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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
2. Matsumoto, Valerie.
3. Matsumoto, Valerie.
4. Matsumoto, Valerie.
5. Matsumoto, Valerie.
6. Matsumoto, Valerie.
7. Valerie J. Matsumoto. Introduction: Farming the Home
8. Chan, Sucheng. ¡§Review: Farming the Home
Place.¡¨ The Pacific Historical Review 63