JAPANESE AMERICAN MARGINALIZATION:
FROM 1900 TO THE PRESENT
By Marina Ballesteros
In California, what conditions and historical events lead to the Japanese-Americans being marginalization and seen as the “other”?
How have historical events and laws affected Japanese-American marginalization over the past decades and currently in California?
From 1900- present day, there have been political actions taken by the United States government that have specifically contributed to the marginalization of Japanese Americans. Laws like the Executive Order 9066 and Alien Land Law of 1913 specifically targeted Japanese Americans. Because of laws like these that have directly affected Japanese Americans, it caused them to be ‘othered’ by the rest of society. In this project, being ‘othered’ is deviation from the naturalized definition of normalcy that the particular society has perpetuated. An immediate effect of these laws includes displacement, difficulty finding a job, and economic marginalization (Densho 2017). A long term effect of these laws include social marginalization of Japanese Americans by being seen as the “other” and discriminated upon because of race. In summary, the following artifacts depict laws or larger political movements that directly caused social and economic Japanese American marginalization between 1900 and present day.
The artifacts are presented in chronological order from the 1900’s to present day. The first artifact is a political cartoon originally listed in Harper’s Weekly. This artifact symbolizes the racial prejudice occurring in Northern California during the early 1900’s. There was a general fear that Asian-American immigrants were going to steal all of the jobs in California. A result of this fear was the threat of a San Francisco school district to segregate the schools. Additionally, Artifact 2 is the Webb-Haney Alien Land Act of 1913, which also showed the fear of Asian immigrants stealing the jobs of Californians. As a result of this law, Japanese Americans could not get leases beyond three years. Artifacts 3 and 4 revolve around the results of Executive Order 9066. While the order is not an artifact itself, Artifacts 3 and 4 directly deal with the results of this order. Artifact 3 is one of photographer Dorathea Lange’s images of the people living at Manzanar internment camp. Similarly, Artifact 4 is a video that discusses the actions taken by the United States government after the release of Japanese Americans from the internment camps. Overall, the four artifacts are related because they depict the affects of a political action or law put in place that marginalized Japanese Americans economically and socially.
Media Type: Political Cartoon
Date: November 10,1906
Source: Harper’s Weekly
In the political cartoon from above, the United States Commerce and Labor Secretary Victor Metcalf says to the young white boy, “For heaven’s sake do not embarrass the administration!”
In a political cartoon published by Harper’s Weekly in 1906, after the San Francisco school
district announced plans to have Japanese students attend racially segregated schools. This
sparked a diplomatic crisis between Japan and the United States. President Roosevelt sent
Commerce and Labor Secretary Victor Metcalf to San Francisco to convince the school
board to change its decision. Japan emerged as a dominant power from the Russo Japanese war, but poor treatment of Asian immigrants in California with talks of expanding the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882 and the creation of the Japanese-Korean Exclusion League caused a stir
between the two countries. In 1907, Roosevelt and Japan came to the “Gentleman’s Agreement” agreeing that Japan would issue passports to Japanese Immigrants coming to Hawaii and the U.S. would reverse the segregation order. However, peace was short-lived and anti-Japanese rioting broke out in 1907 San Francisco, causing the U.S. and Japan to ignite another war scare (Kennedy, 2001).
WEBB-HANEY ALIEN LAND LAW - CALIFORNIA, 1913
Media Type: Law
“The act provides in sections 1 and 2 as follows:
'Section 1. All aliens eligible to citizenship under the laws of the United States may acquire, possess, enjoy, transmit, and inherit real property, or any interest therein, in this state, in the same manner and to the same extent as citizens of the United States, except as otherwise provided by the laws of this state.
'See. 2. All aliens other than those mentioned in section one of this act may acquire, possess, enjoy and transfer real property, or any interest therein, in this state, in the manner and to the extent and for the purpose prescribed by any treaty now existing between the government of the United States and the nation or country of which such alien is a citizen or subject, and not otherwise.'
Other sections provide penalties by escheat and imprisonment for violation of section 2” (Porterfield v. Webb*). *There was difficulty finding the text of the Webb-Haney Alien Land Law of 1913 in its original form. The text of the law was cited in Porterfield v. Webb Supreme Court Case, along with dozens of cases in the decades following.
