During the last decades of the 19th century, the city of Riverside was emerging as a major tourist attraction for wealthy easterners drawn to its warm winter climate and profitable investment opportunities in the growing citrus industry. Japanese immigrants also began arriving in the early 1890s to work in local citrus groves and packing houses, alongside Chinese and Mexican laborers. By 1910 Riverside’s residents lived in several clusters around the city and had a commercial life that included grocery stores, bicycle shops, restaurants, a fish market, cobbler and tailor. The majority of Riverside’s 580 Nikkei were single men whose needs were catered to by barbershops pool halls and rooming houses. Two labor contractors and three employment agents helped place as many as 3000 Japanese migrant laborers at the peak of citrus harvest season.
One of these labor contractors, Ulysses Kaneko, was among the first Japanese to become naturalized citizens in California and was a leading community figure who worked as a court translator, grand juror, and board member of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce. Although anti-Asian sentiment and discrimination were not uncommon, Kaneko’s status may confirm some historians’ arguments that there were comparatively low levels of ethnic antagonism in Riverside. Yet, Riverside is also the location for one of the emblematic civil rights struggles by a Japanese immigrant, the Harada family’s battle to own their home on Lemon Street.
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