Kanji Sahara – JANM Opening 2016

Issei, The Immigrant Group

Hello, I want to talk about the Issei.  The Issei Group passed on several decades ago.  It is good for us old Nisei to be reminded about the Issei.  The young people here probably do not know much about the Issei.

The Issei was “The Immigrant Group”.

The Issei faced prejudice, discrimination and hatred from when they first arrived in America. The Issei could not become U.S. Citizens and therefore could not vote or serve on juries or hold public office and thus had zero political power.  The Issei could not buy land in California and it is difficult to be a famer if you don’t own the land.  Restricted housing covenants here in LA prevented the Issei from living anywhere they wanted – they were forced to live in Japanese ghettos. In some towns there were segregated public schools – like in El Monte, for K to 6, there was a school for white children and another school for Japanese children.  The Japanese could go swimming in a municipal pool only on the day before they empty the swimming pool of water.  The U.S. law was that if a girl, whether white or Nisei, married an Issei man, she would lose her U.S. Citizenship.  In California, an Issei could not marry a white person.  The Issei mounted many challenges to discriminatory laws, but they rarely succeeded.

The culmination of all of this happened quickly after Dec 7, 1941.  The Issei “community leaders” were arrested and detained without trial under Presidential Proclamation 2525.  The Tuna Canyon Detention Station was a processing station in this plan.  Our Exhibit beyond the doors titled “Only the Oaks Remain, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Traveling Exhibit” is about this part of the Issei History.

In the Spring of 1942, all people of Japanese ancestry were expelled from the West Coast States and incarcerated in 10 Concentration Camps under Executive Order 9066.  The permanent exhibit on the Second Floor of JANM titled “Common Grounds” is about this part of the Issei and Nisei History.

While their parents were in the Concentration Camp, the Mainland Nisei boys and the Hawaiian Nisei boys formed the 442nd and the 100th Battalion to fight in Europe with uncommon courage.  This story of bravery is told in the “Go For Broke” museum across the courtyard.  The story of the MIS proved that the Nisei were 100% American.

In 1945, the Japanese People were allowed to return to the West Coast States.  They were again met with prejudice, discrimination and hatred.  The general population then learned of the bravery of the Nisei soldier.  Slowly the attitude of the public changed.  The Issei were allowed to become naturalized.  Anti-miscegenation laws, restrictive housing covenants, and Alien Land Laws were declared unconstitutional or repealed.  And now the Japanese were the “Model Minority”.

The Issei are a “Self-Selected” Group.  The Issei made three life changing decisions

  1. The Issei decided to immigrate to America. Moving to a distant land where you don’t speak the language was a brave decision
  2. The Issei decided to start a family. Picture brides came to America to marry men they had never met.
  3. The Issei, who are your parents or grandparents, decided to stay in America. Tens of thousands of Issei returned to Japan during the 1920’s and 30’s.

Like I said, your parents of grandparents made three life changing decisions.  These Issei formed a Self-Selected Group.  These Issei are The Immigrant Group.  Sociologist say The Immigrant Group determines how their descendants fares in a new country.  The children of The Issei Immigrant Group formed the 442nd/100th Battalion, and the Model Minority, and mounted the Redress and Reparation Campaign.

The Japanese People are now so respected that politicians like to claim they are Japanese.

With the Redress and Reparation Movement and the payment of $20,000 and the Letter of Apology, everybody thought that America realized and acknowledge that the Incarceration of the Japanese in WWII was wrong.  And that was the end of the story.

But last month, a Trump supporter claimed the Incarceration of the Japanese in WWII was a “Precedent” and that it could be used against the Muslim People.   The Muslims are facing   prejudice, discrimination and hatred just like the Issei face 100 years ago.  Only a few supported the Issei then.

I know that the Issei will want us to support the Muslim Community today.  This is the best way to the show the Issei that we learned the lesson on how they were treated 100 years ago and that we will not let that happen to another immigrant Community.

Thank you,

Kanji Sahara
Dec 10, 2016