Asian Immigration to the United States Presentation
Japanese American Experience
We are one of the oldest immigrant groups from Asia. Our initial contact with the United States involved gunpoint diplomacy in 1853, when U.S. commodore Mathew Perry sailed warships into Tokyo Bay, and with a show of force won a treaty granting the United States trading rights with us.
Many of the first Japanese immigrants traveled to labor in the fields of Hawaii in the late 1800ís and over 230.000 more of us arrived before 1929. European American planters sought low wageworkers and we arrived under labor contract. Once the labor agreements expired most of us simply stayed. This helps to explain our place in the cultural make-up of Hawaii to this day.
Between the 1880ís and 1908 more than 150,000 of us came to the United States in hopes of a bright future. The vast majority of us arrived on the West Coast of California and took farming and mining jobs. Many of our Japanese ancestors helped construct railing through the rough terrain of the west.
Problems arose for our people almost as soon as we arrived. In 1900, the mayor of San Francisco described us as completely inassimilable. The Issei, who were the first generation of immigrants that came to America had the hardest time fitting into society but began the basis of community that made things easier for each successive generation. When we tried to enter our children into the schools the people of San Francisco feared that we would flood the public schools with ignorant foreigners. In 1905 California newspapers campaigned against our potential threat to public schools calling it, "yellow peril". Both houses of the California legislature passed resolutions calling for the exclusion of our peoples on the grounds that we were unable to assimilate.
Furthermore, in 1908 President Roosevelt meet with Japanese officials to form the Gentlemenís Agreement. This doctrine called for no new passports to be given to any more of our people outside of those who had already arrived here. This was an attempt to reduce the number of our people allowed to immigrate.
Most of our people who first arrived in the country were men that came under labor contracts. Between 1908 and 1920, thousands of Japanese "picture brides" were allowed to enter the United States following wedding ceremonies conducted in Japan to husbands that had never met. The Japanese-American family was starting to develop. Yet still in 1909 a California study showed that over 65% of our people worked in farming/agriculture. In southern California the number of Japanese businessmen was growing from 3,000 total in 1909 to over 30% of our workforce in 1929 with 2,000 alone in Los Angeles
Additionally we formed economic associations that helped support our fellow Japanese peoples. These mutual-aid groups helped to solidify business by lending funds and loans for other aspiring Japanese businessmen. Later restaurants and businesses got help from labor groups much like small unions called tanomoshi.
Fitting into this new society, culture, and country proved to be no simple task. By the early 1920ís much of the country didnít look upon us kindly. Powerful organizations like the California Farm Bureau Association and the American Legion pushed legislature for anti-Japanese laws especially in labor. In 1921, angry white farmers in California drove Japanese farmers out of their farm areas. As if the reduced wages that we already received was not enough, the increasing push for government action by labor unions and hate groups would prove to be overwhelming.
The 1913 California Alien Land Law proclaimed that aliens couldnít buy or lease land for more than 4 years. In the next 15 years we would lose thousands of farms to such radical anti-Japanese land laws. The 1922 Cable Act stated that any woman citizen who married an alien that was ineligible for citizenship (Asian), would in turn lose their citizenship. This malicious act was supported by the Supreme Court case Ozawa vs. United States of America (1922) in which it was said that only black/white immigrants could become eligible for citizenship. Moreover, Supreme Court judge and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren described us as, "dangerous and threatening". He later affirmed that, "children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European descent, quickly merge in to the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin". Additionally the 1924 Immigration Act established racial quotas giving preference to those of Nordic descent and excluding minorities such as the Japanese. This last act prohibited us from bringing our wives that we left behind in an attempt to prevent the development of our families.
Our people had a strong commitment to education. We viewed education as a way out of the jobs on the farms and nurseries and as a route to better paying positions. The Issei enrolled children into schools more often than any other immigrant group, and many of us too then pushed formal education for ourselves.
In 1906 San Francisco secured a resolution from the Board of Education setting up segregated public schools for Asian children. Our government would not stand for such actions and protested until the United States Federal government forced the board to give our children equal rights promised to them by a previous treaty. After months of being out of school, our children were allowed to return.
We developed our own language schools that focused on education in our language and traditional values such as respect for elders. The reason these schools were established was to strengthen our community bonds. The white racists attacked the language schools as centers of the emperor worship and claimed that they were aimed at making our children disloyal to the United States. California legislation unsuccessfully tried to abolish our special schools.
