The San Joaquin Valley is the breadbasket of the nation. More than 250 different crops are cultivated and the annual value of agricultural production exceeds $25 billion annually (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). Despite the enormous productivity of its agriculture, the Valley has one of the highest rates of concentrated poverty and food insecurity in the United States (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2012). It is also ranked among the lowest on the national human development index, which measures health, educational attainment, and standard of living (California Human Development Report, 2011). Environmental injustice in the form of air pollution, poor water quality, pesticide use, as well as water insecurity due to the drought, have made local health and social well-being precarious.


The first Europeans that arrived in the Valley after the Gold Rush found the Miwok and Yokut tribes, whose economies focused on hunting, fishing and gathering. With the encroachment of the railroads and yeoman cattle farming in the 1800s, the geography and socio-economic structure of the Valley changed dramatically. Indigenous peoples were forced to move as agriculture expanded. Small rural towns dotted the landscape with the Central Pacific railroad stop of Fresno, incorporated as a city in 1885, emerging as the largest metropolitan area in the region. The development of complex irrigation systems, which diverted rivers and brought much needed water from the north, made the Valley one of the most manipulated environments in the world and ushered in a billion dollar agricultural industry.


California was originally part of Mexico, though few Californios resided in the San Joaquin Valley. However, a diversity of Latinos representing distinct migration histories have been a large part of the Valley population since the mid-1800s. They have arrived in successive waves as braceros, migrant labor, and now as displaced farmers, refugees, and migrating indigenous peoples. Latinos are the “majority minority” group in the San Joaquin Valley.  As agriculture requires laborious cultivation, farm workers have always been sought from immigrants and migrants who would accept the prevailing low wages.  Among the other groups that have come to the San Joaquin Valley are Chinese laborers with the railroad, Japanese farmers, Armenian refugees fleeing the Turkish Genocide, German Russians, Italians, Greeks, Scandinavians, African Americans during the Great Migration, Okies in the wake of the Dust Bowl, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and the Hmong.


This project focuses on the stories of people in certain neighborhoods in the San Joaquin Valley to show, as novelist Chimamanda Adichie says (see video here): "Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.”

Watch the videos below to see Robert Yano's story of growing up as a Japanese-American man in Kingsburg

Kris Clarke, Ph.D

Academic and social commentator
Helsinki, Finland

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