Santa Barbara County, the State of California, and the United States have benefitted greatly from the contributions of Japanese-Americans who began immigrating well over 150 years ago. Japanese Americans have endured a history of discrimination, exclusion, and violence America has imposed on their community.
The immigration of Japanese citizens to the United States began after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. Most Chinese came to the United States during California’s Gold Rush, and many stayed on as laborers to build the nation’s railroads. After most of the railroad system had been built, many Chinese became agricultural workers, known as “stoop labor” in California.
As The Act prohibited Chinese immigration for a ten-year period–in addition to other restrictions–Hawaii’s sugar plantations brought Chinese laborers to Hawaii. Their absence from the mainland left a shortage of agricultural workers in California.
California needed a new laboring class. Japanese immigrated to California in pursuit of education and opportunities that America promised its immigrants. Most were hired to support the state’s expanding agricultural, canning, fishing, or lumber industries. Japanese domestic workers were highly regarded, despite general anti-Asian sentiment. Japantowns were settled up and down the state. In Santa Barbara County, there were three main Japantowns: Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Guadalupe.
Soon, California’s legislators petitioned to limit the rights and freedoms of Japanese Americans. In 1924, the California State Federation of Labor held their annual meeting in Elks’ Hall in Santa Barbara, California. The convention was hosted by Santa Barbara’s Elks’ Club.
The Federation of Labor included hundreds of members who represented thousands of California’s workers employed in various fields such as moving picture operators, letter carriers, milk wagon drivers, mechanics, garment workers, bricklayers, bakery wagon drivers, stenographers, marine firefighters, cooks, hospital stewards, painters, musicians, and many others.
VS McClatchy, newspaperman and owner of the Sacramento Bee, gave an impassioned address to the assemblage regarding the anti-Japanese movement in California (page 20). Mr. McClatchy stated, “Accordingly, the American Federation of Labor, the American Legion, and the National Grange unanimously approved that plan and demanded its adoption by Congress. The California State bodies of the three great organizations named, together with the Native Sons of the Golden West, decided to act in cooperation on this issue.”
Their advocacy, along with a groundswell of publc support against Japanese immigrants, resulted in Congress passin the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, clearly aimed at limiting not only Japanese from immigrating, but “all Asiatic” people. Legislation also prohibited the sale, lease, or ownership of property.
This dark chapter in American history set the stage for even darker in the future.
For additional information about Japanese Americans in the 1920s, there are many resources in the public domain. A few are listed below:
- In 1921, California and the Japanese, written by Kiichi Kanzaki, was published though it did little to quell America’s racist rhetoric against the Asiatic people, Japanese, Chinese, and Hindus.
- The oral history of one Japanese family in California begins with nurseryman, Kanetoro Omoto, who was born in California in 1902. Japanese American Nurseries – Oral History
- Preserving California Japantowns Bibliography
- The Book of Tea
- Nichibei Shinbun Newspaper