Armando Ruiz (right) steadies a headstone during repair work at the Japanese Cemetery in Oxnard. (Courtesy of Roberto Garcia)
OXNARD — Repairs have been made at the Oxnard Historic Japanese Cemetery, which was vandalized on June 19, but fundraising continues for improvements on the site.
Workers from Garcia Mortuary, which owns the property, came to the cemetery on July 3 and put up tombstones that had been knocked down, securing them with cement. Wooden grave markers that had been pulled out of the ground were put back up to the extent possible, but many were already in poor condition before the incident.
Anne Chilcott of Ventura County JACL, which has been the cemetery’s caretaker since the 1980s, said of the posts, “Most of them are rotting and just stuck in sand, not in a secure base.” She would like to seem them replaced with more durable material.
“We need to have a little more dignity and respect for the Japanese Cemetery,” Roberto Garcia, owner of the mortuary, told The Ventura County Star. “We should all be concerned.”
The damage was done by a shoeless man who may have been homeless or mentally ill. Although Oxnard police later apprehended him, Garcia declined to press charges.
“I wouldn’t want to punish somebody like that,” Garcia told the newspaper.
Police have not released the man’s name. Authorities are not considering the incident a hate crime as his motivation is unknown.
As of Tuesday evening, a GoFundMe campaign launched by the Ventura County JACL has raised $9,420 from 135 people toward the goal of $27,000. This figure does not include donations sent directly to the Ventura County JACL.
“I am upset about this recent desecration of the final resting place for so many Japanese pioneers in Ventura County but have received many inquiries about how to help,” Chilcott said, noting that many offers of assistance have come from people with no connection to the cemetery, including many non-Nikkei.
Adrian Diaz watches as workers, including his father, finish securing a headstone at the Japanese Cemetery in Oxnard. From right are workers Enrique Diaz, Juan Perez and Armando Ruiz. (Courtesy of Roberto Garcia)
In addition to repairing the grave markers, funds will be used for maintenance and improving fencing around the cemetery. There are wrought-iron gates that need new hinges.
“The chain-link fence is pretty dilapidated and part of it is missing,” Chilcott noted.
She added, “The cemetery looks way better from the time the vandal was there. Still looks forlorn because there is no grass there — no irrigation.”
Garcia, who thanked everyone who has contributed, said, “I strongly believe that this landmark can be a focal point of interest for visitors. I am open-minded to any ideas to maintain and make necessary improvements.”
To contribute, go online to https://www.gofundme.com/historic-oxnard-japanese-cemetery or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The cemetery contains as many as 200 graves, some dating back to the early 1900s, including single male farmworkers as well as infants and toddlers. Many families of the deceased have since left the area. Volunteers organized by the JACL chapter held a cleanup there in May.