsumoto, Valerie.

6. Matsumoto, Valerie.

7. Valerie J. Matsumoto. Introduction: Farming the Home Place. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993

8. Chan, Sucheng. ¡§Review: Farming the Home Place.¡¨ The Pacific Historical Review 63 (1994): 602-603.