This law prohibited aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning land or property. Contextually, there were a large number of Asian immigrants coming to the United States during this time. There was an overall fear in California that the Asian immigrants, including Japanese, would take the jobs of Californians. As a result, this law was enacted preventing them from owning property and taking jobs. In the Porterfield v. Webb case specifically, Porterfield wanted to lease his lands to a Japanese immigrant for 5 years, but could not do this because of the Alien Land Act. This case was significant because it challenged the constitutionality of the act, “Because it deprives Porterfield of the right to enter into contracts for the leasing of his realty, and deprives Mizuno of his liberty and properly by debarring him from entering into a contract for the purpose of earning a livelihood in a lawful occupation” (Porterfield v. Webb, 1923). This demonstrates the economic and marginalization Japanese-American immigrants were faced with during the beginning of the 20th century because of laws.
“Japanese Internment in America”
Photograph by Dorothea Lange
Media Type: Photograph
This photo by famous photographer Dorothea Lange was taken at Manzanar Relocation Center in 1942. According to the National Park Service Website on Manzanar, which has now been declared a National Historic Site in California, people began relocating here in 1942 after Executive Order 9066. President Roosevelt made this declaration in February of 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This order demonstrates the social and economic marginalization of Japanese Americans during WWII. They were forced to move out of their homes, and relocate to camps like Manzanar without due process on few days notice. Because the United States had just been attacked by the Japanese, they used this as justification for racially profiling Japanese-Americans. They removal of Japanese Americans from society was a means of removing anyone who was seen as a threat or might threaten the war effort. Manzanar was one of the 10 relocation centers across the West Coast. Surprisingly, two-thirds of all Japanese-Americans interned at Manzanar were American citizens by birth (National Park Service). The significance of this photo demonstrates the resilience of the internees while at Manzanar. Although they were forced out of their homes by the government, they created a new life for themselves by serving the needs of their community by volunteering their services for each other. Volunteers worked in mess halls, as doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and teachers for little to no pay just to keep their lives as normal as possible while in the face of adversity.
Righting A Wrong
Media Type: Video
Date: April 2015
“My daughter and I walked and walked and walked. We walked all day long and everywhere we went there would be a ‘For Rent’ sign and when we get there they would say “oh, it is rented already.’” -Peggie Nishimura Bain
“This action was taken without trial, without jury, based solely on race. For these 120,00 were Americans of Japanese decent. The legislation that I am about to sign, provides for a restitution payment to each of the 60,000 survivors; yet no payment can make up for lost years” -President Ronald Reagan.
This video discuses the lives of Japanese Americans after being freed from the Internment Camps. The Peggie Nishimura Bain in the image above discusses being racially profiled and unable to find housing with her family after being released from the camps. The video also shows original footage of President Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Densho, 2017). In this footage Reagan notably says, “Yet no payment can make up for those lost years.” While the United States Government took responsibility for the social injustice they imposed on the Japanese-Americans, they still faced marginalization after coming back into normal life in the United States. By forcing the Japanese-Americans into the Internment camps, they caused Americans to create negative perceptions and treat them unfairly based on their race for generations to come. Having trouble finding housing and jobs were two of the many ways Japanese Americans faced marginalization after returning home from the internment camps.
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS
On March 11, 2017 I interviewed Yoko Faircloth in Alhambra, California. She is my boyfriend’s grandmother and I originally interviewed her for my English 302 course, Writing Diverse Cultures. Yoko discussed her experiences as a Japanese citizen living in Okinawa, Japan during WWII when the bombs were dropped. I also asked her questions regarding her experience being an immigrant in the United States, and her life in California. Her interview provided a first-hand account of many historic periods in Japanese and American history. The limitation of Yoko’s interview was that she did not extensively discuss being a Japanese immigrant in California. For this reason, I have included excerpts of Yoko’s interview, but you may access her full interview here: https://balle105.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/interview-draft/. Her stories are a fantastic primary source and for several historical events and time periods, and I hope you find her interview helpful when teaching concepts outside of this particular topic.
To gain a deeper understanding of Japanese-American marginalization specifically in California, I decided to interview Yoko’s daughter Cathy Romero. Cathy has lived in California the majority of her life, and has worked and raised a family here. She currently lives in Glendora, California, and I conducted a phone interview with her on May 4, 2017.
Yoko’s detailing her experience when the war reached her hometown in Okinawa, Japan when she was just 12 years old:
“…We didn’t have anything so me, my Grandfather, my second brother, and my father went to get water in the middle of the night. We went out and my Grandfather was holding my hand but machine guns (makes shooting noise) came out and shot as us. My Grandfather was shot in the back and I was shot in the stomach but the bullet did not come out, it just stayed there. Then from the ships they were shooting bombs and one went by my head (makes whizzing noise and gestures that it went right past her ear). Then my father crawled with me on his back because if we stood up the machine guns would have hit us again. They took me to the POW camp infirmary. They gave out food rations. They brought everyone to the camp. When I was in the infirmary I could see them bringing in the people on the stretchers and they would be dead and have no identification. They would throw all of the bodies into a pile. It would smell so bad in there.”
