US (CO): Japanese Americans took to farming, but now their legacies are at risk of fading

There is a chance that the plants you brought home from the garden center, or even the melons you bought from a Colorado farmer’s market, were grown by a generations-old farm owned by a Japanese American family. But as these farmers face the same uncertainty about the future as any other farmer, at risk of being lost is a record of this community’s contributions to Colorado’s agricultural identity.

During World War II, southeast Colorado was the site of Camp Amache, an incarceration camp that held Japanese American families on the unfounded suspicion they were spies for the Japanese government. Families from California, Oregon, and Washington state were relocated to camps like this across Western states, often in remote areas with punishing, unfamiliar weather. Many of those held were already farm laborers and in most camps, would be put to work farming for the U.S. Army.

There have been a handful of efforts in recent years to shine greater light on the history of Japanese Americans in Colorado, focusing almost entirely on the adversity they faced during World War II. But there were Japanese people in Colorado well before that. Not to mention after the war, more than 11,000 Japanese Americans chose to make Colorado their new home, and not all of them came to Denver. In fact, more than half are spread out over Colorado’s rural areas, with many turning to farming and flower growing to support their families, eventually building multigenerational businesses. Decades later, as the younger generations take their careers elsewhere, this legacy is beginning to fade.

Still, you can find signs of this history if you really look. For example, if you go to the History Colorado Center in Denver and take a stroll through “Zoom In,” the permanent exhibit that displays 100 objects from throughout Colorado’s history, you might notice a dirty, beat-up old baseball hat belonging to the late Bob Sakata, owner of Sakata Farms in Brighton.


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