A History of Japanese Americans in California:
Kawasaki Labor Camp
In 1921, Joseph DiGiorgio owned 20,482 acres of productive fruit lands in California. In 1935, his holdings had increased to 40,000 acres, mostly in California. Included in this acreage were 6,000 acres near Arvin in Kern County, and another 6,000 acres near Delano in Tulare County. Hundreds of Asian and Chicano farm workers provided the labor to make this land profitable for the DiGiorgio corporation.
The Kawasaki Labor Camp, located in the vicinity of Delano, consisted of about 40 small buildings in which farm laborers were housed, a few larger residences where the camp bosses lived, and a mess hall and company store providing services for laborers. Eight structures at the northwestern portion of the property are two-room wooden buildings; the remaining laborers' dwellings are former railroad boxcars placed on concrete blocks. In the center of these latter structures is a more recently constructed concrete-block shower and bathroom.
Corporate farming first appeared in Delano in the late 1920s, approximately the same time issei-operated labor camps were established. The DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation referred to the Delano property as the Sierra Vista Ranch. Workers on this ranch lived in labor camps numbered I, II, III, and 18. Issei who operated these camps during the years before World War II were: Tanimura, Morita, Tagawa, Hyodo, Fujita, Nakajima, Yoshihara, Yamamoto, and Yamashita. It is estimated that before World War II, Camps I, II, and III housed 60, 40, and 350 men, respectively. In addition, several other Japanese labor camps were operated for large ranches in the area.
Frank Tsunekusu Kawasaki, for whom this camp is named, began working as a foreman for the DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation in 1933, and operated a labor camp at the Arvin ranch until World War l. During internment of Japanese Americans, both Filipino and Mexican laborers lived in the camp.
In December 1947, Japanese labor camps at the Sierra Vista Ranch were once again opened, with Mr. Magoshira Nakajima as the company overseer. In 1949, Frank T. Kawasaki resumed work as foreman and camp operator for the DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation in Delano; he remained in this position until December 1956 when he retired. His son, Paul Kawasaki, was camp foreman of Sierra Vista Camp II from 1956 to 1967; his nephew, Tom Kawasaki, was foreman of Sierra Vista Camp #18 from 1949 to 1956. During this period, the average number of laborers in this camp was 200, with more than 300 living here during the harvest season.
Sierra Vista Camps I and II were no longer Japanese labor camps. Camp I became a Chicano labor camp, headed. by Mr. Rodriguez. Later, Mr. Rabaya became the camp boss, and it evolved into a Filipino camp. Camp III, headed by Mr. Fernando, consisted of approximately 100 Filipino farm workers.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, the number of issei laborers decreased dramatically as this population became older and unable to perform agricultural labor. From the 1940s, California agriculture became more and more dependent on Mexican laborers, who as citizens of the United States or Mexico worked in California legally or illegally. Uncomfortable with publicity surrounding illegal Mexican entrants to the United States and the Bracero program, the agricultural industry attempted to locate other sources of labor by developing a limited immigration program from Japan, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
During the mid-1950s, the DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation sponsored a refugee program in which approximately 250 Japanese were directly recruited by Frank Kawasaki from the provinces of Kagoshima, Hiroshima, Wakayama, Shima, Yamaguchi, and Kagawa in Japan. These refugees were given permanent resident status, but few remained on the ranch.
During the World War II internment, the Delano Buddhist church burned down. In 1956, the church was reactivated with Frank Kawasaki as president. Buddhist church services were held at this site once a month until the closing of Sierra Vista Camp No. II in 1967. After this, services were held at the Honbo Camp, another Japanese labor camp.
From 1962 through 1967, the Kawasaki labor camp provided room and board for about 150 Mexican green card workers. The DiGiorgio Corporation brought these Braceros to work in their fields on a contract labor basis.
Sierra Vista Camp No. II was closed in December of 1967, when the DiGiorgio Corporation sold the property. Two reasons were given for the sale: the 160-acre limitation on farms that used federal canal water, and organizing activities of the United Farm Workers Union.
The property is currently vacant.
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