Anti-Japanese Bigotry in the United States Prior to World War II Dorothy Mitchell Mellon Scholars, Hope College. Introduction and Objectives
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Mellon Scholars, Hope College
Introduction and Objectives
Have you ever wondered how the United States could intern Japanese Americans during WWII? Such strong anti-Japanese sentiment must have had a history. And yet, people call the Japanese-Americans a model minority. How can this be? How beneficial is it actually for minority groups to readily conform to American rules and customs?
Having knowledge of this history can shed light on how immigrant groups assimilate into America, and how established groups react to this process.
Early Japanese immigrants to America experienced spillover bigotry from Chinese who came to the West in droves during the Gold Rush. As far back as 1870, there were demonstrations calling for an end to Chinese immigration. In 1882, Chinese immigration was banned. The Japanese began immigrating in 1885, replacing the flow of Chinese providing cheap labor. The fundamental problem—whites fearing job competition—was unsolved.
While the Chinese made little attempt to assimilate, the Japanese readily adopted the trappings of Western culture. The two cultures tended to behave differently as employees and have different goals for success in America. The distinction still did not keep ignorant white Americans from lumping all the Asian ethnicities together.
The Japanese government needed to establish itself as an equal to the other nations, so it had an interest in representing itself well to other countries. Therefore, it oversaw its ex-pat citizens more closely than other nations. Japanese consuls directed a central body that organized local associations of Japanese communities in the United States. Each community was responsible for singling out troublemakers and discouraging undesirable behavior through bureaucratic and social pressures. Prostitution and gambling were community vices that drained resources and did not endear Americans.
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 brought prejudice to the foreground when the school board tried to segregate Chinese, Japanese, and Korean students. Tensions ran high; many Japanese and Japanese businesses were attacked. Theodore Roosevelt stepped in with threats of federal military power. Once the school board caved, the United States and Japan wrote the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, slowing the influx of Japanese immigrants.
The Japanese population began to settle down. Demographics changed as more Japanese women came into the US (including picture brides). Laborers, college students, and agricultural workers took the opportunity to become business owners, domestic servants, and farmers.
There were many obstacles. The Japanese struggled to be accepted into labor unions. There were laws against mixed-marriage. Japanese-language private schools, responsible for inculcating Japanese-American youth with a dual heritage, were regulated. College-educated Japanese hit a glass ceiling. The 1913 Alien Land Law made it difficult for the Japanese immigrants to buy, sell, and lease land because they could not become citizens based on the black/white racial qualifications on citizenship at the time. The Japanese organized to fight for the right to naturalize as citizens in court, they were rarely successful.
1639-1853: Japan’s borders are closed to trade
1854: Commodore Perry “opens” Japan to trade
1848-1855: Gold Rush
1863-1869: Central Pacific Railroad constructed
1870: First anti-Asian demonstration in S.F.
1875: Naturalization limited to blacks & whites
1880: Chinese immigration regulated
1882: Chinese immigration banned
1885: Japan legalizes emigration after negotiating with HI; Japanese replace Chinese immigrant workers
1892: CA news pushes anti-Japanese agenda
1894: First Sin0-Japanese War
1896: Plessy v. Ferguson (segregation policy)
1905-1920: Picture bride period
1906: San Francisco earthquake
1907: Gentlemen’s Agreement slows Japanese immigration; marks end of “frontier” period, start of “settling” period
1913: Alien Land Law — Individuals or companies owned by aliens cannot purchase/lease agricultural land more than three years; cannot sell/bequeath land to fellow alien immigrants
1922: Cable Act—women marrying ineligible aliens lose citizenship, but may reapply if marriage ends. Japanese-American women, because of racial ineligibility, cannot reapply.
1924: Japanese immigration into US ends
1941: Pearl Harbor bombed; US joins WWII
1942-1945: Executive Order 9066
1945: Second Sino-Japanese War
1946: Last Internment Camp closes
Advisor: Professor Andy Nakajima