HomeJapanese AmericanLost KinjoJapanese immigrants built Cressey. So why did they leave?
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Japanese immigrants built Cressey. So why did they leave?

By David Hosley

(This is part of a year-long AsAmNews series, Lost Kinjo (neighborhoods). We’ll explore how 40 Japanese American neighborhoods disappeared in California after WWII)


One of the Central Valley’s smallest Japanese communities in California owns its existence to a Japanese entrepreneur named Kyutaro Abiko who used his San Francisco based newspaper and connections as a labor contractor to foster a pipeline of immigrants to Merced County.

Cressey stands out because, unlike others, its first-generation farmers did not lose their property during World War II.

Their land was protected by a trust, with honest caretakers communicating regularly with the owners of the land while they were behind barbed wire incarcerated in Colorado. Cressey still boasts farms operated by Japanese Americans a century after they were established.

It might well have become a city everyone has heard of in California.  It was briefly envisioned at the beginning of the 20th century as a huge tract of homes surrounded by farms.  Instead, it grew modestly, largely supported by agriculture on the eastern end of a colony populated with immigrants from southern Japan. These first Japanese settlers were fleeing a devastating depression, seeking opportunity in a country that would vilify them because of their race and national origin.

Farming was already the economic underpinning of northeast Merced County when a tiny community along the Merced River was awarded the Cressy Post Office in 1882. But the office closed the next year, and then got a name correction upon re-opening in 1909 because the local farmer actually spelled his name Cressey with an “e.”  An Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway official had named the town, as was common when new rail lines were built.

A community needs infrastructure to thrive, and along with the railroad Cressey would have a store that housed the post office, a grammar school, a water supply and roads that led to larger nearby cities such as Livingston and Merced.  

Cressey is less than a mile north of the original property purchased by Abiko, who promoted farming to immigrants coming from the Wakayama and Chiba regions to America.  Young men started buying 40 acre plots in Abiko’s initial Yamato Colony around the time of the big earthquake that struck northern California in 1906, and by 1908, there were more than two dozen aspiring farmers planting grapes, fruit trees and vegetables between Livingston and Cressey, five miles to the east.  

Tay Andow and Kohei Nakashima irrigating grapes July, 1945
Tay Andow and Kohei Nakashima irrigating grapes July, 1945



Cressey itself wasn’t in the Yamato Colony.  The tiny town was part of George Cressey’s ranch lands until sold to the Crocker-Hoffman Land and Water Company in 1910. The ranch passed on to a holding company fronted by Marshall Black, a Palo Alto civic leader who headed a building and loan association.  Black had led the rebuilding of downtown Palo Alto after the 1906 earthquake and became a state senator.


Big plans for Cressey foiled by embezzlement scheme


The new owners had grand plans for their own colony, and graded lots to grow the town.  They produced a map which showed several thousand acres subdivided into plots. But only two blocks in Cressey were actually built out, along with some loading facilities to take advantage of the rail line.  The Cressey Grammar School was erected in 1911 with two rooms.  But the next year, the Cressey Colony development project went under, revealing an embezzlement scheme to which Black pled guilty in 1913.  He received a ten year sentence in San Quentin Prison, serving three years and four months. The village of Cressey would grow a little more, basically five blocks coming off Santa Fe Avenue, the county road that stretched from Merced north to Stanislaus County.

Abiko’s initiative fared far better. He purchased new acreage several times to grow his Yamato Colony as immigration from Japan increased in the 1910’s. New families soon produced children who were citizens by birth. Those living on farms around Cressey would attend the grammar school with a blend of youngsters born to Mexican, Portuguese, and German immigrants. The Japanese American kids would come to represent about a third of the school’s students.

