- Emily Pan
Honoring the Past
Japanese Farmers (Photo Courtesy of Richard Waller Family Archives)
The mark left by Japanese Americans can be seen all over the country, specifically their involvement in the agricultural industry. In the early 1900s, Japanese families were farming all over the Central Coast, from Avila Beach to Arroyo Grande. In 1922, they started the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange and popularized pole peas, which helped farmers through the Great Depression. The Japanese were also very innovative in their farming techniques, and rumor has it that a Japanese farmer in the Santa Maria Valley was the first to plant broccoli west of the Mississippi River; today it is one of the most popular vegetables on the Central Coast. In addition to thriving in the agriculture industry, a Japanese school was also started in the 1920s in Arroyo Grande, where students would take Japanese lessons.
While the bombing of Pearl Harbor furthered the prejudice against individuals of Japanese descent, discrimination against those of Japanese ancestry in the United States dates back further than Pearl Harbor. For example, in a letter from the California State Governor to the Washington State Governor dating back to April 20, 1921, they ask for "help in the fight to 'secure absolute exclusion of Japanese immigration.'"
But like mentioned above, Pearl Harbor only worsened the relationship between the Japanese and the Whites. For example, in an article by the Telegram-Tribune dating back to January of 1942, they say, "while maybe not all 'Japs should be put in internment camps, I do advocate that each residence and place of business … be searched thoroughly … .'" Executive Order 9066 does not ever actually use the word "Japanese", even though the order specifically targeted that ethnic group. This was because, "They were trying to pave the way constitutionally and legally to do something that was neither legal nor constitutional," states the previous executive director of the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, Eva Ulz.
Cooley, Ryah. “Imprisoning Our Own: SLO County Families and Executive Order 9066.” New Times San Luis Obispo, New Times San Luis Obispo, 9 July 2020, www.newtimesslo.com/sanluisobispo/imprisoning-our-own-slo-county-families-and-executive-order-9066/Content?oid=2978896.