A History of Japanese Americans in California:
Sei Fujii Property, Sei Fujii v. State of California
In 1937, as in 1936, Mr. Oyama, as guardian, sought permission to borrow $4,000, payable in six months, to finance the next year's crops. As it appeared on the record, both loans were approved by the court, and were repaid on maturity. However, Kajiro Oyama made no annual accounting report, as required by the Alien Land Law of 1920.
In 1942, the Oyama family, with all other persons of Japanese ancestry, were removed from the Pacific Coast. In 1944, when Fred was sixteen and still forbidden to return home, the State of California filed a petition to declare an escheat of the two parcels of land on the grounds that the conveyances in 1934 and 1937 were made with intent to evade and violate the Alien Land Law. In the Oyama case of 1946, the California Supreme Court upheld the action of the state to escheat the two parcels.
Oyama appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled on January 19, 1948 that Fred Oyama had the right to own land under the guardianship of his father. The court did not declare the Alien Land Law unconstitutional, but ownership of the property remained with the Oyama family.
The 160-acre farmland, which once grew celery, tomatoes, and peppers, is now a residential area of Chula Vista, with no trace of the family or visual evidence of the important legal decision clarifying the rights of land ownership.
Sei Fujii's significance to Japanese American history lies in a judicial decision that can be found in law books under the reference heading: Sei Fujii v. State of California, 38 Cal. 2d 718, April 17, 1952. On that day, the California Supreme Court ruled that Sei Fujii, a non-citizen issei, could purchase and own property in his own name. Chief Justice Phil S. Gibson, aided by Justices Edmonds, Carter, and Traynor, wrote the majority opinion. Justice Schauer, along with Justices Shend and Spence, wrote the dissenting opinion.
This court decision climaxed a legal battle that began in 1948, when Fujii purchased an undeveloped lot in East Los Angeles in order to test the Alien Land Law. Earlier that year, on January 19, the United States Supreme Court had ruled, in Oyama v. California, that issei parents, ineligible for citizenship, could purchase land as gifts for their citizen children. Fujii, a graduate of the University of Southern California Law School and publisher of the Kashu Mainichi (a bilingual Japanese American newspaper), decided to further test the law. The State of California began an escheat action to take possession of the property. Superior Court Judge Wilbur C. Curtis ruled in favor of the state's action. Fujii then appealed to the California Supreme Court, which overruled the lower court's decision.
The Fujii and Oyama cases eventually resulted in the Alien Land Law being declared unconstitutional. On November 4, 1956, a repeal measure, listed as Proposition 13, was passed by California voters to officially repeal the Alien Land Law, 43 years after its enactment.
The property associated with the landmark Fujii case is located on a small hillside adjacent to a county road. The property remains vacant and undeveloped and is surrounded by residential development.