In addition to the school, the Cressey Store was a gathering place.  Operated by Lettie and Louie Moyer, with the post office in the rear, it featured both food stuffs and dry goods.  Of special interest to kids were an assortment of candies and ice cream.  In winter, the store was heated with a stove, which was welcome on the foggy Central Valley days where you had to stick your head out of driver’s window and look down to see the center stripe in the road, if there was one. For bigger purchases, you had to drive to Merced, which featured larger grocers, plus a Western Auto store and a five and dime.

The mix of crops on Japanese farms in northern San Joaquin Valley included carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, onions, and grapes, along with almonds and fruit trees.  Dairies were primarily operated by families from the Azores in the bottomlands near the river, although some Nisei farmers grew crops nearby.  Others worked the land to the south of Cressey, including the Shibata, Handa, Miyamoto, Kimora, Makita and Andow families, as named by Eugene (Gene) William Lee in his memoir of farm life, Cressey: Land of Sand and Stars from the 2008 Asian American Curriculum Project. Lee lists the families living in and around Cressey in 1935, and Japanese owned or leased about half of the farms.

The Andow family’s story has common threads with many who trace their roots to Japan. Teiichi Andow was born in 1883 in Nagano City, Japan.  He was adopted by a relative who was childless, but left to join the Japanese Navy at 16.  He came to America via England, working first on Long Island before traveling west in 1910 because he knew someone on the Okuye Farm in Livingston.  

Seinosuke Okuye had come to Livingston in 1907, and his farm was a landing spot for lots of young Japanese men looking for a place to settle.  His farm eventually had 13 houses for the immigrant workers, and played a catalytic role in the colony’s history.

Tay and Yoshi Andow with Aya Nakashima in Cressey
Tay and Yoshi Andow with Aya Nakashima in Cressey



Teiichi (Tay) Andow saved enough from his labors to return to Japan in 1915 for an arranged marriage.  Yoshiko (Yoshi) and Tay traveled back in style in 1916, going first class from Tokyo to Seattle, and then south to a two room house in Livingston.  They had a daughter, Kyoko (Mabel), a year later. Before long, Tay had enough cash to make a down payment on a dairy farm, which he turned into grape vineyards.  Another daughter, Minnie, was born in 1918, followed by Julia, Eric and Sophia.

The Andows prospered, with the children attending Cressey Grammar School, and then going on to Livingston High School.  Built in 1924, Livingston High had its own social dynamics, according to Gene Lee.  The town boys stuck together, were slicker dressers than the country kids, and gathered at a local fountain for cokes and milkshakes.  The farm kids had to balance school, working on the farm, and other chores.  They all came together on sports teams and Boy Scouts.  The Japanese American girls were usually top of their classes.  Eric’s older sisters fit the bill and each graduated from the University of California in Berkeley.  


Pearl Harbor and Executive Order 9066


Eric was a junior studying engineering at Stanford when Pearl Harbor happened.
He went home, thinking he was done with college.  But despite uncertainty about the future, Eric’s parents insisted he return to classes, so he completed the quarter.  
 
That winter, the Andows had a new home under construction on their 160-acre farm between Cressey and Winton.  It was nearly finished when Executive Order 9066 was issued in February, 1942.  By April, they had moved in their furniture. 

Tay Andow arranged for his new home’s construction manager to become caretaker for the house.  He also joined the many owners of farms in the three Yamato colonies who formed an organization to operate the land under a power of attorney arrangement. So-called Momberg Trust farms were supervised by a three-person board headed by local attorney Hugh Griswald with operational decisions made by Gus Momberg in collaboration with the Japanese owners through letters and periodic visits to Amache, Colorado.  The majority of the farms were leased out, with about 1 in 5 directly under Momberg’s management.

Two weeks after getting the furniture in place, the Andows were ordered to report for processing and then initial internment on the grounds of the Merced County Fair.


Assembly, relocation and building community


Eric Andow was understandably disheartened by the derailment of his studies and the unfairness of incarceration for his family and friends.  Traveling 15 miles to the Merced County Fairgrounds at 11th and G Streets in Merced was wrenching, made worse by conditions at the assembly center.  He recalls in a 2009 oral history with Densho that “It was to the point that life didn’t feel worth living.”  

