Roger W. Lotchin, a University of North Carolina history professor, argues in his article “There were no concentration camps in America” that the ten camps where 120,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to in 1942 were not concentration camps. Additionally, he contends that the camps were not built because of racism but because of the United States (US) government’s lack of knowledge on who were spies of the Imperial Japanese government and what their plans of attack were in the West Coast. In Lotchin’s article, he states that before World War II, the US government discovered a network of Japanese spies that was lead by Itaru Tachibana.
Because of this, the US government continued to believe that there were networks of Issei and Nisei spies in the country and that they were the cause of America and its allies’ losses during the beginning of the war. In response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and to prevent more attacks against the United States of America, its territories, and its allies, Lotchin argues that the US relocated Japanese Americans.
He suggests that Japanese internment was an act of protection and not an act of racism. To further prove his point, he stated that racism is defined as “a belief in the biological inferiority of a group” so the relocation and incarceration of the Japanese was not racism because Japanese Americans were not seen as biologically inferior to Americans or Caucasians. I disagree. If you look deeper into Lotchin’s definition, you will see the word “group.
” Who said that Japanese and Japanese Americans were in the same group? And who said that these classifications are mutually exclusive? Being Filipino and having Filipino American friends and family have taught me that where your ancestors were born and what blood flows in you does not determine your beliefs. It is how you are raised, how those around you treat you, and what experiences you have where you live that shape who you are.
In a Los Angeles Times editorial called “The Question of Japanese-Americans,” W.H. Anderson stated that “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched…,” but did the writer ever consider that a viper cannot choose or change the animal that hatches its egg? Japanese Americans were discriminated against because of their physical features. Moreover, physical features that they could not control and do not choose. But Anderson’s argument is perfectly framed by the Takao Ozawa v. United States case ruling in 1922 in which Ozawa, who spent his entire life in America, is not granted a US citizenship because he is not “white” or Caucasian; therefore, concluding that a person can be born and raised in the US but is still not considered American. During World War II, Americans saw that Japanese Americans had the face of the enemy and concluded that they shared the same beliefs as the Japanese who attacked the US.
I emphasize this statement by quoting Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt of the Western Defense Command, the man who issued Public Proclamation No. 1 which created two military bases for internment, “The Japanese race is an enemy race, and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, are possessed of United States citizenship… the racial strains are undiluted.” In addition, calling Japanese internment an act of protection for America does not explain racism against Issei long before the war. When Japanese citizens first came to the US, they were given jobs, such as field and factory workers on sugar cane plantations, that paid low wages of $9 a month and required them to work long days of ten to twelve hours. Niseis encountered the same strife in the early twentieth century when they were tasked to do laundry and restaurant work instead of using their knowledge in fields, such as engineering and science. Because they were being given jobs that did not make use of their university degrees, second generation Japanese were recommended to forego a higher education by Sei Fujii, a famous Japanese newspaper in the US.
This is evidence of oppression and racism because Japanese Americans were seen as inferior and therefore treated inhumanely or unequally. Another part of Roger Lotchin’s argument is that the camps, including the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, were not concentration camps. The premises for this conclusion was that historic concentration camps, like those during the Holocaust or in Cuba, South Africa, and the Philippines, had horrible conditions and limited privileges. He notes that “Starvation was a universal characteristic of the historic concentration camps and no one in the WWII Americans relocation camps was starved by those running centers.” However, meals were regulated in the ten concentration camps. Each person was served food a specific time of the day and given an equal portion of food; therefore, disregarding their dietary needs based on their weight, age, and other health conditions.
Additionally, no one was allowed to have second portions. Japanese Americans had to adapt to this change by having their body adapt to being hungry, which makes it starve. In relation, just because the starvation in World War II relocation centers was not as grave as the starvation in concentration camps during the Holocaust does not mean that starvation was not a challenge for Japanese Americans. More importantly, starvation is a suffering and violation of the right to receive adequate food, making it a horrible condition. Japanese Americans could have prevented this suffering if they were not imprisoned in concentration camps. Furthermore, if you take “concentration camp” literally, then you come to the understanding that it is a location or area where a large population is detained. When individuals are detained in a camp for an undetermined period of time, their rights to live where and how they want to are obstructed, which is unjust. It does not matter what the conditions of a concentration camp are, the people within the camp are not staying there by choice. Even if the living conditions of the Japanese internment camps were to be taken into account, you would find that they were horrible.
Hotchin stated that Japanese Americans had a variety of privileges in their relocation centers that those in historic concentration camps did not, particularly the “freedom of speech and religion, K-12 education for children, free medical care, free flow of information, plenty of food, clothing allowances, radios, some short wave, telephones, the right to visit or be visited, and a leave policy…” But Japanese Americans were living behind barbed wire under the scrutiny of the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) and guarded by armed military guards, sleeping in horse stalls, given low-paying jobs with wages between $12 to $19 a month, and had curfews, families cramped into one-bedroom apartments, and communal eating which changed their family dynamics. Moreover, the freedom of religion that Lotchin points out only refers to Japanese Christians. Shintoists and Buddhists could not practice their religion. And the “freedom of speech” in Japanese relocation centers was restricted. The Fair Play Committee (FPC) at Heart Mountain, which advocated that Japanese Americans resist the draft, was becoming a growing problem for the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and led the WRA to ban the FPC from holding public meetings.