Unlike other immigrant groups the stereotypes of all Asians were applied to Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean alike. Early stereotypes of Chinese immigrants were applied to the Japanese in describing us as "crafty", "dirty", and "docile". It was later decided that we Japanese were nicer and more family orientated that the "devious" Chinese. However, racist terms such as Jap, yellow, slant-eyed, and gook were not uncommon in reference to our people. The classic stereotypical ape-like image for whatever immigrant was hated at the time was attributed to us in malicious caricatures. Additionally the Japanese were regularly cast as evil characters and villains in television and movies. Between 1910 and 1920 the racist image of the slow-witted, unkempt, and poorly spoken "Jap" could be found in many newspapers in a comic fashion saying a degrading, "so solly, please sir"
When we traveled to America we brought with us the ancient religions of Buddhism and Shintoism. However, as no surprise once in the United States we were subject to a barrage of Protestant missionaries. Many Japanese accepted Christianity in a hybrid form with traditional Japanese religion in a Buddhist and Christian belief system. By the 1920ís there were thousands of Japanese Protestant churches on the West Coast.
In addition numerous Buddhist temples were built and between 1910 & 1920 over 2 dozen stood in California alone.
Our people are one of the oldest groups of Asian immigrants. At the end of the Spanish-American War, the islands that make up the Philippines were handed over by Spain to the United States for merely 20 million dollars according to the Treaty of Paris. Our people came to the United States in waves. Our first people arrived in California after being the first Asians to cross the Pacific into America. Even though all we desired was independence in our new home, we were denied any sort of independence when we got there. We were known to many of the Americans at the time as social problems, economic threats and disease carriers.
We were excited when the idea of education came into our lives, however, it was extremely limited to our people. The government of the United States got a new form of government and reestablished a new system for public education. Within these new regulations, Filipino children would be educated but teachers would teach them United States cultural values. Many Americans made up various plans for the Americanization of Filipinos. One plan was to send all of our Filipino young men to American colleges. In this way, when the men were educated, they could become teachers and go back to the Philippines to teach. This plan was made up by one of our fellow Filipinos, William Howard Taft, who was our fist governor of our homeland in the Philippines. This courageous man later even became a President of the United States.
EMLOYMENT AND LIFE IN THE U.S.
During the early 1920s, approximately 24,000 of our Filipinos went to California for low- wage jobs. In the 1930s, the majority of our people immigrating to the United States were peasant farmers who sought employment as unskilled workers in America. Our people were first recruited as farm workers, however, many of our early immigrants also worked for sugar plantations in Hawaii and many traveled to the West Coast for work.
Most of our first immigrants were single men who would do hard work for small wages. A typical day for most of our men would begin around 4am and end around 4pm. They would only have a half an hour lunch break and one 15 minute break for breakfast. Wages for their hard work usually were about only 20 dollars a month.
Because our land in the Philippines was a territory of the United States, we were exempt from the Anti-Asian exclusionary provisions of the 1917 and 1921 immigration Acts. This allowed more of our people to immigrate freely into the United States. After the 1924 Immigration Act, many more of our people were hired on the West Coast to replace all those other immigrants who were excluded from the land according to the laws of the Act. This rapid growth of our peoplesí population led to a lot of Anti-Filipino feelings for many of the whites on the land. Because of the lack of acceptance of our people to the American lands, in 1934, Congress passed an Act, the Tydings-Mcduffie Act, granting our independence as Filipinos be deferred. This Act also limited our immigrant population to only 50 people per year.
Most whites on the land did not like the fact of all of our immigrants taking over their work. Many violent feelings therefore erupted and caused some violent attacks on our people. On October 24, 1929, an Anti-Filipino riot by whites occurred in a small farming village. This occurred in the San Joaquin Valley because many of the white workers were mad at us for doing work for farmers there. Another instance of violence occurred when whites ordered all of our people out of a labor camp and burned the camp to the ground. The peak of these attacks occurred in 1930 when 400 white men attacked the Northern Monterey Filipino Club where one of our men was killed and large numbers of our people were severely beaten. A lot of this tension grew because many of our men were criticized for socializing with white women. Most of the time, the riots were blamed on us innocent Filipinos because of the power of the white media in our area. In 1930, our people represented 42% of all non-European labor on farms in California. Our wages were still drastically lower than those of the white workers.
In order to deal with this discrimination and pain of our people, we united as a group to form unions and other organizations in which we could come together in large numbers to try to make a difference for ourselves as Filipinos in the world. The United Farm Workers was the most successful of our unions created by our group of Filipino laborers in conjunction with many Mexican Americans as well as the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee(AWOC). These two groups led a huge strike against the poor working conditions we were experiencing on grape farms in California. In the early 1930s, the Filipino Labor Union (FLU) also held a strike of lettuce workers in which our people won a $.40 increase in wage.
The accomplishments of these organizations not only won wages but also won the respect they deserved for the recognition of their Unions. These organizations represented the entrance of our people into the labor union in America. We were finally seeing ourselves becoming part of the world we were trying desperately to fit in to.
