With sugar beets becoming Oxnard’s principal crop, The American Beet Sugar Company, privately owned by the town’s namesake family, was incorporated in 1899. Demand for laborers followed the factory’s establishment, and drew 1,000 Japanese farm workers to harvest the sugar beets and live in a "tent city" near the fields. Language and cultural barriers caused the Japanese to rely on the labor contractors to find jobs and serve as intermediaries with their employers. With poor working conditions, low wages, and exploitation by the contractors, tensions mounted. In 1903, the historic strike of the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA) was the first large multi-ethnic agricultural labor strike in California. Led by Kusaburo Baba, JMLA comprised of 500 Japanese and 200 Mexican workers, threatened the monopoly of the company-sponsored labor contracting business, Western Agricultural Contracting Company (WACC). Within a month, JMLA grew to represent 1,200 workers or 90 percent of the labor force on strike, causing the WACC to disband. While the strike and labor shortage that followed quelled the immediate unrest, unfair labor resumed and confrontations arose. A few months later, a bullet, a reminder that he was no longer welcome in town, grazed John Inose, the Japanese spokesperson for WACC, when sighted at a local bathhouse.
In the first century, Oxnard’s Japantown concentrated on Saviers Road (later named Oxnard Blvd) between 4th and 8th Streets with several billiard halls as the main recreation catering to the bachelor community, along with general stores, rooming house, barber, cleaners, and restaurants. A decade later, the Japanese businesses expanded to Seventh Street. With the arrival of women and the birth of children in the 1920s, Oxnard’s Japantown, like communities elsewhere, took on a more permanent character, with the addition of churches, language schools and residences.
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