Cathy on her mother’s resilience and the resilience of Japanese people:
“If there is one word I had to describe my mom is would probably be resilient. She has been through so much and when you start to hear the physical pain she had of being shot and having to go through a camp, and start her life over, and then come to the United States, and she didn’t speak a word of English. She had to learn English as a second language, learn how to go back to school, work her way through an Associate’s Degree and a Bachelor’s degree, and continue to work, it is just very resilient…She told me she had a degree in fashion or pattern making in Japan, but when she came here she went to ESL classes and then ended up getting her AA and then Bachelor’s degree. That’s the fight in her that she is going to make something of herself, and be resilient, and not let her past dictate her future.
…In history, people lost their homes and had to be interned. A lot of people didn’t survive. And again, come back with resilience with the Japanese community and rebuilding. There is Little Tokyo today and it still exists in Downtown LA today, and there are community centers around LA and up and down the coast. They continue to carry on the culture and heritage to 2nd and 3rd generations, and they don’t want people to forget the basic culture of their home country.”
Japanese-American Marginalization within the school system
Yoko on her experiences in the Japanese school system:
“At that time when I was in school, the Emperor was God. So in the morning stand at attention and bow to him. My oldest brother was brainwashed, he was only 16 years old. Everyone my brothers age wanted to go after this and become a Kamikaze because it was an honorable thing to do, but they were brainwashed. They wanted to protect their families. My older brother wanted to go to the Kamikaze but my Grandfather said, “no you are not going to the Kamikaze, you are going to become a doctor,” but he went with a friend and did it anyway.”
Cathy describes why she thinks systemic issues in the American school system that has caused the marginalization of Japanese-American students in California.
“Depending on which Asian country some are more stereotyped when it comes to their education system. Like they say you guys are doing it too hard core, you don’t have a life, and it puts the pressure on the American school system that kids cant measure up. Part of it is cultural, the drive Asian families have about making sure you get a good education. But all Asians tend to be categorized together…you’re Asian so you’re supposed to be smart you make the curve down for everyone else. I don’t know if it a lack of discipline or too laid back time in the American system, but at the same time I think you also have to have a balance and it can’t be about academia only. You gotta have time to be creative too. I wanted my kids to still have time to do sports and go and play and get involved in other things to experience things in life because there is more to life than just getting an A on a report card. So that is probably why I didn’t put them in Japanese school. My brother’s kids didn’t go to Japanese school either. The third generation did not send to Japanese school.”
Cathy’s suggestions to change California curriculum to better serve students of Japanese-descent in California.
“I think it would be cool to have a multicultural day so you can learn about the festivals…so that we are more aware of other ethnicities and things that people go through. I think a lot of times people are ignorant and it is because of lack of information. We can read through a textbook but depending how old the information is it might be dated. What I grew up with is probably different than what the kids go through today. If you are only teaching old stuff and not experiencing current culture, I think you might start getting those stereotypes and name calling because you carry that with you through all of these generations, so what good does that do? Just bring it to life and the things they [Japanese] do and holidays and mindsets, I think it makes you appreciate that all of us can be different, but at the end of the day I think if you are Japanese or American or someone of Latin or European descent, we all want the same thing. We want a good life, we want to be loved, we want to have security, we want the best for our family, so if we can understand each other a little bit more and not have that ignorance, that would be so much better in schools.”
Japanese Americans in California and being ‘Othered’
Yoko’s experiences being an immigrant to the United States and her early experiences in California:
“After we arrived to San Diego, we moved to Chicago and then North Carolina. We stayed there for two years but there were no Japanese, no Mexican people, nothing…only White and Black people. But I wouldn’t see the Black people that much because of segregation. One time, in a restaurant I was eating in a restaurant, I noticed people looking at me because they had never seen a Japanese person before. I was the only Japanese around for almost two years…I was homesick. But when I came to Los Angeles where there were more Japanese language and food, so I felt more at home here…I have a friend that from Okinawa that also came here and she explains it [being an immigrant] like wearing someone else’s clothes when coming here to the United States. You just feel out of place.”
