Brothers Randy and Allen Ishida, left and right, with their father Bob, stand in one of the family’s Lindsay-area citrus groves. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Like many immigrants, Harutaro Ishida didn’t bring much with him when he emigrated from Japan to the U.S. in 1906.
Certainly he brought a skill for farming that he had developed growing up and working in the then-rural city of Okayama, said his son, 96-year-old Bob Ishida of Lindsay.
He said his father brought something else just as important from his homeland — ambition.
“Just like people today, he wanted a better life,” Bob said, adding that if his father hadn’t come to the U.S. at the age of 18, he might have ended up a poor farmer in Japan with just four to eight acres to work.
Foundation of ambition
Not that Harutaro was a huge success in America, but he did lay a foundation of ambition and a work-hard attitude in his son that led to Bob and his two sons, Allen and Randy, finding bigger success running Ishida & Ishida, Inc., a farming operation with about 300 acres of citrus groves in the Lindsay area.
Bob Ishida said he’s not sure why his father came to Lindsay after arriving in the U.S., except that at the time many Japanese skilled in farming were coming.
“The Japanese people came here, a land of dreams, and they are an ambitious people — all of them. Not just my people. All of them.”
His father started small, working as a farm hand for several years, during which he went back to Japan to bring here and marry Hespoya, his “picture” bride — what Americans refer to as a “mail order” bride.
They had three children before Harutaro bought a small 80-acre farm in the early 1920s before he and his wife had their fourth child, Bob.
Harutaro started out growing vegetables, then added citrus to the mix, but it was hard work, particularly since the land outside of Lindsay was on a hillside, making it risky that he might one day flip over his back-heavy tractor.
“It was scary,” his son recounted.
The children helped before or after their three-mile walk to or from school.
Bob said his father didn’t share a lot of lessons about life or business because the man spoke very little English, and Allen and Randy said the same about their grandfather.
But there were some things to learn from Harutaro that didn’t require understanding a language.
“My dad was an unusual person. He couldn’t speak much English, a little bit, but he had a lot of American friends. I don’t know how he developed his friends, but I can remember back in the ‘30s, during the Depression … he could convince people to finance his 60 acres of vegetable farm,” and he was able to grow the business by renting more land and even got big enough to build a railroad siding so he could load harvested crops into train cars at his farm.
“It’s pretty amazing what he could do with the language barrier,” especially considering that he was partially disabled due to a permanent shoulder injury from a car crash, Bob said.
Work is the key
Another lesson he learned from observing his father was that “you have to work to get what you want. That was instilled in us. That’s what all the family did.”
After the Great Depression, in which his father lost half his acreage, Bob said his oldest brother took over running the family farm, but after he was drafted into the army in 1940, his second oldest brother took over, and the family’s modest farming operation succeeded to the point that “He kept us in clothes, the bills were paid, [though] we never had a new car.”
Then World War II broke out, and in 1942 Japanese families in the Valley and other parts of the West Coast were informed they were being evacuated to internment camps.
Bob said one of his older brothers was married to a “Utah girl” who arranged for her husband and Bob to be sponsored by a Utah sugar company so they could work there, allowing them to avoid internment. His sister and her family, who had remained in California, ended up in an internment camp in Arizona.
While the Ishida family was gone, a friend of his father’s ran the family farm until he informed them he couldn’t do so any more and sold the property on the Ishida family’s behalf,
“He didn’t get much for it because the years we were gone debt was building up,” Bob said.
When the family came back to California after the war, that same friend sold his oldest brother — who was out of the Army — 40 acres to start a new farm.
That same year, 1945, Bob married, but living and working with his brother caused some friction. His father’s friend then offered to sell Bob another 40 acres and sweetened the deal by building a modest one-bedroom house on the property for him and his new bride.
Though rooms have been added since then, Bob lives in that same house near Lindsay.
And that 40-acre vegetable farm he started now is a much larger citrus operation run largely by his sons, Allen and Randy.
For his part, Allen, 71, a former Tulare County supervisor who briefly attempted a run to become California’s governor a few years ago, said the lessons learned from his father and grandfather aren’t just products of their culture but of their times, when people believed hard work and integrity mattered.
“So you don’t have a work ethic, at all” among children today, said Randy Ishida, 68, who helped out on his father’s farm while growing up, alongside his brother.
In fact, Allen said he learned to drive his father’s pickup at the age of 10 to help the farm, having to practically stand to reach the gas, brake and clutch pedals.
Ethics, honesty and credibility also are important “otherwise, my grandfather would not have accumulated the friends that he did,” Allen noted.