The Nisei Concentration Camps & the Racist Roots of Immigration Today
Back in the early 1970’s, the University of Hawaii held what was the first major public event/exhibit documenting the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in 1942. The event included a several month long exhibition of images held at the U of H Manoa campus’s East-West Center. The entire top floor of the EWC’s (Jefferson Hall) presented images of the horrific experiences brought on by FDR’s Executive Order 1066.
The movement to expose the horror of what happened to Japanese Americans first started to take root in 1970 by the Japanese American Citizen’s League followed by the U of H event. The state of Hawaii has one of the largest Japanese communities that goes back to the 1860’s when Japanese workers arrived as sugar plantation laborers, with numbers eventually reaching over 150,000. There was no major attempt during World War II to incarcerate the Japanese on the islands.
Japanese American Teen Internment Scrapbook
Dean Takahashi’s Personal Memories
75th Anniversary comment on 9066 by ACLU
Due to growing concerns over Japan’s growing military expansion in Asia during the 1930’s, Roosevelt ordered the spying on Japanese by 1936, but it really took off in 1939 with the FBI’s Custodial Detention List. The U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle discovered the list and ordered it closed. J. Edgar Hoover just renamed it and told agents not to talk about it, which was then used at the outbreak of the war. The list was maintained by the FBI and later merged with the anti-communist Agitator List that survived until 1978. Its modern version re-emerged after 911.
18 minute video by War Relocation Authority
California was to Asians what the South was to African Americans
Sadly, the SF labor movement played a leading role in the racial hatred of Asians that goes back to the 1860’s over their use by the Central Pacific to build the first continental railroad. A substantial part of this importation was conducted by U.S. Anglo businessmen including the Southern Pacific’s own steam ship business that set up indentured contracts in China that brought them here to work on the railroad as well as the construction of the Sacramento delta’s levees. (After the floods of 1862 destroyed most of the levees a law passed in 1868 revoked the 320 acre size of farms, resulting in the corporate takeover of the state’s agricultural lands) and the rebuilding of the levees once again by mostly Chinese laborers. In one of the most torrid examples of missing history was the estimated 50,000 plus Asian girls export to San Francisco where they lived and died in service of the sexual needs of both white and Asian men in the last 25 years of the 19th century. Most never lived to reach the age of twenty.
Event: Bay Area 75th Anniversary Remembered
One of the leading racist organizations that led the hate based campaign was the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League that was formed in 1905 in San Francisco primarily by labor leaders from the Construction Trades and Sailors Union (membership Included Andrew Furuseth, PH McCarthy and Walter McArthur & Olaf Tveitmoe). The group was renamed the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1907. List of anti-Japanese groups in California.
At the height of the Progressive era, the state passed the 1913 California Alien Land Law that forbid Asians from owning agricultural land for more than 3 years. The act was expanded in 1920 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923.
It was under President Coolidge that the country reached its height of racist anti-immigrant polices with the 1924 Immigration Act that included a complete ban on Asians. The Act added the Japanese to the list of already banned Chinese from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that the Bay Area led the battle cry for. The Act also had complete bans on Arabs, Southern & Eastern Europeans and a partial ban on Africans. What was surprising, considering the broad extent of the ban that it did not include any Latinos at the time. The reason for its passage?
“to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity”
The SF Bay Area was home to some of the most extreme anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. right up to EO 1066 in 1942. For example, The San Francisco Chronicle on February 21, 1942 displayed just such an attitude of pro-Japanese-American internment, stating, “We have to be tough, even if civil rights do take a beating for a time”. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. See Below link on research the Seattle Labor community did to dig up the kind of filthy hatred spread around that region. I’ve not been able to find a similar documentary attempt for the bay area media, but the hysteria was spread by them and political leaders across the west and nationally.
The push for EO 1066 came from a report by General John DeWitt who was in charge of western U.S. defense HQ at the Presidio in SF. An investigation after the war disclosed that not a single instance of espionage by Japanese-Americans was ever found. The west coast media rolled up its sleeves and spread anti-Japanese-American hysteria everywhere that included the notion hatched by Frank Knox, Sec. of the Navy, of a Fifth Column within the country of Nisei ready to kill Americans in their beds at night.
It must be acknowledged that during World War II Japan enslaved massive numbers of Asian peoples, including 10 million Chinese, 5.4 million Koreans and between 4–10 million Javanese.
The 1934 General Strike was the first serious attempt to reverse racist behavior in the SF labor community. Asian Union locals in SF made attempts to join the labor council as early as 1910 but were ignored. Union leaders from Asia even attended state conventions in the hopes of bridging the racial divide to no avail. It wasn’t until 1950, when the SF Labor Council produced a multimedia slideshow titled “Men on the Job”, narrated by Hollywood movie star Keenan Wynn on race relations in the Labor Community. In the mid-fifties, the SF Labor Council teamed up with Jewish activists in SF and L.A. to set up a campaign that eventually led to the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1959.
The bay area has come a long way since it’s residents peered at other communities in peep shows of scantily clad minorities during the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. Sadly, the very same economic and racial tension that ignited the sandlot protests of San Francisco in 1877 are once again being used to attack immigrants in the U.S. that now have very real concerns about where this country could be in a matter of months. All of which could come down to the ideologically deadlocked 4 to 4 U.S. Supreme Court.
At the height of anti-Chinese battles in San Francisco the regularly published SF WASP included dozens of racist images attacking Chinese people. Including images, like wanting to build a wall an example of history repeating itself. Other images documented how the use of Union Labels started with the war over Chinese vs. union made cigars. Click Here for more.