Cathy on Japanese-Americans and feeling ‘othered’:
“ Back when I was growing up, there weren’t too many half kids, “Amerasians”. The stereotypes back then when I was young is a lot different than today. Really, today I do not think there is very much because people nowadays there are a lot more interracial marriages and there are more blended families nowadays. Back in the 60’s early 70’s it was really looked down upon and I remember that as a kid. That is one of the reasons my parents came back to California from North Carolina because that is where my dad was from. In North Carolina she was one of two Asian people there stared at her she didn’t speak the language so they moved back to California because they heard that there were more cultures in California; its like a melting pot. My mom also had more friends that had come overseas and settled in California, so she had a little community and network that she could connect with. Food stuff was here, Little Tokyo was here, so it was easier for them to not feel so isolated or looked down upon.”
Cathy on feeling ‘othered’ when attending Japanese School:
“Kids can be cruel, especially if you look different or talk different. I had a rough time because I was the only one that was half and half with light skin and brown hair. The kids would call me ‘little Cathy half Jap’ or ‘Asian eyes’. But you know it made me a little more resilient, but I didn’t understand it then, but because I stuck out learning another language, getting my first job. It was actually with a Japanese and American company. One owner was from Japan and the other one was from the U.S., so culturally they couldn’t understand each other and their idiosyncrasies. It was kind of cool to be able to bridge two cultures whether it was in regard to business or culturally. Today there are more kids that are half and half more acceptance and assimilation. I do not know if they still have some of the same issues that they did in the 60’s and 70’s when I was a kid. Its funny, I don’t feel 100% part of the Japanese community because I was kind of looked down upon because I was different, but I don’t quite feel 100% American- Caucasian either because the culture my mom raised me. I went all the way through to the high school level… I wasn’t a quitter like my mom.”
These two interviews provide a peoples’ history perspective because these women lived and experienced the history they discussed. They were able to speak to personal experiences beyond what is provided in textbooks. Reading historical facts in a textbook will only provide so much information on events in history, but may lack information regarding the social realities people lived through. It is important not to essentialize these women’s interviews as complete representations of all female Japanese Americans living between 1900-and present day. These interviews allowed two stories from the people’s history perspective on Japanese American marginalization to be heard.
Yoko’s interview challenges the dominant narrative of Japanese people during WWII. The narrative we hear in the United States about Japanese people during this time is primarily negative, especially when talking about Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entering the war. However, you rarely hear her experience being an innocent 12 year old being caught in the middle of gunfire, bombs, and forced into a camp. Yoko’s civilian perspective humanized the Japanese people in a time period where American history books depict them as animals that attacked Pearl Harbor. Additionally, her immigrant perspective was unique and goes against the dominant perspective. You never read about the Japanese immigrants or Japanese-American citizens living in the United States when WWI began. From my K-12 experience, you only hear about the horrible internment camps in California. Hearing her perspective broadens the perspective of immigrants living in California during this time.
In Cathy’s interview she discusses being biracial in the United States and how that effected her growing up, and what it was like attending Japanese language school in California. As an educator, I never hear any narratives about students that elect to attend a cultural or foreign language-based program outside of the K-12 environment. Her experiences told a perspective that my future students may also have. This interview provided me a newfound awareness of the other types of schooling my students may be involved in. Cathy discussed how her elementary classmates made her feel ‘othered’ by bulling her because she attended Japanese school and looked different than them. Hearing her story was important because it provided depth in the different types of diverse students educators will have in the classroom. Her interview challenges the dominant narrative of Japanese marginalization being just about the internment camps. Japanese American marginalization is also occurring within our schools and classrooms, and it is our jobs as educators to hear all of our students’ feelings to make our classroom a safe place.
Although the majority of Yoko’s interview focused on her time living in Japan during WWII, the specific passages I included provided important contexts to the topics Cathy discussed in her interview. For example, I included Yoko’s story of being shot because Cathy specifically referred to that story in her interview. She connected that story to what Japanese people went through during the war and their resilience. I also thought it was important contextually to include Yoko’s experience in the Japanese schools. This was notable to compare Yoko’s experience in school to Cathy’s American and Japanese school in the United States.
Like Cathy mentioned in her interview, she appreciated reading the interview I conducted of her mother because she was able to hear stories about her mother’s past that she had never heard before. These interviews serve as important pieces of history, so that the future generations can understand what the people before them went through. Interviews are a great way to hear the stories from the people and humanize history and keeping it from being dry facts memorized from a textbook.