The fair had fallen on hard times in the Great Depression and could not be mounted in1936.  Local businesses had got a modest three-day event funded in 1937 and by 1941, a new pavilion had been built and 18,000 attended the multi-day celebration that summer of agriculture and civic success.  Less than a year later, the fair became a prison.

The Wartime Civil Control Administration leased the entire grounds from the county and started building barracks to the east of the horse racing oval.  Almost 200 buildings would go up, arranged in blocks and made of cheap materials assembled by mostly inexperienced workers.  A number of fair buildings were repurposed for administrative purposes and an exhibit hall and the horse stalls became places for prisoner activities. The assembly center opened on May 6, 1942, with the first families coming the next week from nearby communities. “It was terrible,” recalled Eric Andow. “For the first week there, I just stayed in bed.”
 
Like other assembly centers, families were assigned to one or two rooms in a 100 foot by 20-foot barrack, with plywood walls only going partially to the ceiling in each of the rooms.  The government spent an average of 40 cents a day per detainee’s food.  

Eric Andow found some meaningful work when he joined the center’s fire department.  A lack of exercise areas was addressed when center managers opened up the racetrack grounds and some adjacent areas.  A baseball diamond was graded, a sumo ring built, and other detainee sports options included table tennis, basketball and football.

Tom Nakashima, like Eric Andow, had attended elementary school in Cressey.  His family lived on the back side of the Andow’s farm, working a small 20-acre plot nearby. He was still attending Livingston High School when Pearl Harbor happened. Their home didn’t have electricity, but they heard the coverage on a battery powered radio receiver. When the evacuation mandate was issued his father had just ordered their first new tractor. The order had to be cancelled.  There were other impacts which affected the area’s economy and society. Without the Japanese Americans, including a number from Cressey, Livingston’s Boy Scout troop was more than decimated. “When the Japanese Americans were relocated in May, 1942,” wrote Gene Lee, “Troop 26 became a shadow of itself. We lost over half of our members.” His father Forrest, who operated Pioneer Garage and Gas Station in Cressey, lost about half his customers overnight. The trust had hired its own mechanics and he wasn’t needed.

Nakasima’s family reported to the American Legion Hall on 16th Street in Merced to be processed, then were taken by bus the short distance to the Merced Fairgrounds. “The worst part was my parents.  To be jerked out of your home not knowing when you’re going or where you are going, or if you’re ever coming back.  That’s absolutely terrifying for a parent with three kids.”  Their farm was placed in the Momberg Trust, Nakashima recalled in an oral history interview. “What an absolute blessing that was.”

Merced County’s Japanese community had the largest representation at Merced Assembly Center with almost 900 internees, followed by a similar number from Yolo County, and smaller groups from Colusa and Yuba, southern Sacramento County, Stanislaus, Marin and Sonoma and less than 100 from Shasta and Siskiyou.  The total held at Merced was 4,508, peaking in early June, 1942.  

One prisoner recalls that geographic groups stuck together initially, and baseball clubs were formed reflecting the town teams that had flourished before Pearl Harbor.  But as the summer went on, new friendships developed, a camp newspaper emerged, and dances were held. A summer school of sorts was established, but there weren’t adequate classroom spaces. It was very hot, often over 100 degrees, during classes held outdoors.  

Being inside wasn’t much better as the barracks were built during periods of heavy rains, without elevated foundations. Several kinds of vermin were present, and initially the doors didn’t have screens. Mosquitoes were ubiquitous.  It was especially hard on the elderly Japanese, who wilted as the sun beat down on their tar papered living quarters.

