April 10, 1998

Mr. Paul Dunn, Chair

Pike Place Market Historical Project

Department of Neighborhoods - Urban Conservation Division

Seattle, WA 98104

Dear Mr. Dunn,

I am writing in support of the artwork commemorating the Japanese American Farmers at the Pike Place Market.

During the early part of the 20th century, Japanese Americans had carved an important niche in the American agricultural industry. Despite being penniless upon landing, many Japanese immigrants became landholders if a few short years. £ven though the average Japanese immigrant farrn was 56 acres compared to 320 acres for whites, the Japanese American farmer still contributed to 13 percent of the total agricultural produce of states such as California. By 1911, more than half of the citrus and deciduous fruits in the West Coast were produced by Japanese American labor. Locally, Japanese American farmers had contributed tremendously to regions such as the White River Valley of Washington. Keep in mind that according to the 1920 census, Japanese Americans were never more than 2 percent of any Western state.

While some were establishing reputations as farmers, others were great fishermen. In Washington state, severa?, different str~uns of oysters were introduced by Japanese fishermen. Japanese Americans also contributed significantly to the canning industry.

The success of the fishermen and farmers led to the concentration of others in the wholesa'le produce industry. By 1940, Japanese Americans accounted for roughly half of the tota'l produce business of the major cities of the West Coast. Some of the Japanese Americans went into the wholesale business to furnish an outlet for the farm produce of their fellow Japanese American immigrant or citizen. Following this pattern, much of the Pike Place Market had been developed by the Japanese American farmers of the Pacific Northwest. Until the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, Japanese American farmers and fishermen had dominated the Pike Place Market as they had many other agricultural areas of the West Coast.

Jealousy, however, was inevitable. Beginning with California, an Alien Land Law (which does not end in the books of that state unti?,1956) was passed in 1913 whereby "Americans" were no longer permitted to lease land to Japanese immigrants; nor could l~nd be p~c~ed for a minor child (a strategy many Japanese immigrants resorted to since the child born in U.S. soil would be considered an American). The same law would be passed in Washing~on st~ .d Alaska in 1920. Fortunately, many Japanese immigrants were related to enough adult American-born Japanese who could purchase land. So despite the hostilility surrounding them, many Japanese Americans continued to thrive in the agricultural industry until they were forced to evacuate under the internment order.

Artwork commemorating the Japanese American farmers is well-deserved. Despite the important role Japanese Americans have played in the agricultural industry of the Western states, there is little awareness and even less acknowledgment of their hard work. This commemorative artwork would raise awareness and it would properly honor some of these pioneers who had worked so hard, but are treated so "invisibly," in having helped develop the agricultural industry of the West Coast. Please give the project your full support.


Connie So


cc: Jill Beppu, Japanese American Citizens' League Seattle Chapter