Questions of Citizenship: Oregonian Reactions to Japanese Immigrants' Quest for Naturalization Rights in the United States, 1894-1952
Portland State University. Department of History
Kenneth J. Ruoff
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
Naturalization -- Press coverage -- Oregon -- 19th century, Naturalization -- Press coverage -- Oregon -- 20th century, Japanese Americans -- Oregon -- Social conditions, Japanese -- Emigration and immigration -- History, Nativism
1 online resource (vi, 108 pages)
This study examines the discrimination against Japanese immigrants in U.S. naturalization law up to 1952 and how it was covered in the Oregonian newspaper, one of the oldest and most widely read newspapers on the West Coast. The anti-Japanese movement was much larger in California, but this paper focuses on the attitudes in Oregon, which at times echoed sentiments in California but at other times conveyed support for Japanese naturalization. Naturalization laws at the turn of the century were vague, leaving the task of defining who was white, and thus eligible for naturalization, to the courts. Japanese applicants were often denied, but until the federal government clarified which immigrants could or could not become citizens, the subject remained open to debate. "Ineligibility to naturalization" was often used as a code for "Japanese" in discriminatory land use laws and similar legislation at the state level in California and in other western states. This study highlights several factors which influenced Oregonian editorials on the subject.
First, the fear of offending Japan and provoking war with that empire was a foremost concern of Oregonian editors. California's moves to use naturalization law to prevent Japanese immigrants from owning land were seen as dangerous because they damaged relations with Japan and could lead to war. The Oregonian went so far as to recommend Japanese naturalization during the First World War. However, war and foreign relations were federal issues, thus the second theme seen throughout Oregonian editorials was deference to federal authority on questions related to naturalization. While suggesting that naturalization for existing immigrants might be good policy, the Oregonian urged the federal government to settle the matter. Once the Supreme Court ruled against Asian naturalization in 1922 and 1923, the Oregonian dropped its push for such rights. Nativism was another theme that influenced opinions at this time, and before 1923 the Oregonian generally opposed extreme nativist positions, while at the same time advocating for limits to Japanese immigration and against mixed marriages.
This paper does not deal with the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II because naturalization was not the issue for the anti-exclusion movement at the time. Citizenship did not give the Nisei, second generation Japanese American citizens, any protection against their wartime removal from the West Coast.
This study returns to the issue of naturalization for Japanese immigrants after the war, as a number of Issei, first generation Japanese immigrants, still lived in the United States but were denied citizenship, even though most had been in the country for decades at that point. There was less opposition to Japanese naturalization after the war due to the noted loyalty of the Japanese during the war, the focus on human rights as an issue promoted by the new United Nations, and Cold War politics which demanded better relations with Japan and thus fairer treatment of Japanese living in the United States. The Oregonian editorials reflected the shift in public opinion throughout the country in favor of lifting the racial bar to citizenship. Japanese Americans in Oregon were active in the campaign to change U.S. naturalization law. The issue was more important to the Japanese American community than it was to the Oregonian editorial board by then, as other Cold War events took precedence on the front and op-ed pages of the newspaper.
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Jessie, Alison Leigh, "Questions of Citizenship: Oregonian Reactions to Japanese Immigrants' Quest for Naturalization Rights in the United States, 1894-1952" (2015). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2644.