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  Background and Context


The census of 1940 found that 126, 948 Japanese Americans were on the continental US, however like most immigrant groups, they tended to cluster. (Daniels Concentration Camps USA  1 ) 

Conrat, Executive Order 9066, pg.84

1935, Phoenix, AZ

Nine out of ten lived in one of the three Pacific coast states; and three quarters of the total were in California. Here Japanese Americans had a large presence in agriculture, and were able to build up successful businesses, helping to create a large amount of racial tension because of fears of economic competition. By 1919, half of Californiaís 7000 Japanese Americans were involved in agriculture, controlling 450 000 acres of agricultural land. (Daniels Concentration7.) Hence there was a lot of jealously amongst local whites, even though the Japanese Americans posed no real threat economically to white men. 
Therefore the evacuation of Japanese Americans in the Second World War did not occur in a vacuum, it was in the context of a generation of fear and racial prejudice. The Japanese American community was tightly knit, and the first generation maintained a strong link to the homeland. As a community they had a reputation for being inassimilable. There were often public celebrations of traditional occasions, such as the Emperors birthday. There was also pride in Japanese achievements, such as the victory in the Russo-Japanese war, which shocked western countries because it was the first Asian victory over a western power. The Russo-Japanese war and the heightened immigration of 1903-1904 ( Daniels Concentration 10.) caused even more racial tension on the West coast. This was marked by a series of anti Japanese American legislation in states where there was a high concentration of the ethnic group. 


Yoo, In Growing Up Nisei, pg15

Campaign poster of senator James Phelan 1921


This background encouraged the formation of racist groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion League established in 1905, and the Oriental Exclusion League, which was a cooperative of many organizations that proposed anti Japanese legislation, representing a foreshadowing of future events. These attitudes were echoed in mainstream parties and their policies. The Gentlemanís Agreement of 1907-1908 signified the end of the Japanese government issuing passports to laborers to get to the continental US because of demands by white Americans. However this act did not erase racial tension because passports were still issued to the wives and children of laborers, and they could also still be issued to laborers who had already been to the US. Other racist legislation of this era included the passage of the Alien Land Law in 1913, which prohibited the ownership of property by alien Japanese, which basically was made up of the entire first generation. 
However, the legislation did permit the leasing of land to Japanese Americans, therefore many families merely transferred the ownership to their Nisei children. This caused further bitterness, therefore because of the loophole in 1920 a stronger land act was passed, which further prohibited leasing and sharecropping in addition to land purchase. Japanese Americans were also excluded from having political power by depriving them the vote, and therefore the opportunity to vote as a bloc to prevent racist legislation. There had been attempts to obtain naturalization of Japanese Americans. However in 1922 the Supreme Court ruled against this right. The culmination of anti Japanese feeling was embodied in the Immigration Act of 1924 which succeeded in excluding all Japanese from immigrating to the U.S.


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