"Slavery Worse Than Existed in the Sunny South": The Problem of Japanese Labor in Progressive America


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Drawn from his current book project that examines the history of the tension between nativism and demand for foreign labor in the United States, Hidetaka Hirota analyzes the problem of Japanese migrant labor in the American West at the turn of the twentieth century.

This lecture focuses on three particular issues related to Japanese labor immigration during this period: how the patterns of Japanese migration shaped Americans’ view of Japanese labor as a form of slave labor; how American and Japanese labor contractors in the West evaded federal laws to regulate labor immigration, often in transnational ways; and how such a subversive practice affected the development of US immigration policy.

Hirota discusses how the debate over Japanese labor contributed to the emergence of a national immigration regime in the United States in the early twentieth century.




Asian American Studies | Labor History | United States History


Hidetaka Hirota is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches US immigration history. He is the author of the award-winning book, Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy (Oxford University Press, 2017).

He is currently working on a book project titled The American Dilemma: Foreign Contract Labor and the Making of U.S. Immigration Policy. The book examines a fundamental dilemma in US history – the tension between nativism against foreigners and demand for their labor – based on a study of the federal government’s attempts and failure to restrict the immigration of contract workers from Asia, Mexico, Canada, and Europe in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.


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