Courtesy Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights
Unidentified immigrants, c. 1930s
Japanese immigration to California began in significant numbers in the mid-1880s, when the Japanese government first allowed emigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had created a shortage of cheap Asian labor, and employers encouraged Japanese immigration to fill the gap. Many more came after 1898 from Hawaii, when the U.S. annexation of Hawaii allowed them to travel without passports. Although the Japanese population in San Francisco was small relative to the Chinese, immigrants from Japan suffered from similar prejudice and racism.
Union leaders formed the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1905 to fight against Japanese immigration and for school segregation. Similar to the 1880s - and present times--native laborers resented immigrants' willingness to work for low wages and blamed them for lack of jobs and a failing economy. The San Francisco school board ceded to the demands of the League and ordered Japanese students to attend Commodore Stockton, the segregated school in Chinatown. The Japanese, however, were unwilling to have their children attend school with Chinese students and appealed to the Japanese embassy, which, in turn, appealed to President Theodore Roosevelt. The President, concerned about foreign relations with Japan, convinced the school board to rescind the order. In return, Roosevelt signed the "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Japan in 1908, which limited Japanese immigration to the United States.
from an immigrant history walking tour conducted Sept. 20, 1997