- Formation of Anti-Japanese Groups
- Gentlemen’s Agreement and Pressure for Anti-Japanese Laws
Widespread reaction against Japanese immigrants at the local, state, and federal levels Date:
Early twentieth century Location:
West Coast of the United States Significance:
Japanese immigrants began arriving in small numbers during the 1890’s, but it was not until the twentieth century that organized political groups formed against them, mostly in California. Japanese immigrants began arriving in large numbers in California around 1900, alarming local citizens who feared the “yellow peril” and causing nativist political groups to pressure the government to restrict future immigration and to restrict the Japanese to their own schools and neighborhoods.
Although the Japanese were excellent workers and became one of the most successful immigrant groups in America, many native-born Americans resented their presence in the United States. A wide range of political organizations and activist groups formed coalitions to push for laws restricting the rights of Japanese immigrants and their children at the local, state, and federal levels. Some American workers believed that the Japanse were taking away jobs that belonged to Americans. The movement was successful in influencing the passage of anti-Japanese legislation beginning in the early twentieth century, peaking with the official exclusion of all Japanese immigrants from the United States in 1924. These restrictions were not lifted until passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished restrictions based on national origin.
Formation of Anti-Japanese Groups
Racist attitudes and fear of foreign workers caused Americans to band together and form several anti-Japanese groups in the early twentieth century. The first and most significant anti-Japanese group was the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL), which was organized in 1905 in California. The AEL wanted to stop further Japanese immigration and to prevent the Japanese already living in the United States from integrating into mainstream society. In 1906, the AEL successfully pressured the board of education in San Francisco to force Japanese schoolchildren to attend classes at the segregated Oriental School, which had been established for children of Chinese immigrants. Another anti-Japanese group, named the Immigration Restriction League (IRL), was organized in 1894 by wealthy East Coast businessmen who wanted to allow European immigration but put a halt to the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese, who they felt were racially inferior and products of repressive governments who would be unable to participate in a free, democratic society.
Gentlemen’s Agreement and Pressure for Anti-Japanese Laws
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt was pressured by the AEL to ban future Japanese immigration, but he did not want to give in to the group’s xenophobia and racism. However, Roosevelt signed the Gentlemen’s Agreement that prohibited Japanese workers from immigrating to Hawaii or the continential United States, but parents, wives, and children of workers already living in the United States were allowed to join their families. Therefore, the Japanese immigrants who came after 1907 were almost exclusively women who were either mothers or “picture brides” sent to marry men through arranged marriages. Photography was becoming readily available, and potential husbands and wives could exchange photographs of each other before they were married, even though they had never met each other in person. The Gentlemen’s Agreement severely reduced new immigration, but anti-Japanese sentiment continued to increase in California, Oregon, and Washington State.
The AEL and the IRL continued to pressure the federal government to pass new laws restricting Japanese immigration during the 1910’s and 1920’s. For example, these anti-Japanese groups wanted to pass a law requiring that immigrants be able to read English, which many of the Japanese were unable to do. The AEL argued that Japanese workers sent their earnings back home instead of spending their money in the United States. Moreover, they believed that Japanese workers were willing to accept lower wages and unsafe working conditions. The state of Oregon passed a law in 1907 that made it illegal for Japanese immigrants to become permanent residents. In California, anti- Japanese sentiment reached a fevor pitch in the years leading up to the beginning of World War II in 1939. The state’s Webb-Hartley Law of 1913 (also known as the Alien Land Law) made it illegal for foreigners to purchase real estate or lease land for longer than three years. California also passed laws prohibiting Asians from owning businesses, and the state raised the cost of commercial fishing licenses for all people of Asian ancestry.
The anti-Japanese movement resulted in laws that prevented immigrants from becoming legal residents, owning land, or owning a business, but the combined effect did not diminish the success of the Japanese. The Japanese tended to live in segregated communities, and they combined their resources to set up their own savings and loans and banks to offer assistance to businesspeople and farmers. The anti-Japanese laws were aimed at preventing future immigration, but they did not affect the children of Japanese born in the United States, who were legally U.S. citizens. Racist and nativist groups such as the IRL and the AEL mounted a fierce resistance, and the Immigration Act of 1924 prevented all Japanese immigration to the United States. Furthermore, the Great Depression of the 1930’s severely reduced job opportunities. During the 1930’s, the Japanese government became more authoritarian and militaristic, using the anti-Japanese American laws as evidence that the outside world did not trust them. The ultimate expression of the anti-Japanese movement was the forced internment of about 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, about 80,000 of whom were U.S. citizens. Jonathan L. ThorndikeFurther Reading
Curran, Thomas J. Xenophobia and Immigration, 1820-1930. Boston: Twayne, 1975. A cogent history of immigration and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988. A well-researched overview of Chinese and Japanese Americans from 1850 to 1980.
Hatamiya, LeslieT. Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned during World War II. The author provides an immense amount of detail on the events leading to its passage.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. A popular history of Asian Americans that draws upon a variety of primary sources, from newspapers to court cases.
See also: Alien land laws; Anti-Chinese movement; Asiatic Exclusion League; Gentlemen’s Agreement; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese American internment; Japanese immigrants; “Mongrelization”; Nativism; “Yellow peril” campaign.