Japanese Americans in Concentration Camps

Our people were forced into concentration camps and their lives where ripped away from them. One of the reasons that they threw us into the terrible living conditions was that they believed that we were spies for Japan during World War II, which in the end only ten people were convicted of spying for Japan, all of whom were Caucasian. The sudden attack of Pearl Harbor increased a fear of our people. Members of congress escalated fear of us among the American people. As early as January 1942, there was talk of imprisoning us. Many whites were motivated by economic self-interest and were determined to destroy our businesses, which they saw as competition.

It all began with police raids, where they were frantically looking for those of us, whom they thought to be spies. More than two thousand of us were arrested without any evidence of disloyalty. Our businesses were forced to close down, the police were illegally detaining us, evicting us from our homes, and firing us from our jobs.

In the first phase of federal action that was taken against us, we along with anyone else whose ancestry was linked to countries at war with the U.S., where moved out of our areas and our travel was restricted. On February 19, 1942 phase two began when President Franklin Roosevelt issued executive order 9066. It stated that military commanders could designate areas that they could exclude us from living there. Areas such as the western parts of California, Washington, Oregon, and southern parts of Arizona were areas that were restricted from us. We were the only ones who were detained in assembly centers, in large numbers, and later transported under guard to barbed-wire concentration camps.

Our businesses had to be sold quickly and at a loss. The only crime that we ever did was to be perceived by whites as racially different. We faced many different forms of racial oppression behind the barbwire. In one camp the administration arranged for us to be hired out to white personnel, as domestics, at the low wage of thirty dollars per month. Part of this money was taken from us for recreational facilities for white personnel. On some of the camps some of us were given jobs as barberís and cafeteria workers. We were paid as little as sixteen dollars a week.

In the camps we didnít really have any of our belongings because we were told that we could only bring with us what we could carry. We were taken away from our jobs, homes, places of worship, and schools, and even separated from our families. We were forced to live in these small barracks with hundreds of other people. The living quarters were extremely tight, with people basically sleeping on top of us. We had to eat and sleep when they told us to, and of course the food was barely edible. We were restricted to these tiny perimeters in the camp, surrounded by armed military personnel. Many of the camps that we lived in were located in cold areas, where we would freeze and be surrounded by extreme amounts of dust.

We didnít just stand for what they were doing to us, we tried to fight it, but it seemed like a useless fight. We had numerous demonstrations, six thousand of us even renounced our U.S. citizenship. Gradually, several thousand college students and workers on special agricultural assignments were released from the camps. Others of us were released to go into the U.S. army, which was very ironic, because many of us served under white officers.

In March of 1946 the last of the camps were closed down. Many of us then returned to the West Coast and found jobs as farmers and in businesses under whites. When we returned we found everything of ours in ruins, our household goods were destroyed, we now had nothing.

The Post WWII Japanese Experience

Immigration Statistics

After WWII and as late as 1965 there were only about one million Asian Americans in the United States of which Japanese-Americans was the largest group. Since removal of the various discriminatory quotas of the Immigration Acts, non-Japanese Asian and Pacific immigrants have dominated Asian migration. However, among all Asian American groups Japanese Americans have the highest percentage born in the United States. This is an indicator of our early arrival into the United States and low rate of recent immigration. In 1990 studies showed that 80% of Japanese American peoples lived in western states. Consequentially, by the early 1990ís one in ten Californians was an Asian American.

Developing Stereotypes

Following WWII it was no easy task for Japanese American to find their spot back in society. Many Americans still harbored inner sentiment of the Japanese remembering Pearl Harbor and the fear of Japanese spies. Despite this, by the 1960ís Japanese Americans had gained many Americans respect with their economic prosperity. This is when the common stereotype of the Japanese businessman began to take hold. Japanese Americans were seen as, "successful citizens" and good assimilators into white American society. But as time transpired the stereotype took the form of the quiet, efficient, high-powered Japanese corporate business worker. However, as recently as 1994 a San Francisco radio station had to fire a local DJ for racist anti-Asian American remarks. Such actions in areas highly populated by Asian Americans shows that there is still ground to be gained.

