Setting the Scene:
From colonial times until very recently, and to some degree even today, American culture has been wracked with racism. Americans have discriminated against Native Americans, Blacks, Mexicans, Irish, Scottish, Catholics, Chinese and Japanese to name a few. Until the 1970s, the United States in general has been openly and unapologetically racist. So begins our story.
During the 19th century there was a large influx of Chinese to America. The recognizable presence caused many white protestants to fear for their way of life. Many of these immigrants were sojourners who promptly returned home upon making their fortunes, however many remained in America as settlers. The Chinese settlers were necessary in the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which could not have been built without them. Upon the completion of the railroad about ten thousand Chinese workers were laid off. Due to the tradition of segregation, the Chinese workers who survived the building of the railroad were not allowed to ride it. Many of them settled in small pockets wherever their jobs ended, but a large number settled in San Francisco. Anti-Chinese movements arose demanding an end to Chinese immigration, and in 1882 the first discriminatory immigration act was passed. The Chinese exclusion act was then made permanent in 1892.
After Chinese immigration had been halted by act of congress, Japanese immigration began. The Japanese never constituted more than .02% of the American population or 2.1% of California's population, however the American "us-them" mentality magnified these figures and constructed a veritable "Japanese Invasion" for white protestants to get up in a rage about. There would not have been much trouble passing a Japans Exclusion act to compliment the one discriminating against Chinese, except that Japan was not a backwater country like China was at the time. Japan was a world power and, although it was certainly unconcerned with American immigration policy, it would not condone the mistreatment of Japanese on any level, lest it lose legitimacy.
With the government actively working to prevent discrimination, and thus prevent a future national conflict, anti-Japanese sentiment was going nowhere. Movements started, but nothing could be done about it. All three political parties of the day were anti-Japanese: Republican, Democrat, and Populist, but none wanted to start a conflict with Japan. The social climate was stagnating, conflict between official and real opinion was going nowhere. Then the conservative San Francisco Chronicle ran an article entitled "THE JAPANESE INVASION, THE PROBLEM OF THE HOUR." All hell broke loose.
A series of anti-Japanese articles and stories were soon printed and the California government initiated the Japanese Crusade as an effect of the pervasive anti-Japanese sentiment running rampant. The Japanese were accused of underachievement, immorality, intemperance, and flooding the American job market. Complaints that they did not buy land and were a drain on the economy would later be replaced with complaints that they did buy land and were taking over. Naturalization laws were put in place prohibiting anyone not born in the US and of a race other than white or black, which was protected by the constitution, from becoming a citizen. Segregated schools were established and a general repeat of the post civil-war climate was established.
These words are derivatives of Japanese numbers meaning, respectively, first, second, and third generation. The first generation Japanese, the Issei, came from a society still strongly under the influence of Confucianism and the resulting culture. Their culture stressed stoicism in the face of tribulation and the persistent drive toward success personally and for the community. The Issei did not complain about their situation. They took great pride in establishing themselves despite hardship, pushing themselves to be the best they could be, and putting their children in positions better than they could ever had attained. They took immense pride in having children graduate from college and undoubtedly many of them died happy regardless of all that had been done to them.
The Nisei, the second generation who attended college, inherited their parents will to succeed, but they also grow up in a western culture and valued success in the form of wealth as well. Although large numbers of Nisei graduated from college, their degrees were worthless in the face of racism. Many Nisei were trained as teachers, but not one Japanese teacher was hired until after WWII. The Nisei were Americans who grew up in American culture, but they had the face of the enemy. Simply, the Nisei could not achieve American ideals of success, which were the ones they had internalized, but they could not abandon the idea of success, because that was the most important thing their parents had taught them. The complaints against the Japanese by this time were that the differing Eastern culture was a scourge to Western culture and that unless the Japanese assimilated they could not coexist in America. The problem for the Nisei is that, even if they had wanted to, the Nisei could not assimilate, they were already immersed in, and had internalized, Unites States Culture. Some attempts to pacify the white population were made by the formation of Nisei Republican and Democratic societies, but it was to no effect. Within two years the majority of mainland Japanese in America would be incarcerated in concentration camps.