Why It Shouldn’t Have Been a Surprise: The Story of Japanese Immigration and Anti-Japanese Prejudice Before World War II

Student Author(s)

Dorothy Mitchell

Faculty Mentor(s)

Professor Andy Nakajima

Document Type


Event Date



Rather than highlight the plight of the Japanese-American community during WWII as many scholars have done before, I will explain, using a variety of period and contemporary books, newspaper articles, and encyclopedia sources, how prejudice against the community began and led to the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps. In the beginning, Japanese in America experienced spillover prejudice from the Chinese who came during the Gold Rush. However, once the Chinese were no longer able to immigrate into the United States, anti-Japanese sentiment became a movement of its own due to the same white fear of losing their jobs to immigrants. Japan’s government anticipated this problem by protecting and controlling the immigrant communities to minimize negative attention. Though the first generation of Japanese immigrants, the Issei, were guided towards surprising success in establishing themselves in the United States, the middle-class dreams of their children, the Nisei and the Kibei, were frustrated. This history touches on significant events of national interest as well as abstract topics such as the politics of race and citizenship in the Supreme Court, challenges to the doctrine of "separate but equal" concerning racial segregation, the teaching of nationalism, and hidden institutionalized racism.


This project was supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts & Humanities at Hope College.

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