Series tackles history of Japanese migration in the Valley

Inspired by a visit to the Hidalgo City Cemetery, Joseph Fox set out to uncover the history of Japanese farmers in the Rio Grande Valley.

As part of McAllen Public Library’s Valley Roots Series, the officer of education at the Museum of South Texas History, or MOST, spoke recently in a conference room near max capacity on the subject of Japanese migration.

This was Fox’s second guest presentation at the library. The first was on his thesis of Lone Star Beer and country-western music, which he gave while studying history at Texas State University.

Reference Librarian Esther Camacho befriended Fox after participating in the Sunday Speaker Series at MOST. The pair made the cemetery trip together and Camacho encouraged him to dig into the topic.

“It’s kinda interesting to see the immigrant experience of other peoples coming to the Valley as well,” Fox said.

The presentation went over generations of Japanese immigrants — Issei, Nisei, Sansei down to Yonsei — and the purchase of San Juan land for farming by Uichi “Hugh” Shimotsu.

In 1919, seven Japanese men collectively purchased 403 acres of a former sugar plantation near Brownville and established a rice colony. From here, the Japanese farmer population began to rapidly grow.

Camacho has direct ties to an early Japanese farmer, Tomazo Kato, who moved to Brownsville around 1900. Kato married into Camacho’s family branch and had 11 children.

In discovering this part of her identity, Camacho sorted through old photo albums and found pictures of the couple on their wedding.

She recalls asking her mother what Kato was like, whether he spoke the language and what other Japanese customs he introduced to the family.

According to her mother, he was “puro Mexicano,” adapting easily to the new culture.

The focus of the root series, which according to Camacho began about a year ago, is to “get everybody in the community into their history.” Other subjects, such as Native American tribes have been examined.

Ideas bounced back and forth in a discussion held after the presentation. For further insight into this time period, Fox recommended attendees read “Rebellion in the Borderlands.”

Fox said he plans to do further research into the subject, particularly the Plan de San Diego — a revolutionary manifesto that called for a revolt against the United States, and hopefully introduce the presentation as part of the museum’s Sunday Speaker Series.

“We have a very unique history here in the Valley,” Fox said. “There are all sorts of interesting threads that make up the overall quilts — plenty of things to look up; plenty of things to discover.”

For more information on the Valley Root Series and other programs offered, visit