Delta Asian American & Pacific Islander History: Six Stories

Montage of images from six recent stories about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Delta.The Delta’s history is deeply intertwined with the story of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Sikh immigration to California. Drawn first by the Gold Rush and then by railroad construction, Asian immigrants fanned out across the Delta as farming ramped up. They built Delta levees, worked on farms, and even leased or bought their own farms … until the state forbade it for some nationalities.

The Asian presence in the Delta remains vividly on display in the towns of Isleton and Walnut Grove, which have distinct China- or Japantowns, and Locke, which was an entirely Chinese-American town until recent decades.

And the stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Delta are actively being told. Here are six recent examples:


A piece of Locke’s history was recognized Saturday when E Clampus Vitus dedicated a plaque honoring the Bok Bok Man – the traditional Chinese night watchman who patrolled the town after dark, hitting a gong or hollowed wood block on the hour.


Isleton is commemorating its Chinese and Japanese heritage with the construction of a new Asian American Heritage Park, a story detailed recently in Soundings Journal.


The Delta’s Japanese presence took a huge hit when the U.S. sent Japanese-Americans to incarceration camps during World War II. Many dispersed after they were released, never to be heard from in the Delta again. But one such family – the founders of the Locke Boarding House – recently surfaced, and Stuart Walthall shares the story here.


The Delta’s Filipino community made big news last December when a collection of home movies from the 1950s to the 1970s shot by the Bohulano family in Stockton was one of 25 films added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. The snapshot of Filipino family life and immigrant experience joined the registry alongside films including Apollo 13, Fame, Home Alone, Terminator 2, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and 12 Years a Slave.


The Sikh presence in the Delta – Stockton was the home of the first Sikh temple in the United States – has been documented recently by Lea Terhune in the book, “California’s Pioneering Punjabis: An American Story” (The History Press, 2023).


The National Parks Conservation Association on Wednesday highlighted the need to preserve America’s historic Chinatowns, and in the same post shone a spotlight on seven urban and rural sites already on the registered landmarks and historic places lists. Both Locke and Walnut Grove made the list.