Towards the end of summer, almost all of the fairground’s population was transferred to Amache Relocation Center in Colorado, with an advance group of just over 200 leaving on August 25 to help set up the concentration camp.  Eight more groups of about 500 each followed in the first half of September.  Noburu Hashimoto, who had also attended Cressey Grammar School, recalled the train trip in an oral history. “We were all anxious.  It was my first time to ride a train.” The route, with windows covered, went south to Bakersfield, then east through Albuquerque.  In New Mexico, they paused next to a train carrying Marines who were amazed that the prisoners were speaking English.



Amache 


Eric Andow was in the last group to leave Merced on September 15, 1942, because of his responsibilities with the firefighters. It took three days to get from California to Colorado, as regularly scheduled trains had priority for the tracks.  The detainees had to sit up because day coaches were being used, not sleeper cars.  The blinds were drawn, the cars were crowded and it was still very hot in the West.  Once in Grenada, trucks took them the few miles to Camp Amache, named after its postal designation.

From the beginning, there were some distinctions that made imprisonment in Colorado different from other incarceration camps.  The state’s governor, Ralph Carr, had volunteered to host an internment center.  He welcomed the Japanese community members to Colorado after the U.S. Army had purchased private land from farmers or through condemnation.  The site was huge, with 10,000 acres.  But only a small footprint, about one mile square, had buildings.  

The great bulk of the rest was reserved for agriculture.  Most of the initial internees were farmers from California, so they could almost immediately use their skills.  With a farm labor shortage across the country due to ramping up the military, crops planted in the spring of 1942 near Amache were ripening in the fields by the time the camp opened.  Hundreds of evacuees were paid or volunteered to pick the local crops, including sugar beets, which positively impacted town-camp relations.  In the spring, the nearby Arkansas River and other water sources helped provide bumper crops inside the camp in 1943, and the surplus including onions, corn, potatoes was shipped to other camps. 

Some internees were able to work on nearby farms as well, and prisoners received passes to walk into Grenada to shop or get a soda.  In that first winter of 1942-43, many of the Californians suffered because of the cold and winds which swept through the barracks and fields.  They didn’t have clothing for the freezing weather.

Tom Nakashima from Merced County began his junior year in high school at Amache. He found the relationship with his parents was now decidedly different from back home. “There was no parental guidance. The kids were on their own. The only time we went to the house (barracks) was to sleep.” Nakashima mostly took courses in farming, which meant half his school day was spent working in the camp’s fields.  

When the loyalty survey was given in February of 1943, Amache had the lowest percentage of no-no responses to the two key questions about renouncing loyalty to Japan and willingness to serve in the military or other government agencies. However, by summer 125 men incarcerated in Colorado were declared “disloyal” with the possibility of being segregated and then sent to what was now called Tule Lake Segregation Center. 

Thirty-one internees at the camp were tried and found guilty of draft evasion and jailed in Arizona.  A small group was sent by train to the segregation center, and the same day a group of about 1,000 arrived in Amache. These were the Tule Lake internees judged loyal who had been given the opportunity to leave for another center.  Several other similar groups followed. 

The Tule Lake people had trouble fitting in at Amache.  They had been living with resistors for over a year, and despite their answers on the survey, many were bitter and negatively affected what had been a relatively positive relationship with those running the camp in Colorado.


Military service and release


Eric Andow was eager to get out, and his eye was on joining the military.  “Mother begged me not to go, as I was her only son.” So instead, he obtained a release from Amache to go work in a defense plant in Cleveland.  But in June 1943, he got a draft notice, joined the reserves and then was activated a month later. He was sent to Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to prepare as a replacement soldier in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army. On a segregated train as he neared his destination in the South, ironically a conductor asked Andow to move from sitting in a car for “Negroes” to one reserved for Whites.

His parents, Tay and Yoshi had also been released to join his younger sister in Massachusetts in January 1944.  They moved on to manage a farm in Connecticut. Eric Andow served in an artillery unit in Italy and France, suffering a broken leg when a supply truck tipped over and buried him under a pile of shells. He was hospitalized and removed from the war zone.

