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Japanese American agricultural impact
(Photo courtesy: Sakata family)

By George Autobee, Capt. (Ret.)

The Japanese arrived in Colorado between 1886 to 1888 as visitors and students. Between 1903 and 1908 a large number of Japanese arrived as common laborers, railroad workers, miners, farmhands, factory workers and domestic workers. Many of the Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) worked on the railroads and coalmines. Nisei or second generation Japanese Americans followed up by working on the farms and in agricultural sectors of the economy.

By 1902 Japanese Americans had found work on the farms in Colorado and many became independent farmers in the Arkansas Valley. There they made history by becoming the pioneers in developing and growing the famous Rocky Ford Melons. This was repeated in the San Luis Valley and in the western slope near Grand Junction and the Delta, Colo. farming communities.

During World War II, the Japanese Americans in the United States were sent to internment camps. One camp in Colorado housed 7,500 Japanese Americans. It was Granada Relocation Center, later called Camp Amache. The camp was 18 miles east of Lamar. At that time, Camp Amache was the smallest of the 10 internment camps in the United States. The camp included over 500 acres of vegetable crops and more than 2,000 acres of field crops. The inventory included hundreds of heads of cattle, hogs and poultry, all grown by the camp workers. Japanese Americans performed much needed labor on farms across Colorado, especially on the sugar beet farms.

During the war Denver was considered a “Mecca” for the Japanese and was considered the “unofficial Japanese capital of the United States.” Japanese American businesses grew from 46 in 1940 to 258 by 1946.

By 1950 there were only 5,412 Japanese Americans in Colorado. This was down from the 11,700 Japanese Americans in 1945. The 2010 U.S. Census indicated that the Japanese American population grew back to 11,097. The Japanese American community has become monoracial and if you include the multiracial (hapa) Japanese Americans the population is closer to 18,000 in Colorado. One of the largest Japanese American farms is the Sakata Farms. It is one of the largest farms in the Southwest, with farms located in Northern Colorado and the San Luis Valley. The Japanese American community has had an impact on the agricultural history of Colorado and are to be acknowledged for their efforts.





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