Living mainly in California and Hawaii, Japanese Americans traces their origin to the first group of Japanese who moved to the United States of America as contract laborers in the sugar cane plantations. Encouraged by treaty signed by Japan and the United States, the first generation of the present day generation of Japanese Americans arrived in Hawaii in 1869.
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Their numbers continued to increased until after World War II and at the beginning of 1980s when Japan’s economy began to blossom presenting more employment opportunities and better living standards. Since the first Issei (first generation Japanese) arrived and settled in Hawaii and California in the 19th century, they have contributed immensely to the political, social and economic development of the United States of America.
This is still being reflected in all aspects of development of the United States even today. However, their predicament began as immediately they arrived in the United States. Their upsurge was not welcomed by some politicians fearing the occurrence Yellow Peril.
This set a stage for a racial discrimination trend against all immigrants from Asia including Japanese that has stood the test of time and civilization. The politicians proposed a variety of measures with the most radical being total blockade on any immigrants from Japan. Others argued that the immigration of the Japanese into the United States should be allowed but in a controlled manner.
To curb the Yellow Peril, the politicians passed laws barring the Japanese from marrying from other races while at the same time limiting their access to basic needs such as quality education and housing.
To further suppress their dominance, the laws passed mainly in the western states where they first arrived to work in the sugar plantations ensured that the Japanese Americans had as limited employment opportunities as possible.
They were also denied access to such public utilities such as bars and public parks and beaches. These Japanese were hardworking farmers thus many farmers in United States felt threatened as their agricultural ventures were growing at a very pace. Towards this front, the farmers pushed for oppressive laws to be passed to ensure that the immigrants do not advance agriculturally.
This reached a crisis level forcing the two countries to sign the 1908 Gentlemen’s Agreement. Together with the 1924 National Origins Act, the discriminatory laws were repealed with the borders of the United States being closed to the Japanese immigrants. However, these immigrants were still discriminated against and forced to embrace English as their language and Christianity as their religion.
Discrimination heightened when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II as many Japanese were tortured as they suspected to be spies of their motherland. They were declared enemies, taken to internment camps which had poor facilities and lacked privacy and denied citizenship1. Their condition only changed after Japanese American returned from the war with honors of valor.
Unlike the Japanese Americans, the ancestors of African Americans arrived in the United States as slaves. However, they also comprise of those individuals from Caribbean, Central and South American countries. Their first ancestors arrived in the United States in the 16th century as slaves to work in South Carolina in 1526. What followed was a steady flow of slaves whose numbers surged in the Southern States where oppressive laws were passed.
Despite their great contributions to the economic, social and political development in the United States, African Americans were one of the most oppressed minority groups in the United States right from the time their ancestors arrived in as slaves. They were denied access to quality education, social amenities, churches, banks and equal economic opportunities forcing many of them to open their. Moreover, they were not allowed to vote or vie for any elective pubic post.
They were segregated as they could not use the same services and amenities used by the whites while many lost their lives and were injured in racial attacks2. Interracial marriages between the African Americans were forbidden as they were only permitted to intermarry within their race and indigenous Americans.
Their chances for legal redress were made even harder since even the United States Supreme Court upheld these laws. All these were despite the fact that these African Americans have been on the forefront of every war including the American Revolution War, World War II and Civil War.
The Japanese Americans and the African Americans, even though living in different locations and their ancestors coming to the United States under different conditions and reasons, shared similar experiences during the mid-twentieth century. They were oppressed and discriminated with others losing their lives during racial attacks.
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They were denied access to basic essential services and facilities while access to economic and educational opportunities where immensely limited.
Despite the continued oppression, the African Americans and Japanese Americans continued to contribute immensely to the development of the various sectors of the American society including sports, music, politics, army and economy among others. These laws, upheld by courts of law, where only repealed through activism activities of such great mean as, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. among others.
Gruenewald, Mary and Michelson, Maureen. Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 2011.
Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Dell, 1992
1 Gruenewald, Mary and Michelson, Maureen. Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 2011.
2 Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Dell, 1992