Additionally, Jimmie Omura from Rocky Shimpo was threatened by the WRA in order to change his views on the draft because of his writings’ influence on Japanese Americans. The living conditions were terrible yet Dillon Meyer, WRA director starting June 1942, stated that the Japanese benefited from internment because “probably at least half [of the Issei] never had it so good,” which shows that he saw the Issei and their families as inferior. In conclusion, there were Japanese American concentration camps and they were created out of racism. Part II In the movie Vincent Who?, Frank Wu states “Before the Vincent Chin case, it’s fair to say there weren’t Asian Americans. There were Chinese Americans. There were Japanese Americans.” Wu believes that the Vincent Chin murder brought together different Asian American communities. Furthermore, he believes that the case eliminated the practice of classifying who are Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and so on through the creation.
Of the “Asian American” identity and perceives Asian Americans as individuals who come from different racial backgrounds but share similar experiences of living in the United States (US). To Frank Wu, Asian Americans are united communities that support each other and are groups of individuals that do not distinguish among each other or treat hardships by culture. On the contrary, I used to define Asian American on a literal sense, which is being of Asian descent – Indian, Lao, Indonesian, or whatever Asia Pacific ethnicity of your ancestors – and growing up in the US. To me, being Filipino and Filipino American are different things. I was raised in the Philippines for all my life and I see being Filipino as going to an all-girls Catholic school that is 99% Asian and learning about Philippine history. From what I have observed, being Filipino American is going to school with people of different races and religions and learning about US history.
Likewise, being Japanese American and Chinese American are different situations. But just because they are different, it does not mean that they do not and cannot have any overlap or commonalities. For example, both Filipinos and Filipino Americans put a strong emphasis on family. In reality, each person is similar in one way or another and it is accepting or rejecting these similarities that creates an impact on an individual’s everyday life. In relation, I agree with Frank Wu in his argument that the Asian American identity only emerged around the activism surrounding the Vincent Chin case because Asian Americans accepted their similarities and used them to fight together for equality. Ever since the immigration of Asians and other ethnicities to America, migrants have received unfair treatment. For example, Chinese Central Pacific Railroad workers were paid less and worked longer than their Caucasian co-workers. The Japanese, and Asian community as a whole, also felt discrimination when they were barred from purchasing land through the California Alien Land Law of 1913 because they were accused of “stealing” the jobs of white Americans and were considered “aliens.”
Although these communities were experiencing acts of prejudice, they were against each other. Japanese Americans did not want to be mistaken as Chinese Americans because they were more educated and had the support of the Japanese government in the US. Additionally, Chinese Americans despised Japanese Americans because they saw them as competition in the workforce since they were able to bring revolutionary agricultural techniques and grew their vegetable and fruit truck businesses. There were moments in history where the Asian communities stood up against their oppression, but in these cases, each community stood up alone and only for themselves. In the 1866 strike of the Chinese Central Pacific Railroad workers, only the Chinese were actively protesting against labor inequality, specifically labor inequality against them. As Frank Wu said, “…there wasn’t a meaningful abiding Asian American movement. It faltered. It didn’t have an icon, a symbol. It didn’t have a narrative that people could identify with.” Vincent Chin became the first icon, symbol, and narrative for Asian American identity.
Vincent Chin’s case united different Asian Americans – Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and more – because they were angry that the US legal system was unsure of whether to take over Vincent’s case since he was an immigrant. They were angry because a murder calls for a long prison sentence and each of his assailants only received three years of probation with a $3,000 fine. They were angry not only because of the lack of justice but also because of the little significance that was placed over a life. It did not matter if Vincent was Caucasian, Mongolian, or Negroid. What mattered was that Vincent Chin was dead and he cannot be brought back to life. In addition, Vincent Chin’s case, in which he was mistaken as Japanese, helped communities learn how to respond to hate crimes. After 9/11, the turban became a sign that its wearer had the same mindset and plans as the terrorists who instigated the attack because some of them wore turbans.
South Asians were harassed because their discriminators used physical attributes as indicators of their beliefs. In response, Japanese Americans, who were also discriminated against for having similar attributes as the enemy, supported and spoke up for the South Asian community. The Vincent Chin murder taught Japanese Americans and different groups of people to share their experiences and to act united when they see injustices because these are offenses against humans – brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and so on. During the Asian American Movement, Asian American meant something different. Similar to me, the Asian American Movement took a literal approach. It defined Asian American as panethnic, a racial category that grouped ethnicities with similar cultures because being Asian and American was not mutually exclusive. The term Asian American was also a political statement that represented people who struggled and were struggling because they were not considered American. The movement was supported by students, who protested on their college campuses, such as University of California and California State.
They were protesting for the freedom to make decisions for themselves and the ability to determine not just their education but more importantly their life because universities were becoming avenues for the US government to control individuals, starting with what they study. With slogans of “self-determination” and “Power to the People!” the Asian American Movement was fighting oppression, which is similar to the Vincent Chin case. Another link between the movements was that they brought together people from different communities. The Asian American Movement connected not just students but students of different backgrounds. For example, the movement united the Black Student Union, Mexican American Student Confederation, Philippine American Collegiate Endeavor (PACE), Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action (ICSA), Latin American Students Organization, American Indian Student Organization, and Asian American Political Alliance, forming the Third World Liberation Front in San Francisco State University (SFSU).
Although the movements were similar in their goals of laying down their rights and eliciting action from the US government, and their bringing together various communities, they were different in their motivations. The motivation for the Vincent Chin case was the unjust death of a man. On the other hand, the motivation for the Asian American Movement was for students to determine their education. Regardless of the reasoning behind the movements, both are historical events that show the US government’s suppression of non-whites and activism of Asian Americans. They are important campaigns that have shaped what being Asian American is today and stories that should continuously be told. To conclude, I would like to modify one of Frank Wu’s quotes to “The Vincent Chin case and Asian American Movement are not just important to Asian Americans. These stories are the story of America.”