Looking back at how Asian workers shaped Monterey County’s agriculture and fishing industries (an excerpt) – Monterey County Weekly


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From 1880 to 1940, California’s economy progressed in all industries, which created a labor demand filled by immigrants, and a need for accompanying regulation. The United States fluctuated in immigration legislation in this era, as the drive to colonize brought frequent change in international government powers, and United States immigration policy determinations consequently adapted. One such immigration policy included the exclusion of immigrants originating from the Asiatic-barred zone, then was amended, expanding to exclude the Asian-Pacific Zone. This anti-Asian rhetoric trickled down from the federal level to the state level, as California enacted the Alien Land Law.The Alien Land Law denied land ownership to any alien who did not qualify for citizenship, a subtle racial bar which only applied to Asian Americans. California implemented the Alien Land Law to drive Japanese labor elsewhere, which mimicked the implementation of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act. Although initially not heavily enforced, the Alien Land Law condoned Japanese exclusion, and incrementally ensured a path to the internment of Japanese Americans 30 years later. Additionally, the law furthered racially biased actions against interned Japanese Americans in their resettlement after internment.In Monterey, California, the Alien Land Law and the Chinese Exclusion Act particularly dispersed the Japanese and Chinese communities that developed Monterey’s agricultural and fishing economies. Monterey served as the home to one of the first settlements of first-generation (“Issei”) Japanese and one of the first Chinese self-developed economies in California. These immigrant populations cultivated and solidified the fishing and agricultural industries in Monterey, which still dominate to this day. However, Monterey suppresses the history of these cultures and minimizes the presence of their populations in the region.There are only a handful of Japanese farms that survived the Alien Land Law, and Japanese internment, and barely a trace of the Chinese fishing village in present-day Cannery Row. The only celebratory nod to these populations exists in the Feast of Lanterns festival, a Chinese inspired celebration of heritage. However, the Feast of Lanterns is exclusionary in itself, as it fails to adequately celebrate the population it means to appreciate. Monterey County has an amnesiatic history of Asian Americans and how crucial their labor force was in the development of the county’s economies.What Remains of this History?The remnants of the Alien Land Law disappeared from Monterey’s history. Presently, the Salinas Assembly Center is the Salinas Sports Complex, encompassing the Rodeo Grounds, a small neighborhood park, a community center and multi-sport fields. To recognize the internment, there is a small plaque and fenced Japanese garden. Interestingly, the Ikedas are known to have come back to farm the property they contended in People v. Yeizo Ikeda, in what is now developed as Carr Flats until five years ago. Carr Flats is also a block away from the Salinas Sports Complex.The Tanimura family’s prosperity in owning, developing and cultivating their lettuce company defies all odds, after all the exclusionary mechanisms in place. Tanimura & Antle is one of the largest lettuce suppliers in the United States today. George Tanimura, the oligarch of the Tanimura family, took over his family operation after they had defied all odds to stay within Salinas as farmers. Initially, Kichigoro “Kay” Tanimura married Hatsu in Japan, then came alone to the United States to take care of family matters related to his eldest brother. He began working as a translator, and small-scale strawberry farmer. He gained status in the community by operating a Japanese-oriented grocery store, while permitting room and board in the attic for transient immigrants.After this venture, their daughter Yukino married Eijiro, the son of one of Kay’s half-sisters, and adopted the Tanimura name due to the notoriety within Salinas. Eijiro moved the family to Knight Ranch in Castroville in 1923 to grow iceberg lettuce and strawberries. He leased this land from a friend, Jack Hayashi, who was born in Hawaii, which permitted him to own land despite the Alien Land Law. The friend tragically died in a train two years later, causing the Tanimuras to rebuild completely.The Eijiro family had the help of Ellis Spiegel, a local shipper, who permitted them to sharecrop lettuce on his fields. They moved from a parcel off of Highway 68, to a farmhouse on Harris Road near Spreckels, to a ranch off Davis Road, and worked wherever sharecropping was available. Of the surviving siblings, George traded off with his brother Charlie in working the farm, attending Salinas High School, and earning income through normal employment. However, the Tanimuras were taken to the Salinas Assembly Center, and then to Poston for three-and-a-half years. George Tanimura came back to Salinas in the 1950s, redeveloping a new farming operation for lettuce in his own name. The Tanimuras expanded into green onions and celery, and used the Antles’ for packing. By 1982, the two companies merged and blended farming and packing lettuce, and became one of the most successful lettuce companies.The Tanimura story is one of perseverance and true connections. No matter what impeded their path, the Tanimuras worked diligently to find a new market entry. The Tanimuras no doubt needed the help of their connections in the area, but with all the exclusionary mechanisms in place throughout their family history, it is inspiring to see the family lead the Salinas Valley agricultural industry. There may be no family more deserving based on the history of the area. Sadly, the Tanimura story is an outlier. The remnants of Japanese laborers as the initial workers of the Valley is almost completely lost. After the internment of the Japanese, Mexican migrants filled the labor shortage almost immediately. Mexican history, already rich in Monterey as a previous capital of the Spanish Empire in Mexico, has endured throughout history. Adobes previously erected and lampposts reflecting El Camino Real show the deep-rooted history of Mexicans in Monterey. However, in regard to Japanese heritage, little remains aside from stories and word-of-mouth histories from descendants and the Japanese American Citizens League of Monterey Peninsula.A Chinese Celebration or Chinese Exclusion: Feast of LanternsCounter to the lack of Japanese history, the Chinese fishing village is celebrated today through the Feast of Lanterns. The Feast of Lanterns initially began in Pacific Grove, California, in 1905 as a concluding celebration to a Methodist Church retreat. The Chinese village established in Monterey at that time lit all their fishing boats with lanterns. However, a year later, the Chinese fishing village was mysteriously decimated by a fire. The old village of Point Alones now is the home to Hopkins Marine Station, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Feast of Lanterns is currently cast as a celebration of the Chinese fishermen who previously lived in Pacific Grove. The Feast celebrates the Chinese, their revolution of the squid fishing industry through the use of lanterns suspended over the water at night, which causes squid to rise to the surface like moths to a flame.Today, the Feast of Lanterns reflects Chinese culture only in costumes and the lanterns themselves. Held every summer, a week-long festival follows a royal court of Chinese princesses through summer camps, retirement homes and community service events. Each princess is named after a rare gemstone, and one lucky woman gets to be Queen Topaz. They give out trading cards with their name, are photographed dressed in Chinese styled costumes and decorated umbrellas, and dictate the story and history of that princess. At the end of the week, at Lovers Point, Monterey residents gather to watch the Feast of Lanterns story unfold, culminating in fireworks illuminating the bay. The story mythically follows the search for a Chinese Empress, where a Chinese man, “Chang,” helps the princesses escape an overbearing father. In the past, the princesses were four to nine high-schoolers, with proven application and dedication to community service. Recently, the Feast of Lanterns Association has implemented changes in the story. For example, they changed the status of the male to be a Royal Guard instead of a “Chang.” The association continues to encourage changes to the story each year to reflect changes in modern social norms.Personally, prior to writing this paper, I never found any issue with the Feast of Lanterns after attending the festival for more than a decade throughout my childhood. The Feast of Lanterns was an endearing hometown tradition, where families could gather at the beach in the middle of summer to watch the fireworks. However, this is a reflection of my ignorance. In analyzing the correlation between the history of the Chinese in Monterey, and the celebration of the Feast of Lanterns, there seem to be stark issues.

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