Life before the internment camps for most Japanese
Americans was the same as it was for Americans of any ethnic background. They did normal
things as we do today, going to school, playing with their friends... etc,. However, life for Japanese
Americans had never been easy. In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law which
prohibited "aliens ineligible to citizenship" (ie. all Asian immigrants-
including Japanese) from owning land or property, though it permitted three year leases.
Then in 1920 California extended the Alien Land Law to prohibiting leasing land to
"aliens ineligible to citizenship." By 1925, it was also prohibited in
Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, New
Mexico, Minnesota, and Missouri. During World War II, Utah, Wyoming, and Arkansas also
followed. A 1922 court case, Ozawa v. U.S., had the Supreme Court reaffirming that Asian
immigrants were not even eligible for naturalization. In June, 1935 Congress passed an act
making aliens otherwise ineligible to citizenship eligible if (a) they had served in the
U.S. armed forces between April 6, 1917, and November 11, 1918, and been honorably
discharged, and (b) they were permanent residents of the United States. A small number
obtained citizenship under this act before the deadline on January 1, 1937. The 1940
census found 126,947 Japanese Americans; 62.7% were citizens by birth. In addition,
157,905 were in the Territory of Hawaii, and 263 in the Territory of Alaska.
"I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and
Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps.. . .Damn them! Let's get rid of them
Congressman John Rankin, Congressional Record, Feb.19,1942.
But, for all the bad feelings,
many Japanese immigrants were friends with the Americans they lived near and worked with.
Many Japanese had come to America to work, make money and then go back to Japan. But some
also wanted to settle in American and raise their families here.
In October and November of 1941, Special Representative of the State Department Curtis
B. Munson, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's orders, carried out an intelligence
gathering investigation on the loyalty of Japanese Americans.
"The Issei, or first generation, is considerably weakened in their loyalty to
Japan by the fact that they have chosen to make this their home and have brought up their
children here. They expect to die here. They are quite fearful of being put in a
concentration camp. Many would take out American citizenship if allowed to do so. The
haste of this report does not allow us to go into this more fully. The Issei have to break
with their religion, their god and Emperor, their family, their ancestors and their
after-life in order to be loyal to the United States. They are also still legally
Japanese. Yet they do break, and send their boys off to the Army with pride and tears.
They are good neighbors. They are old men fifty-five to sixty-five, for the most part
simple and dignified. Roughly they were Japanese lower middle class, about analogous to
the pilgrim fathers."
"Second generation who have received their whole education in the United States
and usually, in spite of discrimination against them and a certain amount of insults
accumulated through the years from irresponsible elements, show a pathetic eagerness to be
Americans. They are in constant conflict with the orthodox, well disciplined family life
of their elders. They are universally estimated from 90 to 98 percent loyal to the United
States if the Japanese-educated element of the Kibei is excluded. The Nisei are
pathetically eager to show this loyalty. They are not Japanese in culture. They are
foreigners to Japan. Though American citizens they are not accepted by Americans, largely
because they look differently and can be easily recognized. The Japanese American Citizens
League should be encouraged, the while an eye is kept open, to see that Tokio does not get
its finger in this pie -- which it has in a few cases attempted to do. The loyal Nisei
hardly knows where to turn. Some gesture of protection or wholehearted acceptance of this
group would go a long way to swinging them away from any last romantic hankering after old
Japan. They are not oriental or mysterious, they are very American and are of a proud,
self-respecting race suffering from a little inferiority complex and a lack of contact
with the white boys they went to school with. They are eager for this contact and to work