As I researched materials for this week’s blog about the next chapter in United States immigration policies, the gringa found it difficult not to burst out in sarcastic laughter at the audacity of American legislators to entitle a piece of racist immigration policy a “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. I don’t find anything at all “gentlemanly” about the racism that permeated white American society toward the Japanese. The country had already kicked out the Chinese. I suppose it was only logical that the Japanese would soon be getting their eviction notices as well.
Although Theodore Roosevelt is generally thought of with affection and romanticized as a rough and tumble “man’s man” in our nation’s presidential histories, the truth is, he was just another racist president in a long line of racist presidents. Although we can thank him for our wonderful national parks system and for creating the Food and Drug Administration, I give him a big “up yours” for the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907. A “real” man would have stood up for what was right, which would have been to tell the bratty, white Americans to behave themselves, quit their temper tantrum throwing, be accountable for their own plight rather than play the blame-game and point fingers at the Japanese, treat their fellow human beings with dignity and respect regardless of race and skin color and to hell with re-election popularity for the party. I mean, in the barrio that’s how we mamacitas roll.
The years preceding this agreement the United States experienced a labor shortage. Probably because of their short-sighted, emotional, racist actions that resulted in expelling and banning Chinese immigrants whom they had originally imported for cheap labor. The solution to this new labor shortage was to import a new group of cheap labor. The United States turned to Japan. In 1895 the Anglo-Japanese Treaty was ratified by both nations and provided the framework for open immigration between the nations, as well as equal rights of residency and property ownership for immigrants of either nation. Japan became the new favored nation for the U.S., and we all know how well that turned out for China just twenty years earlier.
When Japanese immigration subsequently increased, California once again led the charge of social hostility toward a particular ethnic working class group. After San Francisco’s memorable earthquake of 1906, schools had to be rebuilt. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the racists of California that had revived their hatred of the Chinese and redirected it toward the Japanese, supported the decision by the San Francisco school board to segregate schools according to a specific Japanese/Caucasian line just as they had already done with the Chinese.
Such discriminatory actions struck a nerve when word traveled back to Japan. President Teddy made an effort to smooth things over with Japan. Now, don’t jump to any conclusions about President Roosevelt actually caring about the feelings of the Japanese. His desire for friendly relations with the Japanese had nothing to do with any form of admiration for their culture. The U.S., as usual, had only one interest, securing power and wealth for the nation.
At this time in history, the biggest threat to power and wealth for the United States was Russia. From 1850 until 1910 Russia was second only to America in population growth. After the terrible insult the United States had given the Chinese, China established broad and extensive trade relations with Russia. Russia was even allowed to build a naval base and sea port in the city of Vladivostok. Before the Treaty of Peking in 1860, the city of Vladivostok had been Chinese territory and was called Hǎishēnwǎi, which, translated, meant “Sea Cucumber Cliffs”. Things were warm and fuzzy between the Chinese and Russia in 1907. Understanding the true history behind the relationship of this political love triangle, I now am not so naïve as I once was when my nation’s propaganda machine goes into high gear depicting Russia and China’s alliance as a great threat to our nation. The gringa can only cock her head, squint her eyes, poke her finger at the White House, and say, “You started this big mess with your two-faced, racist, back-stabbing, behavior toward the Chinese!”
By 1907 Russia’s expansionist policies were evident to the rest of the world. It had also set its sights on Japan. Russia’s ally, China, had been engaged in hostilities with Japan for some time. In 1895 Japan achieved an important victory that led to Russia getting involved in the conflict. Ultimately President Roosevelt would negotiate mediation between all factions. The important result of all this and how it affected political consideration of the Japanese in the United States, is that the U.S. government recognized the strategic naval position Japan commanded in its geographical orientation with regard to China and Russia. America would be wise to have Japan as a friend. Strategic military interest, rather than racial respect, was Teddy’s motivation to smooth over Japan’s ruffled feathers at the nasty treatment Japanese immigrants were receiving at the hands of white America.
The result was direct intervention by President Roosevelt into the San Francisco school segregation actions. Promised by the President that he was going to deal with the Japanese issue, the San Francisco school board rescinded its segregation order. Soon after, the country saw this presidential promise fulfilled in the acceptance of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. This was not legislation but an informal agreement between the U.S. and Japan based on an exchange of diplomatic letters.
Despite the fact that no official record of the agreements was ever published, a wealth of historical evidence can still be found about how things changed in America for the Japanese that were here. In response to Roosevelt’s intervention of discrimination against Japanese on U.S. soil, Japan agreed to no longer issue passports to Japanese laborers who intended to seek work in the United States. Only Japanese professionals and Japanese business men could immigrate to the U.S. Japanese laborers already present in the U.S. would still be able to bring over their families, but single Japanese laborers that were here would not be able to look forward to new arrivals of lovely, single ladies from back home. However, one “loophole” in this agreement was that Hawaii, being a U.S. territory, could still accept Japanese labor immigrants. This resulted in the “picture bride” system of Japanese laborers in the U.S. getting a mail-order bride via Hawaii. Despite the best attempt of the Gentlemen’s Agreement to thin out the Japanese population in America, Japanese families still continued to grow and thrive. Hey, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do because everybody deserves a little lovin’ when they get home from a hard day’s work. At least that’s how my caveman feels.
As the gringa reads the historical documents recording this sad tale, the most disturbing aspect of it all, aside from the obvious, the racism, is the fact that the nation was repeating the events of just twenty years prior. I am reminded of the tongue in cheek definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Again, the gringa can only cock her head, squint her eyes, poke her finger at the White House and say, “What the hell were you thinking? Are you insane? Did you really think you could do the exact same thing that you did with China and it would somehow end better?”
Once again the United States has proven that it’s immigration policies are determined by greed and power. Borders are opened to an unsuspecting nation who is wooed like a predator stalking an unsuspecting victim. Cheap labor is imported. The country grows fat. The new immigrants start to get too big for their britches. The Caucasian hordes cry foul. The politicians want to secure re-election so they “burn the witch” as the angry masses demand. The only advice I can give any immigrant is, “Immigrant! Beware!”
Photo credit: www.dneiwert.blogspot.com