Starting in 1945, those who had been away during the world war began coming back to Merced County—the ones who had been imprisoned, some now veterans of the military, and others who had relocated for education or jobs helping the war effort.  Gene Lee names a dozen or more Japanese American returning veterans in his book about Cressey, including Noburu Hashimoto, Willie Kimoto, Koichi Komura, Ernie and Harry Mikita, Joe Nishihara, Frank Suzuki, Gilbert Tanji, and George, Thomas and William Tanaka. Forrest Lee helped many of them get their farm equipment serviced and repaired. He was called a “Jap Lover” for doing so.
 
Released from the Army in 1946, Eric Andow returned to the family farm outside Cressey.  John Groom, the contractor who built his parent’s house, had protected their belongings while the Andows were incarcerated. The family’s fields had been overseen by the Momberg Trust. 

However, after his parents arrived home, someone shot four bullets into one of their walls.  Tom Nakashima was there when it happened.  He had come back to work on the Andow farm along with a friend, Joe Mikita. “They shot from the road with a high-powered rifle,” Nakashima recalled. “Andow reported it to the Sheriff’s Office, but the deputies who came out said “You aren’t really wanted here, so you’ve got to expect this.”

Eric felt conflicted about helping on the farm or returning to complete his work at Stanford. Tay urged is son to finish college. It may have been the best fatherly advice he’s ever received, Eric later recalled. So it was back to Palo Alto, rooming with four other veterans on campus under the G.I. Bill. While completing his mechanical engineering courses, he also learned how to fly, and delighted in making the hop in a small plane from the Bay over the coastal range to Merced County.  Degree in hand, Eric came home to manage the family’s acreage.


Employment opportunities post war


Aviation had become important to Cressey and the surrounding communities during the war, as the Army Air Corps established its Basic Flying School just outside Atwater, seven miles away.  Locals became expert at identifying the different military aircraft.  The new base, which was renamed Merced Army Airfield in 1943, was an employment option for locals, as well as adding new residents to the area.

Also new to the region was an influx of male Mexican laborers, who through the Bracero Program replaced in fields and railroads some of those who had joined the war effort, or in the case of the Japanese community, been removed from farming to concentration camps. The program would be renewed several times, with some family unification, until 1964.  Some of those Braceros and their children formed the foundation for today’s LatinX community in the Central Valley.

Agriculture was to remain the economic driver of the region after the war, with Merced County in the top ranks of state production in dairy, almonds, alfalfa, cattle and tomatoes.  In 1959, Foster Farms bought a poultry operation in Livingston and as it expanded, another nearby piece of economic growth was in place.

Tay Andow with Jersey heifer
Tay Andow with Jersey heifer



Opportunities for higher education also grew locally for the children born during the baby boom.  A new high school was built in Atwater, opening in 1958 and later attended by Eric and Mary Suzuki Andow’s children, Jan and Larry.  Merced College opened in 1962 and provided two-year degrees, while Stanislaus State College started classes in 1960 at the county fairgrounds in Turlock, moving to its permanent site in 1965.

Castle Air Force Base continued to expand, hosting its first B-52 bomber in 1955 and first KC-135 jet tanker in 1957.  It was the height of the Cold War, and local schools had regular “duck and cover” drills in case of nuclear attack.  President Kennedy visited Castle in 1962 as part of a tour of Western U.S. water projects, another sign of a growing economy as new Central Valley dams, aqueducts and canals were constructed in the 1960’s and 70’s.

In those years, Jan Andow Mendenhall recalls in an oral history that she didn’t have very many Japanese American kids in the schools she attended in Atwater.  She told AsAmNews some boys came up to her in elementary school and with fingers pointed like guns said “Go back to where you came from you dirty ‘Jap.’ That was such a big disconnect for me.  I didn’t understand the tone, didn’t understand the words and what being a ‘dirty Jap’ was.  I was living in both worlds then, one was where they would have to include me.  And then the other world, the Yamato Colony, where I was very comfortable.  It was all Japanese American.”

