Living in a town visited by both Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa, it didn’t surprise me too much to find people associated with them in the local cemetery. What did surprise me was this pair of tombstones not far from Pat Garrett’s grave site.
Las Cruces is only about 50 miles from the Mexican border. You see and hear a lot of Spanish, and it’s not because of an influx of immigration. People were speaking Spanish in the region forty years before Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock. That noted, it is a little surprising to see Japanese on tombstones. Kay Tashiro, buried under the left-hand marker, was eight years old when Billy the Kid was on trial. What’s more, these are not the tombstones of impoverished people. They are among the most beautiful in the entire cemetery. Who exactly were Kay and Tatsue Tashiro?
Kuniji “Kay” Tashiro was a farmer who moved to the Mesilla Valley in the late 1910s from Colorado. The Standard Fruit Company hired him and his son Hatsuki (known to most as “Harry”) to run their cantaloupe production in the valley. However, melon production declined after a few years of failed crops, forcing Tashiro to look for his own farmland.
In 1919, prominent white farmers led an effort to outlaw Japanese ownership of land, but Kay and Harry Tashiro overcame that by purchasing land in the names of their American-born children. They went on to become prominent farmers of lettuce, onions, and even cantaloupes in the Mesilla Valley.
Learning abut the Tashiros led me to learn about other Japanese farmers in the area, including John and Tome Nakayama, who arrived to farm cantaloupes around the same time as the Tashiros. The Nakayamas’ son, Roy, went on to develop several commercially viable green chile varieties, which are so important to New Mexico’s economy today.
These Japanese farmers who overcame many difficulties to prosper in Mesilla and Las Cruces inspired my character Masuda Hoshi. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Hoshi recently since he has a major role in my new novel The Brazen Shark, which I hope to turn into the publisher in about a month. Hoshi was a samurai who respected the farmers on his daimyo’s land in Japan. When the Meiji Emperor came to power, Hoshi resisted and was defeated. He decided the most honorable course of action was to become a farmer like those he once protected. Of course, he now faces his own difficulties, not the least of which is having a “helpful” mad scientist for a friend!
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