Legislative Victories

It took over 20 years for Japanese Americans to get the discriminatory laws that rationalized the wartime imprisonment of thousands revoked. In the 1970ís we won two important Federal Court cases changing this legislature. The first repealed the ill-famed tittle II of the 1950 Internal Security Act, which allowed for imprisonment of people, deemed to be in collaboration with foreign enemies. The second repealed the even more infamous Executive Order 9066, which used the presidential the power of Chief Executive Officer to order the wartime imprisonment if Japanese Americans.

Japanese Americans in the Government

Like most minority groups is has been exceedingly difficult for Japanese Americans to gain representation even in areas of high Asian American population. In 1976, Samuel I. Hayakawa became the first elected Japanese American official by winning a seat in the California Senate. More advances were made during the mid-1970ís when Norman Mineta became the first Japanese American elected to the House of Representatives, again in California.

The Politics of Competition

In modern years Worldwide and Japanese economic competition has led to opposing "buy American" attitudes. The Japanese have often been used as scapegoats for U.S. economic problems and depression. Recent anti Japanese laws have been proposed and passed to impede Japanese business and promote American business. This has led to poor attitude toward Japanese Americans especially those involved in business.

Postwar Economy

The booming economy of the postwar era in the United States called for a great increase in the labor force and the Japanese American quickly reentered the workforce. By 1960 there were 7,000 Japanese owned business in Los Angeles. Our people dominated the "small niche" economic sectors owning hotels, groceries, Laundromats, and convenient stores. In recent times, the older Nisei generation has stayed in small business while later generations are more involved in white color employment.

Economic Achievement

Contemporary descriptions of the Japanese experience in America tell of a struggle to economic achievement. Since 1950 Censuses show that Japanese Americans have progressed dramatically. 1990 statistics show Japanese Americans have a higher management/professional employment percentage than white females (33% to 30%) and males (40% to 27%). Overall 29% of Japanese Americans hold blue-collar positions to the white proportion of 38%. Furthermore, unemployment rates for Japanese Americans are half of that of whites and account for less than half of all Asian American unemployment. In spite of this, our people continue to be shunned from movie, television, and political positions economically, including civil service jobs such as fire and police employment. In 1992, several Japanese American business-leaders created the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce (JACC) to help benefit Japanese American business.

Military Discrimination

In 1989, third generation U.S. born Japanese American citizen Bruce Yamashito enters the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. He suffered great discrimination and after some controversy was later terminated for "leadership failure".

In 1994, after a five-year battle in court aided by Japanese American political organizations, a trail of non-European American officer discrimination was uncovered in the armed forces. The courts ruled that Yamashito be commissioned a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves, and received and official military apology.

Education

Wartime evacuation and imprisonment severely disrupted our efforts to learn English and develop schools of our own. In the wake of WWII we struggled and since the 1970ís we have had the highest adult median education level. The 1990 Census showed that of all Japanese American 24 year-olds, 88% were high school graduates and 35% were college graduates. Compared with white percentages of 79% and 22% respectively. Impressively among Japanese Americans between the age of 18-24, 64% are enrolled in college while only 37% of white the same age attend.

Religion

Finally, by the 1980ís there were several dozen Protestant churches in the Japanese Southern Californian Ministerial Fellowship (JSCMF). In the mid 1990ís Jodo Shinshuu Buddhist Churches numbered over 65 (predominantly on the West Coast) boasting over 20,000 members. Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in Buddhism as support has increased in the last decade. Buddhist festivals have attracted people from all walks of life. Sadly in 1986 esteemed Japanese American and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ellison Onizuka was lost in the Challenger shuttle explosion. Devoted member of the Buddhist Churches of America his funeral helped to further raise awareness of Asian American contributions to the Armed Forces.