PROGRAM 1: 1850’s - 1920’s

Sailing East: Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino Farmworkers


This program charts the arrival of three different immigrant groups to the fields of California: the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Filipinos. Each brought their own culture, religion and farming skills to this country, and each endured racist attacks of one kind or another. Once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, thousands of Chinese sought work on farms. Through their horticultural skills and relentless labor, they laid the groundwork for California’s rise as the premier agricultural state in the U.S.

Filipino Farm Workers
1930s Filipino Farm Workers, Watsonville.

Chinese in the Fields

The Chinese helped build California into the fruit and vegetable capital of the nation. Hear descendants of some of the first Chinese to farm California's rich orchards talk about how they came to be here.

  Connie King

Connie King, Founding Mother, Locke, CA

"I always loved this town and I wanted to do anything I could to save it in memory of the Chinese who worked so hard to build this state."

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  Ping Lee

Ping Lee, Unofficial Mayor, Locke, CA

"In the old days, there might have been 4 or 500 people, all farmworkers, here on a weekend."

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  Wally Chan

Wally Chan, Owner, Chan Farms, Courtland, CA

"In one way we want to give it up, but we’re an ornery breed."

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Japanese in the Fields

When Chinese farm workers declined due to anti-Chinese laws and vigilantism, Japanese workers came to fill their shoes. Farmers from San Jose talk about their family's journey, including the effects of internment on farm life.

  Kay Izumizaki

Kay Izumizaki, Retired truck farmer, berries, Watsonville, CA

"We had to get up real early in the morning, and help pick berries before the bus came. Then after school run out in the fields to pick berries. That's what we used to do."

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  Frank Oshita

Frank Oshita, farm worker, retired, Salinas, CA

"Beet thinning does take a skill. When my dad first came to this country, it was a nickel or a dime an hour. By the time I got started it was about twenty-five cents."

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  Jim Kawasaki

Jim Kawasaki, Caretaker, Sakaue Farms, San Jose, CA

"In Salinas, my father had a home, and he just locked the house up, and when he came back after the war there was a family in there. He said, ’This is my house.’ And the man said, ’Try to get me out of here.’ That’s why we ended up raising strawberries."

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  Jimi Yamaichi

Jimi Yamaichi, Retired farm worker/farm owner, San Jose, CA

"We used to pick Anise. Each one of those crates weighs 80-100 pounds, putting that on your back and walking through the mud, just killed us. When you’re a youngster, only fifteen or sixteen years old, and putting a hundred pounds on your back, it’s hard."

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  John Hayakawa

John Hayakawa, Retired farm worker/farm owner, San Jose, CA

"In December 1930, we were making pots of money in celery, oh, boy!"

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Filipinos in the Fields

When Japanese farm workers became farmers, Filipino workers came to work the fields. Each group experienced building a life from the ground up, against odds of poverty, racism, and back-breaking work. Their contributions to agriculture can be found in any local supermarket.

  Al Baguio

Al Baguio, former farm worker, local historian, Salinas, CA

"When I was growing up in Salinas, we had to use those short hoes, Cortitos, in the lettuce. That was back breaking work."

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  Andy Imutan

Andy Imutan, Former Vice President, United Farm Workers, Fresno, CA

"I thought that America is supposed to be fair in dealing with its laborers. I thought the United States led in everything, including equal rights for its workers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t true."

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  Jess Tabasa

Jess Tabasa, local historian, Watsonville, CA


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