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date: 22 October 2017

Excavating Chinese America in the Sacramento Delta

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Please check back later for the full article.

The Sacramento Delta is an agricultural region in northern California with deep historic significance for Asian Americans. Asian American laborers were instrumental to the development of Sacramento Delta, as they transformed the swampy peat bog into one of the richest agricultural areas in California. Beginning in the mid-19th century, Chinese laborers constructed levees, dykes, and ditches along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers before breaking the fertile soil to grow fruit and vegetables, including pears and asparagus. Asian Americans continued a permanent and transient presence on farms in the Sacramento Delta as migrant farm laborers, permanent farmworkers, overseers, and in the small Delta towns, where they emerged as merchants, restaurant operators, boardinghouse operators, and other business owners catering to the Delta community.