Early Japanese immigrants described travel through the Sacramento Delta area as going "down river," leading the Issei to call the area around Walnut Grove, "Kawashimo." Chinese immigrants had harnessed the delta’s fertility in the 1870-80s by creating a network of levees and inland islands that controlled flooding in what had been a marshy swamp. White landowners reaped the primary benefits from this major project of land "reclamation" and dominated the local economy, along with the multiethnic population of immigrants who arrived in succession from China, Japan, East India, the Philippines and Mexico to work the fields around Walnut Grove.
Unlike other Japanese agricultural settlements, where some immigrants were able to purchase land and establish independent farms, Kawashimo remained wholly owned by a few white landholders. Issei farmers arrived in Walnut Grove after 1892 and established themselves in fruit, tomatoes, beans and asparagus production, first as itinerant contract laborers and then through tenant farming. Walnut Grove emerged as a hub for Japanese in the delta area and by the 1930s, over 100 Nikkei families farmed around Walnut Grove. Kawashimo’s Japantown had a bustling commercial area to serve their recreational and material needs, as well as community institutions such as the Buddhist and Methodist Churches, a Japanese language school, Kenjinkai (prefectural associations) and Japanese Association.
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