HISTORY CORNER: Japanese immigrants faced dark times, then lived the American dream

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  • GOOGLE IMAGES Japanese work camp near Hood River, Ore., about 1920.

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    PUBLIC DOMAIN Japanese American-owned store in Oakland, Calif. (1942).

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    GOOGLE IMAGES Japanese Americans being evacuated from Hood River, Ore., to be interned at Pinedale in Northern California (1942).

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    FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT LIBRARY Newspaper headlines of Japanese Relocation (1942).

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    LIBRARY OF CONGRESS In 1942, Japanese American business owners on the West Coast were ordered to close up and report for internment in detention camps for the duration of World War II; this photo showing Okano Brothers Cut Rate Store in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

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    NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Fumi Onodera, 20, points at the names of her three brothers, Ko, Kaun, 24; and Satoru, 22, on the Minidoka, Idaho, detention camp Honor Roll of Japanese Americans.

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    BANCROFT LIBRARY/UC-BERKELEY Minidoka internment camp, Hunt, Idaho (1942).

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    GOOGLE IMAGES U.S. Army Tech Sergeant Taniguchi visits his wife and daughter interned at the Minidoka Relocation Center before returning to his unit in the Pacific, serving behind Japanese lines in the China-Burma-India Theater.

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    NATIONAL ARCHIVES Grave marker at Granda Relocation Center near Amache, Colo.

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    BANCROFT LIBRARY, UC-BERKELEY Japanese Americans arriving at Minidoka Relocation Center, Idaho (1942).

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    BILL WEEMS/AP Japanese American hero Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye, wife Maggie and son Kenny at their Bethesda, Md., home (1973).

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    Photo by R.D. WARD/U.S. ARMY Medal of Honor recipient Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye lost an arm in World War II while serving with the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe.

  • GOOGLE IMAGES Japanese work camp near Hood River, Ore., about 1920.

  • 1

  • 2

    PUBLIC DOMAIN Japanese American-owned store in Oakland, Calif. (1942).

  • 3

    GOOGLE IMAGES Japanese Americans being evacuated from Hood River, Ore., to be interned at Pinedale in Northern California (1942).

  • 4

    FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT LIBRARY Newspaper headlines of Japanese Relocation (1942).

  • 5

    LIBRARY OF CONGRESS In 1942, Japanese American business owners on the West Coast were ordered to close up and report for internment in detention camps for the duration of World War II; this photo showing Okano Brothers Cut Rate Store in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

  • 6

    NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Fumi Onodera, 20, points at the names of her three brothers, Ko, Kaun, 24; and Satoru, 22, on the Minidoka, Idaho, detention camp Honor Roll of Japanese Americans.

  • 7

    BANCROFT LIBRARY/UC-BERKELEY Minidoka internment camp, Hunt, Idaho (1942).

  • 8

    GOOGLE IMAGES U.S. Army Tech Sergeant Taniguchi visits his wife and daughter interned at the Minidoka Relocation Center before returning to his unit in the Pacific, serving behind Japanese lines in the China-Burma-India Theater.

  • 9

    NATIONAL ARCHIVES Grave marker at Granda Relocation Center near Amache, Colo.

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    BANCROFT LIBRARY, UC-BERKELEY Japanese Americans arriving at Minidoka Relocation Center, Idaho (1942).

  • 11

    BILL WEEMS/AP Japanese American hero Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye, wife Maggie and son Kenny at their Bethesda, Md., home (1973).

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    Photo by R.D. WARD/U.S. ARMY Medal of Honor recipient Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye lost an arm in World War II while serving with the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe.

World War II was over, and the Japanese legally living in West Coast states who had been incarcerated in detention camps in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, California, Colorado and Arkansas by Franklin Delano Roosevelt were released to try to put their shattered lives back together.

A sign in Hood River, Ore., told their former neighbors, “No Jap Trade Wanted.” The town’s American Legion post removed 16 local Japanese-American names from the American Legion Honor Roll wall.

The farmers didn’t want to compete with Japanese farmers, and the Ku Klux Klan and even the American Legion wanted all persons of Japanese ancestry deported. Only the Bill of Rights protected them.

