Japanese immigrants and the following generations had to endure discrimination, racism, and prejudice from white Americans. They were first viewed as economic competition. The Japanese Americans were then forced into internment camps simply because of the whites fear and paranoia. The Japanese first began to immigrate to the United States in 1868. At first they came in small numbers. US Census records show only 55 in 1870 and 2,039 in 1890.
After that, they came in much greater numbers, reaching 24,000 in 1900, 72,000 in 1910, and 111,000 in 1920.(Parrillo,287) Most settled in the western states.(Klimova,1) Many families in Japan followed the practice of primogeniture, which is when the eldest son inherits the entire estate. This was a “push” factor. Because of primogeniture, “second and third sons came to the United States to seek their fortunes.”(Parrillo,287) The promise of economic prosperity and the hope for a better life for their children were two “pull” factors. These foreign-born Japanese were known as Issei (first generation). They filled a variety of unskilled jobs in railroads, farming, fishing, and domestic services.
(Klimova,1) The Japanese encountered hostility and discrimination from the start. In California, a conflict with organized labor was due to their growing numbers in small areas and racial visibility.(Parrillo,287) White workers perceived Japanese as economic competition. Their willingness to work for lower wages and under poor conditions brought on hostility from union members. The immigrants became victims of ethnoviolence. In 1890, Japanese cobblers were attacked by members of the shoe makers union, and Japanese restaurateurs were attacked by members of the union for cooks and waiters in 1892.
It was very difficult to find steady employment; therefore, most of them entered agricultural work. They first worked as laborers, accumulated sufficient capitol, then as tenant farmers or small landholders. Some became contract gardeners for whites.(Parrillo,287) The Japanese farmers were very knowledgeable of cultivation, which made them strong competitors against white farmers. More discrimination by the dominant group soon followed. “In 1913, the California legislator passed the first alien landholding law, prohibiting any person who was ineligible for citizenship from owning land in the state, and permitting such persons to lease land for no more than three years in succession.”(Parrillo,287) This was ofcourse aimed at keeping the Japanese in the working class. Their native born children, the Nisei (second-generation), were automatically US citizens. Thus, the Issei had land put under their childrens names directly or by collectively owning stock in landholding companies.
Discrimination against the Japanese continued after World War I. The California legislature passed a law in 1920 “prohibiting aliens form being guardians of a minors property or from leasing any land at all.”(Parrillo,288) Yet another attempt by the dominant group to preserve power. Japanese American children also suffered racism and discrimination. In 1905, the San Francisco School Board of Education passed a policy sending Japanese children to a segregated Oriental school in Chinatown.(Parrillo,288) “Superintendent, Aaron Altmann, advised the citys principals: “Any child that may apply for enrollment or at present attends your school who may be designated under the head of Mongolian must be excluded, and in furtherance of this please direct them to apply at the Chinese school for enrollment.”(Asia,1) Japanese immigrants being extremely racially distinct, had different cultural customs and religious faith, and tended to chain migrate and stay within their own small communities. This aroused distrust and the idea that they could not be assimilated.(Klimova,2) Japans victory in the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 fueled the irrational distrust and prejudice. It led to the Gentlemens Agreement of 1908, secured by President Roosevelt, which “Japan agreed to restrict, but not eliminate altogether, the issuance of passports.”(Parrillo,288) This attempt at reducing Japanese immigration had a huge loophole, it allowed wives to enter.
Many Japanese practiced endogamy and sent for “picture brides.” “Several thousand Japanese entered the United States every year until World War I, and almost 6,000 a year came after the war.”(Parrillo,288) The anti-Japanese attitudes grew stronger. The Immigration Law of 1924 stated that all aliens ineligible for citizenship were refused entry. Thus, “..the Japanese migration to America [came] to a complete cessation.”(Klimova,2) The law stayed in effect until 1952. By 1941, “about 127,000 ethnic Japanese lived in the United States, 94,000 of them in California.”(Parrillo,289) Only “37 percent were Issei..”(Klimova,1) On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. When news of the attack reached the west coast, Japanese neighborhoods were surrounded by police. Within the first day, the FBI arrested 1,300 dangerous aliens. They had jailed nearly 2,000 more by the end of December.(Spickard,93) Most of them were business executives, leaders of Japanese associations and community leaders whose only suspicious act was visiting relatives in Japan or contributing to the Japanese equivalent of the United Service Organization (USO).
Those arrested were thrown into county jails and then transferred to detention centers run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).(Spickard,93) The fear of bombing or even an invasion caused rumors to spread about treachery and deceitfulness by the Japanese Americans. The allegations of sabotage and espionage were twisted by racial bias and lacked any evidence or rationale. Some were absolutely ridiculous. Such as poisoned vegetables and planting tomatoes so that they formed arrows pointing at US military objects.(klimova,2) The anti-Japanese paranoia held by the dominant group echoed in the media. Newspapers printed unfounded racist reports about Japanese Americans, starting in December 1941 and more throughout February 1942.
Common examples of racist articles, some openly using degrading ethnophalisns, are these headlines from the Los Angeles Times: “Jap Boat flashes Message ashore” “Two Japs With Maps and Alien Literature Seized” “Caps on Japanese Tomato Plants Point to Air Base”(Spickard,96) The fear and hostility toward the Japanese Americans was accompanied by a wide spread hysteria. People began to call for their removal from the western states. White farmers were among those advocating their evacuation. By now, Farmers of Japanese origin had turned dessert into some of the most fertile farmland, which was less than 4 percent of the California farmland, and produced 10 percent of the total value of …