In November 1905, Korea became a Japanese colony until 1945. Under Japanese rule all our civil liberties were revoked. Nationalist sentiments were strong among my Korean people, and resistance movements were formed. In 1912, the father of the Republic of Korea immigrated to Hawaii as headmaster of a Methodist school. Lenin of Russia saw an opportunity to form a Russo-Korean united front to expel the Japanese invaders from Siberia. Lenin deeply hated Japan and provided much help to the Korean independence fighters in Siberia. Lenin sent Alexandra Kim, the first Korean to join the soviet communist party to organize the Korean resistance against the Japanese. In 1919, the first Korean communist party was formed. In 1919, after many brutal attacks and massacres by the Japanese we declared a Declaration of Independence among us much like the American declaration. During this time period of chaos and commotion in Korea many of my people started to migrate to China, Siberia and America. The initial contact between Americans and Koreans was hostile, a meeting between east and west in 1866. However thing did improve so now historic links between the two nations have developed into a close friendly alliance of economic, social, and cultural and military interests.
Immigration to America
Koreans are relatively recent immigrants, but they too have been hit hard by anti-Asian violence. The immigration of Koreans to the United States began in the early 1900ís. Approximately 7,000 emigrated to Hawaii between 1903 and 1905; by 1905 approximately 1000 Koreans Americans lived in California.
Most of us came here in a journey to seek better living and working conditions. However, we were confronted with discrimination in all aspects of life in America. Language barriers and racial discrimination kept my people (who mostly lived in Hawaii), from obtaining employment in accordance with their abilities. Like most other immigrants we faced harsh working conditions and extremely low wages. Some of our areas of profession included agricultural laborers, dishwashers, kitchen helpers, houseboys and janitors. However, most of my people pooled together their personal and family resources to purchase small, family operated businesses in low-income neighborhoods. We were segregated along with Mexican and African Americans, we were refused housing in all areas except for the poorest, denied services in restaurants and public places. Most of our hostility and discrimination was with African American immigrants. Korean business owners in African American communities faced hostility and were primary targets of violence. Much like the Jewish and other ethnic merchants in these situations, we were viewed as a Ďmiddleman minority.í The poverty and discrimination we went through was the first step in ethnic entrepreneurship. I guess you some might view my fellow Korean merchants as both exploiters and exploited. We discriminated and formed stereotypes against the African-Americans just as much as they did to us.
Ban on emigration
When Japan, which occupied Korea at the time, learned of the condition we were undergoing in America they pressured the Korean government to ban emigration. The ban restricted the entry of Koreans into America for many years. After the restriction only a small Koreans still entered the United States, they were either students or Ďpicture brides.í Before the 1910 restrictions many single Korean men came to the U.S, the picture bride system was created. Since interracial marriage was not an option, Korean men sent pictures of themselves to prospective brides back at home. From 1910-1924 over one thousand picture brides came to the United States. Most students continuously entered from 1899-1940.
During the years 1910-1919, Korean Americans were active in the fight for Korean independence from Japan. However Japan maintained colonial dominance over Korea, and after 1919 the Korean independence movement declined.
(The sections labeled: immigration, discrimination. Ban on emigration and politics, are all based on information in the text Racial and Ethnic Relations by Feagin and Feagin.)
Chinese migration began before the Civil War. Our people have made progress over the course of the years. This period of immigration lasted from 1850 until the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882. This Act prohibited direct Chinese immigration. Chinese men who migrated to the United States came to work at a low pay and were generally assigned to do the "dirty work," such as railroad, laundry, and restaurant work that whites had no desire to complete. The few women who did migrate to the U.S were forced to work as prostitutes. We usually came without knowing anyone else migrating at the time. About 61% of Chinese women were prostitutes in California around 1870. Congress finally passed a law in 1875 that forbade Chinese women to immigrate for prostitution, and most of us women were not allowed to come until the 1940s.
The U.S economy was in a depression in the beginning of the 1870s, which resulted in job opportunities for our people. So many people hated us because we were taking away numerous jobs from the whites and becoming successful. This hatred is what led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Between 1871 and 1880, there were 123,201 of us who migrated to the U.S. As soon as this Act took effect, however, the popularity of Chinese migration dropped drastically. The Act was extended for ten years in 1892 and indefinitely in 1904. In 1943, however, 105 of us were allowed to migrate here because we were a wartime ally of the U.S. when the U.S. declared war on Japan in 1941.
It has been mistaken that all of us Chinese Americans are both physically and culturally the same. We are often mistaken for Vietnamese or Korean Americans, while the Japanese are mistaken for us. We are often thought of as "foreigners" and are seen on television as faceless and not valuing life. Despite the discrimination we face, we strive to work to the best of our ability and, therefore, can be considered quite ambitious. This is how we gained the title of "model minorities."
