Coachella Valley History Museum in Indio aims to revive Japanese garden

Pink crape myrtles, red heavenly bamboo and bright green coyote brushes — these are some of the flowers and plants that once adorned the Japanese Memorial Garden at the Coachella Valley History Museum. But in the garden’s 36 years, many of them have slowly deteriorated or caught diseases and died, no longer doing justice to the legacy the garden is meant to commemorate.

The Japanese garden is an integral part of the museum, having been established in 1985, just one year after the museum itself. From the start, the garden’s purpose was to celebrate Japanese heritage and culture. It was also meant to recognize the struggles of early Issei pioneers, the first generation of Japanese immigrants in the United States. 

In the Coachella Valley, Japanese farmers were among the first to implement large-scale agriculture, starting as sharecroppers and eventually leasing, then buying, farmland in the east valley, according to Maureen Boren, a board trustee of the museum who is spearheading efforts to restore the garden.

“It was like 21 or 23 pioneer Japanese families, wanting to establish a memorial garden so that people would know their part in developing the valley. They were all farmers,” Boren said. 

A scrapbook picture shows members of pioneering Japanese families in the desert helping establish the Japanese Memorial Garden at the Coachella Valley History Museum in 1985.

Japanese pioneers arrived in the valley in the early 1900s, said Boren, willing to work amid tough conditions under the desert heat. Their legacy is not only that of hard work, though, as it’s also tainted with the discrimination they often faced and was made worse after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

In “Coachella: A History of Coachella and its People,” published in 2020, author Jeff Crider wrote that the day after Pearl Harbor, 64 Japanese residents of Coachella pledged their allegiance to the U.S. publicly at the city’s Presbyterian Church.