I created the above art piece to represent my research on Japanese-American marginalization in California from 1900-present. Starting on the top left-hand corner of the piece, there is an image of an elderly Japanese woman. This is a photo of Yoko Faircloth, one of the women interviewed for this project. I thought it was important to put her photo on the top left-hand corner, because she was my inspiration for this entire project. Interviewing her for another class gave me a glimpse of the perspective of someone living in Japan during WWII and the Japanese-American immigrant story. The photograph to the right is of Yoko’s daughter Cathy and her three children. Cathy’s perspective as a Japanese-American living her entire life in California was an important aspect of the story to hear. I think it is important to put a face to a name and a story and that is why the women I interviewed are at the top of my piece. To the right of those two photos is an image of a notice posted upon Executive Order 9066. Also on the piece are two other documents. One is the American Civil Liberties Act from 1988 and a newspaper article following the restriction of Japanese immigrants in California before WWII. Additionally, three images depicting life in the Manzanar interment camp are scattered throughout the art piece. Additionally, there is an image of the architecture from Los Angeles’ little Tokyo to depict an aspect of present day life for some Japanese Americans. There is also an image of locations of Japanese language schools in southern California.
This was important for me to include because Cathy referenced attending one of these schools. For her, it was a source of feeling ‘othered’, while also helping her feel connected to the Japanese community. Finally, the photo in the center was taken from Paolo Magcala’s Ethnic Studies classroom in Anaheim, California. In the center of the handprints it reads the quote, “Be the change you wish to see in this world” by Gandhi. Related to this image is the pencil filling out the scantron. These two images represent how you can choose to teach history. You can either have students memorize facts and regurgitate answers on a scantron, or you can inspire your students to take positive action in their communities to make change, preventing history from repeating itself.
In the center of the piece is the word “Resilience.” After researching Japanese-American marginalization in California specifically, this word is what brings unifies the images in this art piece. This word came out in the interview with Cathy when she said she would use this one word to describe her mother. As she proceeded to tell about her own experiences, she also used the word “resilience” to describe how she overcame her own instances of marginalization. As I analyzed my research I gathered, many of the Japanese-Americans demonstrated resilience in the face of marginalization and adversity. The images of the people at Manzanar internment camp are a perfect example. These photos were so powerful to me because even though these people were forced out of their own homes, they managed to make the best out of a bad situation. The images show children attending preschool, a man growing crops, and women sewing garments within the boundaries of the internment camp. This resilience is also shown in the thriving Little Tokyo and Japanese language schools that fight to keep the Japanese language and culture alive for future generations.
Doing an art piece primarily created from primary sources was important to me because it builds on this project being a People’s History of California. While this project did provide facts from historical events, it was from the perspective of the people involved in the events. The purpose of history is to learn about the people and events that came before us. Through the course of this project, I am sure you learned facts and information about the historical events around the subject of Japanese-American marginalization from 1900-present. However, the interviews and primary documents enforce the idea I personally value; the importance of learning history from the sources and people that lived through the events, not just memorizing facts from a textbook for the purpose of regurgitating answers on a test.
As a future educator, learning about the Japanese marginalization in California has inspired me to be resilient, determined, and work hard. Although different, being an educator requires resilience to push through challenging times. As an educator, my goal is to be resilient and fight to teach with a social justice and social-action approach. This is important to me because it requires students to become much more involved in understanding historical events and using that knowledge to improve the communities around them. Including aspects like the interviews and primary source artifacts are important for social justice teaching because it focuses on the people involved in the events, multiple perspectives, and reading against the dominant narratives. I do not believe that students should be only reading history textbooks that tell one side of the story. When all sides are told, students will have the opportunity to critically analyze why certain events took place. For example, I lived in California and attended K-12 schooling here. For the essential assignment in fourth grade, students have to complete a California Missions project. Only until one month ago when I read “Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir” by Deborah A. Miranda, did I learn about many realities that occurred at the Missions. Miranda is a Native American and gathered primary documents and interviews from Native Americans during the time of the Missions. Because the perspective of conquistadors is the dominant narrative being taught in 4th grade curriculum, I never learned many of the realities Native Americans faced during the Mission times. Reading this book made me question everything I have learned in my history courses and made me want to learn about all of the parties involved in historical events.
The feeling I had completing this project should be how every student feels when they are studying history: connected, excited, engaged, and eager to learn more. History should not be a cookie cutter, shaping students to solve multiple-choice problems. I am a proponent for social justice approach to teach history because when teachers make the effort to provide engaging materials that tell all sides of the story, odds are that students will feel more engaged in their histories and want to take positive action to prevent history from repeating itself.