Since the immigration of people from China to the United States began, around 1849, a strain of racism had been developing that would also be directed towards the Japanese Americans (Daniels, 1972). As the Japanese military became a rising threat to the United States, the racism and fear only continued to grow (Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, n.d.). There were three main labels for Japanese descendants living in the United States. The Issei were Japanese men and women that were actually born in Japan (Davenport, 2010). The second group was labeled as the Kibei, which were young Japanese descendants that were born in the United States and sent to Japan for their studies. The third group was labeled as Nisei, which were Japanese descendants that were American citizens, born in the United States, and had little connections to Japan. This group made up the majority of Japanese in the United States.
The immigration of the Japanese was not considered significant until around 1890 (Daniels, 1972). During that year the census found that there were 2039 Japanese within the mainland of the country, with the majority of them living in California. The reason for this sudden surge in Japanese immigration stemmed from a recession that Japan’s economy had fallen into during the 1880s (Davenport, 2010). Many of the Japanese, especially farmers, were headed for hunger and poverty, which eventually led to 30,000 of them immigrating to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane plantations.
Immigration of the Japanese would continue to grow over the next several years, as would the racism and prejudice from the Americans towards them. This extended into the schools of California. Members of the San Francisco community already had oncerns with the Chinese that had come into their population and began to work towards policies that would group together the Chinese and the Japanese (Davenport, 2010). In October of 1906, the San Francisco school board chose to fully separate the whites and the Asians in the public school system by sending Japanese children to Chinese schools. When the Japanese government protested the board’s decision to President Theodore Roosevelt, he ordered the school board to withdraw the policy and made an agreement with the Japanese through the Gentlemen’s Agreement (Davenport, 2010). Later in 1906, the president negotiated through the Gentlemen’s Agreement that he could not restrict the immigration of the Japanese and the Japanese government agreed not to provide exit visas to laborers that wished to immigrate to the United States (Robinson, 2001).
Between the years 1890 and 1924, less than 300,000 Japanese immigrants came to the United States (Daniels, 1972). Also, from around 1885 to 1924, over 80,000 Japanese immigrants came to and
stayed in Hawaii (Davenport, 2010). Congress passed an Immigration Act in 1924, which allowed the immigration of only 2 percent of the total population of each nationality living in the United States during
1890 (Robinson, 2010). This act completely excluded further immigration of the Japanese into the United States.
During the 1930s, many Americans began to fear the Japanese Americans. Many believed that there was possible espionage and
paranoia began to increase concerning Japanese spies (Davenport, 2010). In the late 1930s, American intelligence agencies began creating a list, known as the “ABC list” consisting of over 2,000 names of Japanese aliens. In September of 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Army G-2 division and the Office of Naval Intelligence to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep track of the Japanese Americans (Robinson, 2010). By 1941, the “ABC list” had grown into a list of possible “enemy alien suspects”. The “A”
section of the list included the names of Japanese Americans, such as consular officials, priests, Japanese business and community leaders and fisherman that were labeled, “immediately dangerous” (Robinson, 2001). The“B” section included “potentially dangerous” Japanese members, that had not had their loyalty assessed by the FBI, and the “C” section included people that were suspected of having pro-Japan views.
As of 1940, the Census recorded that the United States contained 126,948 Japanese Americans, with around nine out of every ten living in one of the three West Coast states; California, Oregon, and Washington (Daniels, 1972). Three-quarters of the 126,948 were located within the state of California. In early October of this same year, the Navy Department presented a draft of steps that could be taken in order to prepare for a possible war that included plans for concentration camps (Robinson, 2010). In that same year, Congress passed an Alien Registration Act requiring that all aliens over fourteen years of age would have to go through a registration and fingerprinting process (Daniels, 1972).
During July of 1941, the United States ceased all shipments of oil to the islands of Japan, which caused the diplomatic relationship between them to weaken (Davenport, 2010). Shortly after, the United States decided to freeze the assets of the Japanese that were in the American banks. By October of 1941, a concentration camp called Camp Upton, in New York, had already been created for anyone that the war department felt should be held there (Robinson, 2010). The camp had the capacity to hold 700 people, had a stockade enclosure, and was surrounded by barbed wire, guard posts, and search
Toichi Ichikawa (back row, second from left) and other Japanese immigrants in front of the Colorado Times newspaper office in downtown Denver, circa 1916-20. Ichikawa was publisher and part owner of the newspaper. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library Western History Collection
Japanese immigrants working on a Hawaiian plantation.
Japanese immigrants on their own potato farm.