SANTA ANA — A public art sculpture honoring Orange County’s Japanese American farmers was unveiled July 11 at the northeast corner of Flower and Sunflower streets, which marks the trail entry into Santa Ana from the City of Costa Mesa trail.
Titled “We Too Were Once Strangers,” the seven-foot-tall bronze sculpture by artist Richard Turner is of a giant stalk of celery, the prime crop of the Wintersburg Village and Smeltzer farm fields in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Turner’s work was chosen through a competitive selection process managed by Arts Orange County as best representing the contributions of local Japanese American farmers and adding to the area’s diverse cultural heritage.
Turner’s inscription reads: “‘We Too Were Once Strangers’ is a celebration of the heritage and achievement of the Japanese American farmers of Orange County. In 1940 there were 245 Japanese ‘Issei’ farms in Orange County. The memorial is located on land once cultivated by the immigrant farmers. The produce from the farms was sold at a market in Santa Ana located at Broadway and Fourth Street. Celery was one of the four main crops that were grown.
“The stone paving of the base recalls pathways in traditional Japanese gardens, which often featured recycled millstones as accents.”
Turner, who was on hand for the unveiling, also displayed a miniature that was used to show his concept for the project, which cost $80,000.
Officials taking part in the unveiling included Orange County Supervisors Lisa Bartlett (who is Japanese American) and Andrew Do, Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Vincent Sarmiento, and Consul Izuru Shimmura of the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles. A congratulatory resolution from the State Assembly was presented.
Among those attending the ceremony were city and county officials and representatives of Japanese American families in the region, including Phyllis Sakioka, whose family grew celery for more than a century on the land where the sculpture is located.
Another artist, Michael Davis, was present. He will be creating public art pieces and courtyards in a residential development in Huntington Beach that will honor both Historic Wintersburg and the Furuta family’s goldfish farm. The development will be at Edinger Avenue and Gothard Street.
The event included displays by the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force and the Center for Oral and Public History at CSU Fullerton, which featured photographs and artifacts connected with Japanese American farming families. There were also booths with fresh produce from Melissa’s and water from the Santa Ana Public Works Agency.
Mary Adams Urashima of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force noted that her group provided historical background for the project and that some of the Wintersburg Mission congregants more than a century ago were from Santa Ana.
Photos courtesy of Ron Ono/City of Santa Ana