| Almost a hundred years ago (1907), my father came to the United States from Japan. Five years later, the woman (my mother) who later married him also came from Japan, in fact from the same prefecture. They both emigrated to the U.S. because of the promise offered by the far-off land. My father had an additional reason. He was not particularly impressed by the militaristic atmosphere in Japan. His older brothers fulfilled familial obligations for males to enter the Army and Navy, so he was relieved of these military responsibilities. He was free to emigrate. So he did -- to San Francisco.
Work was not easy to find, so my father moved east to Colorado where he was able to find work. Having graduated from high school in Japan, he had a working knowledge of the English language. That was a definite plus insofar as employment went. Like many other Asians, he found a job with the railroads.
Transcontinental rails had been established, but there was much work to be done maintaining tracks, building spurs, repairing rail beds, etc. Being able to speak both Japanese and English, my father was able to avoid excessively laborious jobs like hauling and laying rails, being a gandy-dancer, working with railroad ties and breaking boulders basic to laying the foundation for the steel rails, and the like. He wasn't a foreman or straw boss or in any position of authority, but his work was much easier than the usual.
After awhile, he decided to go to Denver where he found a bowling alley job setting pins by hand (something I also did for a time in Chicago in about 1943). Then, after saving a bit of money, he decided to go to Los Angeles where he had a few friends. Eventually, he bought a small upstairs hotel in downtown L.A. and married.
Most of the tenants were single men although there were a few older women who were either widowed or divorced. Both of my parents worked hard at running the hotel. The work was especially difficult because the hotel was above a busy and noisy tavern. (Almost every night, someone would loudly sing off key "It';s a Sin to Tell a Lie." ) Having three children in such an environment gnawed at my parents who decided the family had to move where the children would besafer and in better surroundings. So, about 1930, my parents sold their hotel and bought a small grocery store in the near western part of L.A.
Pre-depression days and the Great Depression meant hard times for everyone, but my parents coped the best they could. We children were only partially aware of the devastating effect on people everywhere in the U.S. and elsewhere. Our parents were always concerned that their three children would have easier times than they had. Their hopes were in their children. They wanted their children to be Americans. They knew the future held more opportunities, and they knew that education was not only desirable but also absolutely necessary.
To further their hopes for their children's future, our parents spoke both Japanese and English at home. Their accent was off, but they did their best in speaking American English, including some slang. So, when we children went to school, we were bilingual. Unfortunately, through the years I lost the "bi" part and am only fluent in English. So, too, my older brother and younger sister. However, I was always grateful that my parents extended themselves to see that their children had the best opportunity to become Americans.
Being Japanese, both parents could not become U.S. citizens. By law at that time, persons of Asian ancestry could not become naturalized citizens. Their children, of course, were U.S. citizens because they were born in the U.S. They, however, were not permitted to apply for citizenship although they were permitted to be Legal Permanent Residents.
In 1952, the law was changed. Aliens of Japanese ancestry were permitted to apply for U.S. citizenship. What great news for my parents! By that time, they had been evacuated (uprooted) from their home in Los Angeles and sent to a Relocation Center, along with about 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry (two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens) who went to 10 different centers in seven states, from California to Arkansas, and settled for about five or six years in Chicago. They immediately filed appropriate forms to apply for naturalization, attended special citizenship classes, did their homework, passed their examination before a federal judge, swore allegiance to the U.S., and received their reward -- U.S. citizenship. How proud they were to be able to vote in the Presidential Election. They told me they voted for Dwight Eisenhower. I voted for Adlai E. Stevenson. But we were all very happy. All five of us were U.S. citizens!
|Immigration and Citizenship:
A Japanese example
By Paul H. Kusuda