On the other hand, her parents wanted Jan and her brother to know their family identity was to be American, and very much a part of the mainstream society.  In junior high, she became aware of what had happened to her family during World War II.  While doing a school assignment, she asked questions of her parents and read books on the subject that they had at home.  Jan remembers they answered the questions factually, “but never with a tone of we have been wronged.” 

Both Jan and Larry worked on the farm while in school. Larry remembers the Thompson Seedless grapes that his father had planted while in high school.

“I do remember that in some years we would make raisins from at least a portion of the field that didn’t go to the wineries,” he said to AsAmNews. “In those years, we had wooden trays that we would lay in the middle of the grape rows.  On top of the trays we would place brown butcher paper   We then picked the grapes–whole bunches including the stems but no leaves–and laid them upon the butcher paper.  They were then left to dry into raisins.  Once dry enough, we would roll the paper up. The big issue in this process was rain.  If there was any chance of rain, we would go into the fields and quickly roll up the grapes/raisins in the butcher paper, then once the threat of rain passed, unroll the butcher paper to continue the grape to raisin process.”

Those vines had survived a lot of change on Belle Terre Farm.  They were productive for more than a half century, getting pulled out about 2001.

Through most of their youth, Larry and Jan Andow not only had their parents to guide them, but their Issei grandparents lived just across the road.  Larry related to AsAmNews that if he got in trouble with his Dad or Mom, he could retreat to his grandparents’ place for a bit.  And each Sunday, Tay and Yoshi would come the other direction for a family dinner.

Another source of Japanese American community for the Andow family was the United Methodist Church on Olive Ave. in Livingston.  Jan and her older brother Larry got together with other Japanese American kids through the church youth group, and traditional Japanese celebrations took place there, too.  Their parents belonged to the Japanese American Citizen League, something the siblings in turn did as adults.

As for her own education, “It wasn’t a question of going to college, but where.” Jan selected UC Davis, which was in transition.  The campus had grown in the 1960’s from primarily an ag school into a general university with many majors and an increasingly diverse student body, including a growing number of Asian Americans.  Her first job after graduation in 1979 was working in the research and development division at Case Swayne, a food concept and production company in Southern California. Larry had preceded her at UCD, added an MBA, and worked for the state government in Sacramento before joining a Chicago banking firm.

Even though they attended school in Davis, Jan and Larry were part of the “brain drain” that increasing affected the Central Valley. Baby boom students graduated high school at higher rates than before the war, and the best of them often chose universities in coastal California. With college graduation came higher paying professional opportunities outside of agriculture, often in the urban centers of the Bay Area and southern California and beyond.

A good number of the Valley’s Japanese Americans who had been released from incarceration to attend school, or take jobs central to the war effort, did not come back to reside in California. Denver, Chicago, New Jersey, and Salt Lake City were hubs of Japanese and Japanese Americans as the war wound down. Families were started or reunited and roots put down in the relative safety of the interior U.S.

Eric and Mary Andow with children Larry and Jan, 1960
Eric and Mary Andow with children Larry and Jan, 1960


Limited Japanese Immigration


In 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Naturalization Act nullified racial restrictions, including the Exclusion Act of 1924.  First generation immigrants were finally able to become citizens.  The changes in law did not result in a significant number of new Japanese immigrants to America.  Between 1951 and 1960, only 46,250 Japanese immigrated to the U.S.  Even fewer came in the next decade.  There would be little replacement of field hands, either, as the Japanese who did seek a new life in America mostly settled in large cities.  The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated quotas but didn’t significantly increase Japanese immigration.

With relatively few immigrants, the natural deaths of the first generation, relocation during and after WWII and the drawing away of the second generation to education and professional opportunities, the Japanese communities of the Central Valley were starting to fade. As education levels rose, birth rates decreased. Marrying out began to increase, in some cases loosening bonds with Japanese culture.


