From Elaine Woo of the LA Times: Harry Kubo organized the Nisei Farmers League in 1971 and was its outspoken leader for 25 years. At its height, the league had 1,500 members of various ethnicities and played a prominent role in farm labor conflicts in Central California and statewide. Several farms (including ours) owned by Japanese Americans were vandalized and targeted for unionizing and picketing. Kubo responded by mobilizing some of his fellow Nisei — second-generation Japanese Americans — into the Nisei Farmers League. It had 100 members the first year; by 1976, according to the book “Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present,” it had grown to 1,500 members, of whom only 40% were of Japanese descent. Most of the farmers owned no more than about 50 acres of land.
During the 1970s, the league organized picket patrols to support growers whose farms were being picketed by the union and night patrols to guard against vandalism. Vandalism was rampant. Fruit trees and vines were broken, sawed, or set on fire. Ladders, tractors, and other machinery were fed with a mixture of sand and sugar. The nails in the photo above were thrown in areas where farmer’s vehicle and equipment were parked.
I recall both my Uncle Sus and my brother Bob helping the Nisei farmers with night patrols, and making sure the farms were safe for workers who wanted to work. The yellow banner above was used to distinguish the Nisei Farmers from all others. I thank Mr. Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League for these historic items.
I often wonder what my dear Grandfather would have thought about this. He passed away in 1965, but came to the US in 1896, at the age of 16. He did not receive welfare, food stamps, ESL lessons, or special legislation to help him. Instead, he suffered through the Asian Exclusion Act. Then he and his entire family were sent to Relocation camps in the swamps of Arkansas, and the desert of Arizona.
Unknown to most people who were sympathetic to the striking workers was a special motto of Chavez. His favorite was, “Break the Japanese farmer”, and his second favorite was, “The Japanese farmer is weak.” I guess when he encountered Harry Kubo and the Nisei Farmers League, he found a most worthy adversary. I am proud that my family stood with Mr. Kubo and the League.
Before almonds and other crops began to replace the grape and raisin farms, upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 migrant workers came from Mexico. For a period of roughly six weeks, they picked our grapes here in the Valley. Then they returned home with enough money to live comfortably in Mexico, and tend to their own farms and businesses. Today, the UFW number around 3500.
2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Nisei Farmers League. A big celebration dinner is planned for November.
By I have a bigger question. What happens to the farms once owned by proud Nisei returning from Relocation camps? And how will we preserve the legacy of the Nisei Farmers League?
My Uncle was a hero!!