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The Unsung Story of the Chinese and Japanese Immigrants Who Brought Rice to California

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Despite racist land ownership policies, completely new geography, and WWII internment... Asian immigrants made California a giant in the rice industry.

This story is a good one. Immigrants bring great things to our country. 

Mathews is part of a network of 2,500 rice farmers in California, the second-largest producer of rice in the United States after Arkansas. In the Sacramento Valley, aka Rice Country, 97 percent of the state's crop is grown on more than 500,000 acres of semi-arid land. It is among the top 20 agricultural exports for the state, and the medium-grain Japonica (a Japanese variety), also known as Calrose, represents nearly 90 percent of the state’s rice production. Calrose rice is predominately used in sushi, and according to the California Rice Commission, the state supplies virtually all of the United States’ sushi rice. On a good year (the state’s ongoing drought has reduced this year’s crop by 25 percent), the California rice industry is a $5 billion business.

The grain came to California, Mathews explains, with the state’s 19th century Chinese population. In the 1850s, roughly 40,000 immigrants, weary from the violence and economic turmoil of the Taiping Rebellion, arrived on the shores of California in search of gold. By 1855, the Gold Rush was over, but another one had quietly begun: the rush for rice.

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