Above and below: The vandal pulled posts out of the ground and knocked over headstones. Ventura County JACL is raising funds to repair the damage. (Photos by Ken Nakano)

OXNARD — The Oxnard Historic Japanese Cemetery, whose history goes back more than a century, was recently vandalized, and its caretakers are appealing to the public for funds to repair the damage.

The incident occurred on June 19 around 6 p.m., when a man pulled out about 20 wooden grave markers and knocked down headstones.

John Tamai of Tamai Family Farms told The Ventura County Star, “A passerby started yelling at me, ‘A guy just vandalized the cemetery, breaking things in the field.’ ”

Tamai got into his car and followed the man, who was walking down Rice Avenue “with no shoes on.”

Oxnard police found the man and contacted Roberto Garcia of Garcia Mortuary, which owns the cemetery, but he did not want to press charges, according to the newspaper.

The vandalism is not being treated as a hate crime as the witness said that the suspect appeared to be on drugs.

“We’ve been the caretakers of the property since the 1980s,”Anne Chilcott of Ventura County JACL told The Rafu Shimpo. “Our cemetery chairperson, Ken Nakano, worked with Oxnard Planning Commission folks and politicians to help get the wrought-iron fencing put up on two sides. The city also put in a parking strip with a nice ground cover planting and irrigation. The cemetery itself has no source of water. There has been vandalism in the past, but we think this is the worst incident to our knowledge …

“We have had folks who have family members buried there now come forward and ask how they can help, either manual labor or through donations. We’ve had complete strangers who just drive by the cemetery email and ask to be part of work crews. Many people who have seen the Ventura County Star newspaper and online article have been outraged by the desecration.”

On June 29, Elizabeth Hiroyasu of Ventura County JACL established a page on GoFundMe.com (https://www.gofundme.com/historic-oxnard-japanese-cemetery) that included the following statement:

“In 1885, the Hueneme Masonic Lodge established a cemetery in the area of Pleasant Valley Road and Etting Road in Oxnard. The cemetery was used for about 20 years until Ivy Lawn Cemetery in the city of Ventura opened. In 1908, the Masonic Lodge decided to create a segregated cemetery on the triangular piece of property down the road from their cemetery. They had two non-white people buried on the Masonic side, a Japanese and a Chinese individual, while Ivy Lawn Cemetery was whites only at that time.

“At least 129 Japanese, many of them single male farmworkers, are buried here. Many infants and toddlers are buried here also. There is a total of around 200 people buried here, with a few who have been removed by families. There is no caretaker on the property and it has been unsecured for many years. On June 19, 2017 the historic Japanese cemetery was vandalized, with many grave markers pulled out or toppled.

“Our chapter hopes to change this in light of the recent vandalism and desecration of the historic cemetery. Though most of our members do not have family members buried here, we are passionate about the restoration in spite of this setback. It is part of our tradition to honor the dead. We want to right the situation to honor the Japanese pioneers of Ventura County …

“The ultimate goal of our chapter is to raise $27,000 to replace the chain-link fence with wrought-iron fencing to match what the City of Oxnard had done on two sides. Our chapter would also like to purchase headstones that would replicate and match to previous photos what was used from the 1900s through 1960s. Any additional funds will be set aside for the continued maintenance of the cemetery.

“We would like to initially raise $12,000 to replace the markers, making them more permanent than what is currently on site. Right now, the wooden markers are simply placed in the ground (sandy soil) and with time, have eroded or sunk and now, about 20 markers were knocked down by a man on June 19, 2017. It will also be used to replace the broken chain-link fence with another chain-link fence so the cemetery is more secure from trespassers. We would like to replace all 60 wooden markers.

“When the work is completed, we will invite all those who participated in the restoration to a rededication of the cemetery. This would honor the memory of the Japanese pioneers in Ventura County who overcame difficult hardships to live and die in the area, thus paving the way for future residents of color to live and work comfortably in Ventura County. The dedication would involve local church leaders to bless the ground and to give thanks for the work of those who helped recreate and restore the cemetery.”

As of Monday evening, $5,555 was raised by 85 people, in amounts ranging from $10 to $300.

“Wow, we are blown away at the support from the community far and wide in the first 24 hours,” said Hiroyasu. “We are so grateful to all of you for donating. Please continue to share this story to help us meet our goal.”

Ventura County JACL is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. To make a tax-deductible donation directly to the organization, email venturacountyjacl@hotmail.com.

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