Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Nisei Concentration Camps & the Racist Roots of Immigration Today

Last Sunday, February 19, 2017, was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 1066 ordering the round up of West Coast Japanese-American populations, forcing them to report to concentration camps.
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 through the efforts of The Japanese American Citizen’s League, followed by the U of H event. The state has one of the largest Japanese communities that goes back to the 1860’s when Japanese workers arrived as sugar plantation laborers whose numbers eventually reached over 150,000. There was no attempt during World War II to incarcerate the Japanese in Hawaii. 
Because of growing concerns over Japan’s growing military expansion in Asia during the 1930’s, as early as 1936 Roosevelt ordered surveillance of  Japanese, 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; it 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 9-11. 

 18 minute video by War Relocation Authority

California was to Asians what the South was to African Americans

Sadly, going back to the 1860’s the SF labor movement played a leading role fomenting racial hatred of Asians connected to 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 bringing Chinese laborers here to work not only on the railroad but also on 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.) Mostly Chinese laborers rebuilt them. One of the most egregious examples of buried history in the last 25 years of the 19th century was the the importation of some 50,000 Asian girls to San Francisco where they lived and died in service of the sexual needs of both white and Asian men. 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. With the Bay Area led the battle cry, the Act added the Japanese to the list of already banned Chinese from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. 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, was that at the time it did not include any Latinos. 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 virulent 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 the media, special interest groups,  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 including 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, but to no avail, 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. 
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.; We now have very real concerns about where this country could be headed 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. The Bay Area has come a long way since its residents peered at other communities in peep shows of scantily clad minorities during the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915.

Now For Something You'll Really Enjoy

In ways he never expected, Trump is actually making America great again.  Just look at the progress made since the election:

1. Unprecedented levels of ongoing civic engagement.

2. Millions of Americans now know who their state and federal representatives are without having to google.

3. Millions of Americans are exercising more. They're holding signs and marching every week.

4. Alec Baldwin is great again. Everyone's forgotten he's kind of a jerk.

5. The Postal Service is enjoying the influx cash due to stamps purchased by millions of people for letter and postcard campaigns.

6. Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry is enjoying record growth in sales of anti-depressants.

7. Millions of Americans now know how to call their elected officials and know exactly what to say to be effective.

8. Footage of town hall meetings is now entertaining.

9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like emoluments, narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance.

10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year.

11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work.

12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white allies.

13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)

14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.

15. Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today's Jon Stewart.

16. "Mike Pence" has donated millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood since Nov. 9th.

17. Trump has succeeded where thousands of history teachers failed - now everybody knows who Frederick Douglass was.

18. Melissa FREAKING McCarthy.

19. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.

20. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.

21. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians.

22. Massive cleanup of facebook friend lists.

23. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell's "1984" increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.)

24. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like, super important.

25. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.


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