But that didn’t stop FDR from issuing Executive Order 9066 — signed on Feb. 19, 1942 — authorizing Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command, to remove all persons of Japanese ancestry living within a 200-mile zone along the West Coast

DeWitt set an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and banned them from ownership of firearms, radios, cameras, and other “contraband.” He said, “Let me warn the affected aliens and Japanese-Americans that anything but strict compliance with this proclamation’s provisions will bring immediate punishment.”

He ignored a 1943 ruling by Federal Judge James Alger Fee of Portland, Ore., that American citizens could not be detained without a proclamation of martial law.

“All military orders and proclamations of this headquarters remain in full force and effect,” DeWitt said.

He publicly said that irrespective of having American citizenship, “A Jap is a Jap.”

It was an anguishing time for Japanese-Americans, filled with fear, doubt and confusion, and not knowing where they were going. A sign on a Japanese-American-owned store in Oakland said, “I am an American.”

They could only take with them whatever they could carry, and had to dispose of their businesses, furniture and all other personal possessions.

Japanese-Americans from Hood River and Marion County went by train to Pinedale in Northern California, while Portland internees were sent to the Minidoka camp near Twin Falls, Idaho.

More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were locked up — one of the most serious civil liberties violations in American history (other violations being against African Americans and Native Americans since Europeans first arrived, and against the Chinese and others later).

By the end of the war, there was still no evidence that Japanese-Americans committed any act of espionage or sabotage, and none were ever charged.

The first Asians to arrive in the U.S. were Filipino sailors landing on the California coast in 1587, but the first permanent settlement was in Louisiana in 1763.

The Asian-American dream was much like the European’s: Escape the old country’s economic, social and political hardships, come to America, make lots of money and stay or return home rich. Most stayed.

American antipathy toward Asians began with the Chinese, who first came to the U.S. about 1815. All were seeking a better life and the opportunity to send money to their families in China. Nearly all were male laborers, most hoping one day to return home. Few did.

In 1834, Afong Moy was the first Chinese female immigrant, arriving in New York, where she was exhibited as a curiosity — “The Chinese Lady.”

Encyclopedia sources say 323 more Chinese arrived in 1849, 450 in 1850 and 20,000 in 1852 — 2,000 in one day. By 1880, there were more than 300,000. Most were from Canton, near Hong Kong.

The Chinese were hard workers, and played a major part in building America’s railroads — many also joining the Gold Rush all over the American West.

They faced difficult and often dangerous working conditions; were paid less than Euro-ethnic workers, couldn’t speak English — or even understand kinsmen from different regions in China speaking other dialects.

Violence against them in America was commonplace. One of the worst incidents was in 1887 when horse thieves murdered 34 Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon, Ore.

In Idaho, after white miners left because their diggings had played out, the Chinese miners moved in — willing to scrape for even small quantities of gold.

They also worked laundering clothes, cooking food, or as gardeners and farmers. By 1870 almost 30 percent of Idaho’s population was Chinese.

Restrictive immigration laws by local and federal government further added to their burden. Similar immigration laws that followed would also plague the Japanese immigrants who arrived later.

Many U.S. states also implemented their own draconian immigration restrictions.

In California between 1852 and 1878, Chinese miners were taxed a monthly $3 fee, shipping companies had to pay a bond of $5 to $50 for foreign passengers — intended to discourage the Chinese — the law later declared unconstitutional; Chinese were not allowed to testify in civil or criminal court cases, forbidden to own real estate, and their children couldn’t go to public schools.

In the late 1800s, a series of federal acts made it even tougher on Chinese immigrants, with perhaps the worst law being the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, stopping all immigration of Chinese laborers.

Republican Sen.George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts called it “nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination.”

The Japanese story was a little different. After Emperor Meiji ascended the throne in 1868, he began changing Japan from a feudal society to a modern nation. Japan soon flexed its muscles by defeating the Chinese in 1895 in the First Sino-Japanese War. Then they beat the Russians in 1905.

Japan demanded being treated as an equal, and the world took notice.

Then tensions arose between the U.S. and Japan because of treatment of Japanese immigrants in America — especially in California.

Japan also didn’t want the U.S. to create legislation aimed at them like the Exclusion Act that shackled the Chinese.

