A view of one of Americas Model Minorities
August 20, 2007
The United States ethnic group which I chose to study is Japanese-Americans, which is classified in the Asian American group. I researched the groups history here in the U.S. and their over all assimilation into the dominant American culture.
Many of the first generation Japanese immigrants, the Issei, came to America as sojourners and were young male laborers who came to America seeking Western technology and opportunity. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 more Japanese immigrants were lured into the country by way of the Hawaiian sugar plantations, in order to fill the labor demand left by the baring of Chinese immigrants. Because of these initial points of contact the two greatest areas of settlements for Japanese in the U.S. are California and Hawaii, with additionally notable settlements in Washington, New York, and Illinois. (Answers.com 3) Most Japanese Americans in more recent times choose to live in urban, densely populated areas, but are usually less residentially segregated than other minority groups such as blacks or Hispanics. (Healey, 367)
However, racism and an anti-Asian mentality that had barred the Chinese from citizenship carried over to the Japanese. They were considered too foreign and it was said that they could not be assimilated into the American culture. An article on Answers.com from the US History Encyclopedia talks about the passing of anti-Japanese laws that prohibit interracial marriage and exclusion from opportunities within the dominant society, as well as segregation and denial of citizenship. (Early Settlement in Hawaii and California, par. 2) The Anti-Japanese frenzy grew fierce, violent, and even murderous, as the competitions for the job market grew more competitive. Caucasian San Franciscans where outraged that their jobs were being taken by hard-working Japanese laborers; who were willing to work longer hours for less pay.
In 1906 the San Francisco Board of Education was pressured by Anti-Japanese bigots to vote for establishing a separate-but-equal school for all Asians, including Japanese. The segregation ended with the forging of the Gentlemans agreement in 1907, which furthered limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. However the agreement did not prevent the ones who were already living in America from bringing over family. And with the active ban on interracial marriages, the young Japanese men would acquire wives thru correspondence and pictures from matchmakers in their homeland (Bankston 589). Because of this convenient loophole the Japanese Americans were able to maintain a balanced sex-ratio of men and women and start families.
The Isseis first language was Japanese; many of them knew little English and could only communicate on a very elementary level. This was just one thing that made them the target of a lot of discrimination and prejudice by the dominant society. To adjust to this they formed enclave societies, called Little Tokyos where they established business and supported one another by dealing within their own community. Thru this way, they were able to limit their contact with the dominant society and protect themselves from discrimination, however this only helped to reinforce the stereotypes of the Japanese being clannish and unassimilable (Healey, 357).
The second generations, called Nisei, were determined to gain the approval despite the opposition they received from the dominant society. They established the Japanese American Citizens League in 1930, as a way to achieve this goal by expressing an ardent patriotism that was to be sorely tested (Healey, 357)
December 7, 1941 brought about the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched a fear of an orchestrated Japanese invasion. All the decades of racism and anti-Japanese avocation worked to instigate one of Americas most blatant violations of its citizenss civil rights. All the Japanese Americans, both aliens and citizens alike, where ordered to abandon their homes and they were forced into concentration camps, located further inland in the deserts. The camps were crowded, oppressive, and dirty but the Nisai urged the Japanese to corporate in order to prove their loyalty. In order to escape the camps some would even join the army.
The camps had several effects on the Japanese Americans lives. The Japanese who had originally come over from Japan were of a very male dominated culture, with women being mostly homemakers and being in subjection to the males in the family, with little time for learning. But in the camps women found that they had more free time to pursue their own education and to learn English. Also young women were able to meet young men on their own without the traditional introduction from the family, which weakened the tradition of arranged marriages.
Another effect that the camps had on the Japanese Americans was the switching of power from the first generation Issei to the second generation Nisei. In the camps, it was the Nisei who dealt with their jailors as their Japanese-speaking parents could not.
Japanese culture places high value on education and hard-work. Even thru the early days, where they were barred from jobs within the dominant society the Japanese immigrants stressed the needs for a high education and encouraged this in their children. After the war, the Nisei did not rebuild the enclave communities as they once were but they took all advantages to further their education and when the job market began to open up around the 1950s the Nisei were educationally prepared to take advantage of the resultant opportunities (Healey, 363) Compared to other racial minority groups, Japanese Americans as a whole score very high on the nations standards for education and in some areas are above the average.
Because of this, by 1960 Japanese Americans occupational profile can be viewed as similar to that of white Americans. But in truth they are usually over represented among professionals, and many are paid fewer benefits, than are white professionals of equal standing and education. Also something to consider is that many who have high-profile jobs also live in high-profile areas where the cost of living is inflated, meaning that that amount of money doesnt stretch all that far. It is also important to note that many of the immigrants that come in today are also very well educated and high-profiled, and this only helps to further the image of the super-smart minority.
But because that image of success is so sustained thru the occupational profiles of many Asia-Americans, including the Japanese, they are stereotyped as being a model minority. The use of this label attempts to contrast and even chastise other minority groups, most specifically black, by claiming that they havent worked hard enough to achieve the apparent success of the Asian minorities, such as the Japanese.
But that doesnt mean that the Japanese or other Asian groups dont suffer from discrimination and prejudice. This form of positive prejudice is simply different than the openly hostile kind that they received when they first came to the U.S., and is only an example to show how modern racism has taken over more traditional racism.
The Japanese American in modern times is now much more acculturated then some other Asian-American groups are. Part of this is due to the assimilation of American values into their own culture. Another part of it is the low rate of Japanese immigration that is coming into the country to re-introduce the culture back into the community. The tendency for the Japanese to marry into other races is also higher than it is in some other minority groups.
But while the rate of immigration from Japan has been low; we see, especially in recent times, the interest of assimilating some of Japans culture and customs into our own American culture, especially into the young pop culture. Things such as Japanese music has, become popular here in America, especially among the younger generation. Accompanied by the popular clothing styles, and where names such as gothic Lolita and visual kei are becoming better known. Another trend is for the Japanese comic books or Manga to be translated and it has become incorporated into our libraries and even our school systems as a way to get younger generations more interested in reading. And with the manga comes an interest in the Japanese philosophies and religions such as Buddhism and Shinto.
In American society the Japanese Americans have been changed and influenced thru their experiences and history in this country. But it is also true that American culture has also been changed and affected by the inclusion of the Japanese into our society. And though it is still only a very tiny fraction of the total population, the Japanese will probably continue to have an effect on the culture and the linguistic traditions here in America.
1. Healey, Joseph F. Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change 4th ed. California: Pine Forge Press, 1945.
2. Bankston, Carl L, and Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo. Immigration in U.S. History. California: Salem Press, 2006.
3. Answer.com. Japanese American. 18 August 2007 <www.answers.com/topic/japanese…>