Central Coast Ethnic Groups

On the Central Coast, mutilple ethnic groups made their mark and advanced agricultural and food processing innovations.

Like anywhere in America, the Central Coast is an amalgamation of Native Americans and immigrants: Spanish, Californio, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Sikh, Croatian, Swiss Italian. Azorean, Swede, Dane, Dutch, Basque, Mexican, Central American, Oaxacan, Black, and Okie.

On the Central Coast, the immigrants arrived in waves. Their reasons for migrating varied: religion, the desire to own land, the search for opportunity, and to escape war, poverty, famine or disaster. Most arrived with little except their community and the yearning for a better life. As fortunes waxed and waned in the inexorable march of progress, the lower rungs of the labor pool continuously filled with new and successive waves of immigrants. Each set of newcomer struggled to rise above their immigrant status.

All ethnicities contributed brains, brawn, sweat, talent, skills, and ingenuity to create the incomparable Central Coast agriculture and distinctive culture and society we see today. Some groups left an indelible mark. When I first moved to the Central Coast, I was struck by how various crops were championed who shaped those industries. Their leadership styles and characters left traces that reverberate though the ages and across the globe. Below are a few examples:

  • Apple production, blossom contracts, and novel cold storage techniquess were associated with the Croatians in Watsonville.
  • Strawberries and unique plant propagation were highly influenced by the Japanese.
  • Monterey Jack cheese wouldn’t exist if not for Azorean, Swiss Italian, and Swedish dairymen.
  • Italians dominated the Brussels sprouts and Artichoke industries.
  • The leafy Green industry was influenced by all of the groups above. They perfected the science of chilled transportation, pioneered packaging concepts, and continuously improved precision planting and cultivation practices.
  • Japanese nurserymen developed greenhouse flower industries and markets for roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums.
  • The Chinese cornered the global mustard seed business.
  • Filipino irrigators could make furrow-irrigation water “run uphill.”
  • And over time, various groups dominated fishing industries. Portuguese were master whalers. Chinese were the first commercial fisherman and developed the squid industry. Japanese dove for abalone. Italians chased schools of sardine. Collectively, they fished. They seined. They dried. They canned. They exploited, Some industries were over-fished and some were early victims of localized climate change as populations plummeted.

These ethnicities came to this land with their Old World agricultural knowledge and were set free! They were liberated by the hope of their youth, the will of their ambition, the desire for success, the energies of a thrusting nation, and the endless possibilities created by the Central Coast’s highly variable soils and climatic gradients.

Here, we will explore the unique challenges, cultures, and contributions of Native Amercans, Spaniards, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Sikhs, Azoreans, Swiss Italians, Swedes, Mexicans, and Okies on the Central Coast of California.