Fortunately, President Teddy Roosevelt liked the Japanese, so the two countries settled on the informal Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, whereby the United States would not impose restrictions on Japanese immigration; would accept Japanese immigrants already living in the U.S., and permitted immigration of wives, children and parents.

The “informal” Agreement wasn’t approved by Congress.

Japan in turn only issued passports for Japanese citizens intending to work in the Territory of Hawaii. The U.S. government then quietly let them move to the mainland with few controls — but not the unskilled laborers who worked mostly in the Hawaiian sugarcane fields.

The scarcity of Japanese women for those workers to marry posed another problem. The solution was the “picture bride” way to find a spouse from Japan, by family members or intermediaries arranging for an exchange of photographic portraits between couples who hadn’t met.

Picture brides accepted for a variety of reasons — mostly to escape long-standing societal restrictions and obligations or hoping for financial security. A Korean picture bride said, “Hawaii’s a free place, everybody living well. Hawaii had freedom, so if you like talk, you can talk, if you like work, you can work.”

Japanese picture bride Motome Yoshimura said simply, “I wanted to come to the United States because everyone else was coming. So I joined the crowd.”

The more restrictive Immigrant Act of 1924 replaced the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement, and introduced a quota system, but also barred all Asian immigrants. Japan complained, but to no avail and tensions between the two countries arose — continuing until the end of World War II.

The basic purpose of the 1924 Act was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity, and remained until 1952.

More than 30,000 Japanese-Americans served in the U.S. Army in World War II — many in the “Go for Broke” 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion.

Longtime Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye was one of them. He and 20 others received the Medal of Honor, helping make the 442nd the most decorated American unit in the war.

Many of the Japanese-Americans never returned to the Columbia River Basin or its town of Hood River after the war, but moved to larger cities in the Northwest — Seattle, Spokane and Portland — and to farm communities in the Snake River Valley of southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho, with others heading to California or the East.

The Hood River American Legion eventually replaced 15 of the 16 Japanese names to the Honor Roll wall. The missing name was a man with a dishonorable discharge.

The wall has since disappeared into the pages of history.

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Contact Syd Albright at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

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First Japanese in America…

On June 27, 1841, five shipwrecked Japanese sailors were rescued in the Pacific by Captain William H. Whitfield, a New England sea captain. One of them was 14-year old Manjiro Nakahama, whom he mentored as a foster father until the lad could return to sea in 1847. The other four Japanese left the ship in Honolulu.

After attending school in New England and adopting the name John Manjiro, he later became an interpreter for U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry who boldly sailed his four “Black Ships” into Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) on July 8, 1853, and began negotiations for a peace and trade treaty with the Tokugawa Shogunate, effectively opening up feudal Japan to the West.

Racism, not national security…

Figures vary, but about 110,000 Japanese-Americans from the U.S. mainland were interned during World War II. Most were from the West Coast. Of Hawaii’s 150,000-plus Japanese-Americans, only 1,200 to 1,800 were forced into camps. Those who were only as little as 1/16th Japanese were rounded up and even orphaned infants with “one drop of Japanese blood.”

U.S. Government apologizes…

President Ronald Reagan apologized for the U.S. Government interning Japanese-Americans during World War II by signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Each camp survivor received $20,000 ($42,725 equivalent in 2018). The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

Japanese-American generations…

The first generation of Japanese who immigrated to the U.S., are called “Issei.” The second generation born in the U.S., who have at least one non-immigrant parent are “Nisei,” while the third American-born generation with at least one Nisei parent are called “Sansei,” and “Yonsei” are fourth generation if they have at least one Sansei parent. Fifth is “Gosei.”

Meals at internment camp…

Menu at Tule internment camp, California:

TUESDAY:

Breakfast: Half grapefruit, rolled oats with milk, hot cakes with syrup, cocoa, coffee and milk.

Lunch: Boiled beef-Spanish style, steamed rice, tsukemono (pickled veggies on rice), lettuce salad and apple tea.

Dinner: Beef sukiyaki (a sort of Japanese chop suey), steamed rice, tsukemono, potato salad, spice cake and tea.

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