A brief introduction to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
Japanese began immigrating to America in 1868, but it was not until 1885 that mass immigration began, led by contracts offered to Japanese laborers to work at sugar plantations in Hawaii. Around the turn of the century, many young Japanese men came in greater numbers for farming and education opportunities on the West Coast. Like many immigrant populations before them, Japanese were seeking a better life. By 1930, nearly 140,000 Japanese immigrants lived in the United States, with more than 87,000 of them living in California.
Along with new opportunities in America, there came considerable prejudice. In 1913, a law was passed making it illegal for Japanese to purchase land in California. Immigration from Japan was banned in 1924 (National Origins Act of 1924). Meanwhile, the Issei, the immigrant generation, had American-born children and prospered in all walks of life despite the widespread racism and prejudice against them. The prejudice came to a head when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. From that point on, Japanese Americans were largely seen as the enemy despite the attack coming from Imperial Japan. Racism took the guise of a “military necessity” to remove and confine Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. Ten such camps were constructed, with several other tears of detainment facilities, including “Assembly Centers” and Department of Justice camps. In all, approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated in the 10 camps located in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.
While the incarceration lasted for only a handful of years in the 1940s, the racism faced by immigrants and their American-born citizens plagued Japanese Americans for decades. Furthermore, the unjust incarceration during World War II further deepened the distress experienced by Japanese Americans. Thus, the years of incarceration have had a lasting effect on descendants of incarcerees and every generation since. This history marks an incredibly-significant, still-relevant chapter in the Narrative of America.
While this history remains largely overlooked, there is a growing list of resources that are widely available to educate the public. A crucial part of the efforts of the stakeholders of the JACSC is to ensure it reaches a wider audience and is increasing included in education curricula across the country. For a comprehensive overview of many facets of this history, visit the Densho encyclopedia.
Read Personal Justice Denied, a two-volume report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians that declared the incarceration of Japanese Americans was a result not of “military necessity” but "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
And stay tuned on this site for more links, lesson plans and more resources.