The first of our people who were workers were referred to as "coolies," "heathen," "mice-eaters," and "Chinks." In the 1860s and 1870s, feelings of hatred toward us were felt in union policies, political platforms, and in the press.
In general, our people were underrepresented in the political system. It was not until 1920 when we became involved in political activities and labor organizations were formed. Our Chinese newspaper, Chung Sai Yat Po (CSYP), supported our political and civil rights, especially for the Chinese women.
Most of us worked as unskilled laborers, while some became merchants and crafts workers. More than 12,000 of us worked on the construction of the transcontinental railroad up until 1869 when it was complete. There were at least 135,000 Chinese Americans by 1880, most of which lived in California. We turned swampland into farmland, planted, cultivated, and harvested at ranches, orchards, and vineyards. Some of us farmed as sharecroppers.
We were also factory workers in woolen mills, cigar makers, shoemakers and garment workers. Some developed shrimp fisheries, while others were domestic servants. We, unfortunately, had to work for hours and hours. Not only were they poor working conditions, we barely made any money.
Chinese American children were usually placed in separate schools. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it was legal to segregate children of the "Mongolian race" in Mississippi. De facto school segregation took place in numerous cities. Although we don't know the English language as well as those who previously lived here in the United States, we were thought of as high achievers. It was also a culture shock migrating here from China, especially when attending public school.
"American students always picked on us, frightened us, made fun of us, and laughed at our English. They broke our lockers, threw food on us in cafeteria, said dirty words to us, and pushed us on the campus."
Those of us who learned the English language at an early age have an easier time adjusting to public education. As students, we are integrated into good public schools with a white majority student population.
Recently added: 4/23/00
Pre WWII Vietnamese Immigration
We did not really begin to immigrate to the United States until the Vietnam War in 1975. The reason we did not want to go to the US was because there was nothing in Vietnam that would want to make us leave. We are content with our culture and our way of life and we saw no reason to leave our country. Perhaps, it could even be said that our way of life, including culture, relationships, ethics, and philosophies, are so different then that of Americans that we didnít want to compromise our culture by immigrating.
Our culture is a unique way of looking at the world and ourselves which is different from any other Western or Eastern culture. Many Vietnamese taken to America would be very puzzled by the Western way of living and acting. Something that separates use from Americans is that we are extremely polite, to the extent that we agree with a person even if we actually disagree with them. This might seem silly to some but to us it is a way of being polite to the other party and avoiding any confrontation. We believe that confrontation creates disharmony with the people we are dealing with and we would like to avoid that at all costs.
Two things that are heavily emphasized in our culture are humility and modesty. Being humiliated is one of the worst things that can happen to us and it is no easily forgotten. Many times if a Vietnamese personís feelings have been hurt they will remember it for a long time; and in some cases will never forgive the other person. Being humiliated is called "losing face" and it is a way of being degraded. If, for example, a person is harassed or made fun of in public it is seen as lowering there status and it is taken as a great insult. Not only do we not like to be humiliated, but we also donít like to humiliate anyone else either. A Vietnamese will many times honor a lie or make up a story just for the sake of protecting oneís feelings.
Modesty is a very respectable quality in Vietnam. If someone offers another a present they will always reject it at least the first two times to show humbleness and respect. In the workplace, a worker will stay after house without being asked in order to finish their work.
In general, our beliefs differ greatly from those of Westerners. A popular form of religion in Vietnam is Buddhism and it has effects on how we see the world and relate to others. We believe that whatever happens to us in our lifetime is a result of our actions in our past lifetimes. Many Americans believe that we donít take things seriously, but this is definitely not the case. For example, if something goes wrong even after we have put forth much effort we will just give up because we believe it is fate and we can not change fate. We like to take things as they come instead of worrying and constantly planning our life. I think that Americans are very different and take things more at face value. They seem to judge people on first impressions and they also seem to be very materialistic. We do appreciate money, however, we see family bonds and achievement in life as more important than money.
In contrast to Americans, we usually do not change jobs very often because we
do not consistently look for promotions or higher paying jobs. For us, our jobs are our lives. Our employers take care of us very well by taking care of the welfare of their employees economically and socially. Sometimes an employer will arrange or take care of marriages for his employees or even help deal with the actual ceremonies. If an employee ever becomes disabled or sick the employer will continue to offer economic support for him or her.
All of our differences from the Western culture are what have prevented us from immigrating to America before WWII. Our culture is unique and I think it would be awkward for anyone from Vietnam to live in a different country, especially the contrasting culture of the US. If the Vietnam War and the circumstances surrounding that war had never occurred I am not sure if the Vietnamese would have ever immigrated to the United States in substantial numbers.