A recently published book, titled, “Japanese Americans of Florin,” by Michelle Trujillo, captures the accomplishments, challenges and everyday lives of Japanese Americans in the historic community of Florin.
The former town of Florin, which dates back to the 19th century, was once a Japanese farming community. Japanese agricultural laborers began working in this area in the 1890s.
Many Issei and Nisei – first and second-generation Japanese Americans, respectively – farmed in that area that was renowned for its strawberry production. Florin was called the “Strawberry Capital of the World.”
However, Florin’s agricultural success was drastically changed with the removal of its Japanese American residents during World War II. Through Executive Order No. 9066, all person of Japanese ancestry were ordered to be imprisoned in internment camps.
In May 1942, trains loaded with Japanese – more than half of whom were American citizens – left Florin, changing both the population and landscape of that community.
Trujillo’s 127-page book, published by Arcadia Publishing, features 189 black-and-white images, highlighting historic scenes of former Japanese American residents of Florin.
In an interview with this publication last week, Trujillo explained how she became involved in the creation of a book about Florin’s Japanese American history.
“The book itself, it (was) my culminating master’s (degree) project for my public history degree at (California State University, Sacramento),” she said. “I sort of was on a path of learning about this topic, going back about three years ago when I started going to grad school.
“When the time came to select a topic, looking at Florin, I thought (it) was something that was really fitting that kind of fell into my purview as a researcher.”
Aiding in Trujillo’s project was the university’s Japanese American archive of photographs and documents related to national, local and cultural history.
Observing old photographs for her book was an interesting and educational adventure, Trujillo noted.
One photograph that captured her attention was an image that would eventually be featured on the book’s cover.
“The cover tells so many stories,” she said. “You have the son that’s in (his military) uniform and the mother who is there in her gear for agricultural labor – that difficult labor – and the two generations, the landscape is there. So, just discovering all of those dots connected at one point. And being able to use that cover to me, I was just excited about it.”
The book is divided into five chapters, including The Town of Florin, Florin’s Farming Families, and A Community in the Crosshairs.
The latter chapter focuses on the forced removal of Florin’s Japanese during World War II.
Trujillo recognized Julie Thomas, CSUS special collections and manuscripts librarian, as the person who connected her with Arcadia Publishing to create her book.
It was also through Thomas that Trujillo was introduced to Elk Grove resident Marielle Tsukamoto, who as a child was placed with her family in an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas.
Marielle eventually wrote the foreword for Trujillo’s book.
Trujillo expressed gratitude for Marielle’s assistance with her project.
“(Marielle) was such a helpful person, available, generous with her time and her memories, her stories and her resources,” she said.
Trujillo mentioned that she discovered many interesting historical details during her research.
Among those findings was her discovery of a letter from then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Something that struck me was finding a typed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt responding to correspondence from (Murielle’s mother), Mary Tsukamoto, and how Mrs. Roosevelt wrote in the phrase ‘for the future’ at the end of that particular sentence,” she said.
In her book, Trujillo noted that although the letter was dated Nov. 24, 1943, Tsukamoto did not receive it until January 1945.
Trujillo also recalled learning about the World War II Japanese assembly camp at Walerga, 14 miles northeast of downtown Sacramento.
“I learned about the Walerga Assembly Center, which actually is about 10 minutes away from where I grew up,” she said. “I was just kind of amazed that this kind of huge thing happened so close to where I grew up and I had no idea about it.”
According to an article in the May 12, 1983 edition of The Sacramento Bee, 4,749 Japanese Americans from the Sacramento area were assembled in the 780-acre Walerga center. After spending two months there, they were transported to internment camps.
Asked to reflect upon some of the traits that impressed her about the Japanese of Florin, Trujillo referred to the ingenuity and resilience of the Issei generation.
“To come to Florin with literally nothing, to deal with racism, to deal with (a) racist system, and also dealing with the land itself and learning how to cultivate the strawberries and working with the hardpan clay,” she said.
“Being able to endure those difficulties and to build families and to build something for themselves and to really work from going from the labor class to the business class.”
Trujillo expressed pride in the completion of her book.
“I just thought it was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of preserving so many important stories that are important for local families and any researchers of World War II history and Japanese American internment, of racism, as well,” she said.
“I just thought that this would be such a multilevel project, and to be able to have it in a book form was a good chance to make it accessible beyond simply that institution of archives that few people are really kind of aware of number one, but who go and do research there beyond academics and people directly related to the subject.”