It’s a small, triangular patch of ground behind a wrought iron fence off of Pleasant Valley Road, in Oxnard.
Tens of thousands of people pass by it daily, not realizing they are literally within feet of Ventura County’s history. It’s a more than century old Japanese cemetery, the final resting place for 200 people who were mostly immigrants in the late 1800’s, and early 1900’s.
But, the community is reeling after learning that this sacred spot was desecrated by a man believed to be under the influence of alcohol, or drugs who knocked down a number of grave markers, and tombstones.
Anne Chilcott is with the Ventura County Japanese American Citizens League, which has worked to help maintain, and improve the cemetery since the 1970’s. Chilcott says the tiny plot of land provided a final resting place for Japanese farmworkers around the turn of the century when no one else would take them.
Several years ago, Roberto Garcia, the owner of Garcia Mortuary in Oxnard, stepped up to buy the site so it could be preserved. It’s fenced on two sides with a nice wrought iron fence, but the third side of the triangular cemetery has a battered chain link fence which is open to people on foot.
On June 19th, a man wandered onto the site, kicking over a number of the wooden markers, and tombstones. The property owner declined to press charges. While no one thinks it was a hate crime, the incident left members of the JACL as well as the public stunned. In the short term, Garcia brought in a work crew from his mortuary to make repairs.
Chilcott says she's grateful for Garcia's help, and says some good news may come out of that bad event. The JACL has launched a campaign to raise money, and support for an improved fence for the property, as well as permanent replacement for faded, disintegrating wooden grave markers. The drive has already raised more than seven thousand dollars towards its $12,000 goal, to try to restore and protect this unique slice of Ventura County history.
The ongoing efforts also include trying to determine exactly who is resting at the site, because the records are incomplete, and some of the sites lost their markers years ago.
Link to JACL/GoFundMe campaign: www.gofundme.com/historic-oxnard-japanese-cemetery