Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Review of "Stubborn Twig" by Lauren Kessler

Japanese in America 1887—1945

I do feel that in the book Stubborn Twig author Lauren Kessler does present both sides of the internment issue. She does show that there was a longtime history in America of racism and exclusionary policies towards Asians even before the Japanese came to our country, but she also shows how this racism greatly increased after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans in America never really lived without some sort of racial prejudice, whether it was directed at them by neighbors or the government, hostility was something they dealt with almost daily. Actually, Asians in America were never really welcomed.
The first Asians to come to America were the Chinese.
In the 1850’s Chinese came to America to work in the gold mines and on the railroads. In 1868 The Burlingame Treaty was established which showed friendly relations between the US and China and encouraged Chinese immigration, but limited naturalization for the Chinese. Over the years as more and more Chinese came to America white sentiment against them grew and in 1882 the US enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act caused a problem as the railroads needed laborers and there were no longer any Chinese available to work, so in 1887 Japanese men began to emigrate to the US to work on the railroads incited by hyped up ads filled with amazing opportunities in America promising instant riches and great rewards to those who came to work.
This hyperbole, coupled with the problems many of them were facing in Japan with low wages and difficulties caused by the Meiji government who was taxing farmer’s land and enacting policies that reduced the price of their crops, caused many Japanese men to consider leaving Japan for America when the American railroad agents came recruiting them to work as railroad laborers promising a dollar a day in wages.
By 1907 about 40% of Oregon’s total railroad labor force was made up of Japanese men. These Japanese workers helped build the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Oregon Short Line railroads in Oregon, plus many others in the Columbia River Basin.

Many Japanese Railroad laborers in the US---1900’s
In 1902 Masno Yasui came to America and he worked on the railroads until 1908 when he went to Hood River.
In Hood River, Masno and his brother, Renichi, opened a store. Masno also worked in an apple orchard and a bank as a janitor, eventually he became involved in many other enterprising activities in the community. Masno was always alert, always looking for a new opportunity. Masno spoke and wrote English very well so he was an asset to other Japanese who could not, and quickly became a go between helping them to succeed in their life in America. He found he was also valuable to the white business owners as well, working as a recruiter for their businesses that needed laborers. He soon became a community leader in Hood River. Masno also began buying land for himself and this got him into real estate, and soon he was buying land to resell or lease to other Japanese.
Masno and his fellow Japanese were very industrious and successful, and soon were out performing the white workers in their neighborhoods. This began to be a cause for concern by many on the West Coast. Even though Masno was, for the most part, well liked in his community, there were some who opposed him and all Japanese, and often Masno and his family were reminded that they were not, and never would be, “true Americans”. Government laws and policies were also a reminder. The Naturalization Act of 1790 clearly stated that Asians were barred from 500 jobs and could never become citizens. Yet the Japanese still came to America.
The growing population of Japanese soon became a concern across the country.
The Immigration Act of 1924 limited further Japanese immigration and in 1925 legal restrictions were put into place that barred Japanese from owning land. Surely there was much racial bigotry going on both politically and in the media.

Through all of this Masno and his family continued to work hard and tried to live peacefully in the land they had come to love. Masno spoke to a group of fellow Methodists in 1925 saying: “ We cannot be Americans legally, but we are 100 percent American at heart in every way.”
Then, on December 7, 1941 everything changed!
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused an even greater anti-Japanese sentiment to grow quickly in America and soon Anti-Japanese paranoia became widespread throughout America. Japanese Americans were feared as a security risk and in February 1942 President Roosevelt signed an executive order for the relocation of all Americans of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps in the interior of the United States. Even though there was no evidence to convict them of any crimes against the US, still they were held in the camps until 1945, after the end of WW2.

Masuo spent the whole war interned at different camps, charged with being a spy which was never proven. No evidence was ever found to prove that any of the Japanese internees were guilty of espionage. Masuo and his wife never returned to Hood River or his many properties as they were all sold off during his internment to pay loans and taxes. Even after WW2 was over Masuo and all Japanese were treated with fear and prejudice.
Stubborn Twig vividly portrayed the life of a people who lived " ine both versions of America: the light and the shadow. The Country that provides opportunity and then works overtime to prevent some people from gaining access to it."

--Leona J. Atkinson

1868 Burlingame Treaty
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act
Japanese men leave Japan--Stubborn Twig Chapter 1 pages 7-8
Japanese Americans in the Columbia River Basin
First Arrivals and Their Labors
The Immigration Act of 1924--
Masno quote: Stubborn Twig Chapter 5 page 68
Japanese-American Internment--
Quote: Lauren Kessler Stubborn Twig Preface page xiv