The model minority and reparations


Still, the second generation, those Japanese Americans who returned to the workforce and started Boomer families, were noticed for their contributions.  In 1966, UC Berkeley Professor William Pettersen wrote of their success in a New York Times article, calling them The Model Minority.  Younger Japanese Americans joined other Asian Americans in Yellow Power engagement within the larger Civil Rights movement nationally. 

The notion of formal recognition of the wrongs that had been visited on Japanese and Japanese Americans in the U.S. started to gain steam over the next decade. In 1978 the Japanese American Citizen League, which had chapters up and down the Highway 99 corridor communities of the Central Valley, formed a Redress Committee which in turn met with three Japanese Americans who served in Congress. While there were several efforts to seek redress, a strategy was developed to establish a commission which would hold hearings and recommend steps to set things right.

JACL chapters were asked to contact local government councils and board to seek endorsement of hearings that would lead to federal action.  Support for reparations was weakest in the Central Valley and one element of division was whether fiscal compensation should be sought. For Tom Nakashima of Cressey, “I had my doubts.  The third generation really pushed it.” 

In 1979, a Senate bill to set up the commission was signed by President Jimmy Carter, and then sites for the hearings were announced.  None were to be held in the Central Valley.  After protests largely by the Sacramento JACL membership, a one-day hearing was added in the state capitol with just one commissioner, Bill Murutani, attending.

A report was issued in 1982, and the next year the commission recommended $20,000 and an apology to those unfairly incarcerated.  Nakashima was surprised. “I thought it was a lost cause.  More than anything, the fact that they apologized meant more than anything else.”
 


Coming home to the farm


It was full circle for Jan Mendenhall in 1998.  Her father had a heart condition which caused Dan and Jan to move back to the family farm. “We uprooted our children and gave up our careers.”  Over time, Dan assumed management of the land his in-laws had named Belle Terre and went on to become a leader in the almond growing industry.  Jan was hired at the new UC campus in Merced, a director responsible for some of the university’s founding gifts and eventually rising to Associate Vice Chancellor for Development.  

Jan has been active in preserving and celebrating Merced County’s Japanese and Japanese American history.  She was on the committee that created a memorial dedication on the site of the Merced Assembly Center, and served as Mistress of Ceremonies at the annual Day of Remembrance dinners at the fairgrounds, and helped plan recognition of Yamato Colony’s 100th anniversary.  She also was involved in a series of Japanese American oral histories done for the archives of the new university in 2009.

Belle Terre Farms has continued to grow in size.  Acreage along Cressey Way was purchased in 2004. Fifty-five more acres were added in 2014.  Tay and Yoshi Andow lived long lives to see the land conserved, all contiguous now to the home they built while world war rent their lives asunder.

Dan and Jan’s children have their own professional lives in Sacramento California and New York, but they may also continue the Belle Terre farming operation as their parents wind down their careers on the farm. The Mendenhall’s neighbor, Minda Miyamoto, has come back to help her father Galen run the family farm as well.  They are not the only ones still in the Cressey area. But most of the dozens of Japanese farm owners are long gone, the membership of the Livingston Japanese Methodist Church dwindled, and Merced County’s Japanese American Citizens League chapters merged amid shrinking membership.

Larry Andow is semi-retired, living in the Bay Area.  Like Jan, he married a non-Japanese American, and while their children appreciate their family’s cultural and agricultural heritage, they also have grown their families and careers away from the Central Valley.

In the 2020 Decennial Census, Cressey had a population of 366, down from 394 in 2010.  It has a significant LatinX population now.  Asian Americans were 3.6% of the town’s total, down slightly from ten years before. 

Nowadays, Japanese immigration to the U.S. averages about 5-10,000 a year, similar to the numbers coming from Europe.  The newcomers are mostly looking to live in urban areas.  There will never be another wave of Japanese bringing their energy to farming and culture to Central Valley towns like Cressey.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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