Rooting Identity: How Farming Brings the Diaspora Together
Asian Americans make up less than one percent of U.S. farmers, but still their stories have left an imprint on the nation’s farming history.
In the late 1890s, Chinese immigrants in the Sacramento River Delta started successful farms using their advanced knowledge of irrigation and planting. And, before World War II, two-thirds of Japanese Americans living in California, Oregon and Washington worked in agriculture. These farmers dominated many markets like strawberries, flowers and carrots.
Today, Asian Americans are growing food on everything from commercial farms to community gardens. As farmers who often straddle two cultures, agriculture offers a way to reconcile their cultural heritage with life on American soil.
Act One: The Yamato Colony
Growing up in the 1970s in Florida, Sage Kamiya considered himself an all-American boy. He saw himself in the dark hair and dark eyes of Superman. But his classmates asked why he looked different and where he was from.
Kamiya is a third-generation Floridian, and he’s also a third-generation Japanese American.
In 1905, his ancestors moved to Delray Beach, Florida. They formed the Yamato Colony in that small town on the southeast coast. They had their own school, grocery store and post office stood. But eventually, the colony began to disappear. Now, it’s like a blip on the radar of Florida’s history.
Kamiya is one of the only descendants of the Yamato Colony left in the area. He reads his ancestor’s journal often, and wants to publish excerpts so his own descendants can read about their history in the future.
Act Two: Saroeup and The Farm
Saroeup Voeul, 55, spends her retirement volunteering at Movement Ground Farm, a seven-acre plot outside of Providence, Rhode Island. The planting and harvesting reminds the Cambodian refugee of her childhood before all the turmoil.
When the brutal Khmer Rouge regime rose to power in the 1970s, an estimated two million Cambodians died from execution, torture, disease, and starvation. More than 150,000 Cambodians fled the country. Saroeup was one of them.
At sixteen years old, Saroeup arrived in a Thai refugee camp. She was later sponsored by a refugee agency and relocated to Providence, Rhode Island in 1984.
With someone in Saroeup’s family facing possible deportation, life in the U.S. hasn’t been easy. But the farm is where she finds solace through all the uncertainty.
Emily Cardinali, Ash Ngu & Alyssa Ramos are 2019 AAJA Voices Students. They are edited Emily Cardinali is a producer for Ghost Island Media, a Taipei-based media start-up. Ash Ngu is a journalist, designer, and photographer based in New York City. Alyssa Ramos is a recent graduate of the University of Florida and an associate producer at WCJB. The audio team was edited by Alyssa Jeong Perry, an audio reporter at KPCC in Los Angeles.