Wednesday, May 17, 2006

'Invasion': Repeating history

It's fascinating how quickly right-wing talking points become incorporated in the mainstream. Maybe it's because they're in our system, imbued by our history.

The most recent entails calling the current wave of immigration from Mexico an "invasion." I hear it a lot, especially hanging out with the Minuteman crowd. I'm even getting comments from ostensible "longtime Democrats" calling it that.

This charge, of course, originates with the white-supremacist American Patrol, which has been making this charge for years. I think its crossover into the mainstream, however, occurred back in 2001, when Phyllis Schlafly asked:
The question we should ask our Mexican immigrant friends is, are you assimilating or invading?

The charge picked up more steam with Michelle Malkin's book on immigration titled Invasion, which was picked up and trumpeted by the folks at VDare -- another SPLC-designated hate group. In recent months, though, Malkin has taken up the claim full-time, calling it "Reconquista."

The past year or so, you've also been hearing it in mainstream media, especially on Fox News, such as David Asman's outburst in March:
"Well, if he's actually encouraging an invasion of our borders, I mean, that's grounds for warfare! Are you suggesting we actually go to war with Mexico?! We haven't done that in about a hundred and fifty years."

And of course, the wingnuts at places like NewsMax are now going full-bore with it:
The United States is being invaded by Mexico, and President Bush is allowing it to happen. Mexico will one day take over the United States, through voting, if nothing is done to stop the invasion by Mexican illegals.

Over at Townhall, someone named "Seaspook" explains:
We have no leverage with an aggressive, belligerent, emerging superpower and we are being occupied by Mexico. These 12 million Mexicans are not immigrants, they are aliens. Most have no intention of becoming Americans, owe no allegiance to the US, and some in fact believe parts of the US belong to Mexico. This is exactly how Mexico lost Texas.

The funny thing about all this is how closely it parallels the xenophobic hysteria that was raised almost exactly a century ago, during the initial wave of Japanese immigration. It was called the "Yellow Peril."

Prejudice against Asian immigrants had a long history, particularly against the Chinese. During the successful drive to exclude them -- culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 -- popular prejudices of the nativist variety came into full play, such as a labor organizer's screed warning of "China's Menace to the World":
MEN FROM CHINA come here to do LAUNDRY WORK. The Chinese Empire contains 600,000,000 (six hundred millions) inhabitants.

The supply of these men is inexhaustible.

Every one doing this work takes BREAD from the mouths of OUR WOMEN.

So many have come of late, that to keep at work, they are obliged to cut prices.

And now, we appeal to the public, asking them will they be partners to a deal which is only one of their many onward marches in CRUSHING OUT THE INDUSTRIES OF OUR COUNTRY from our people by grasping them themselves. Will you oblige the AMERICAN LAUNDRIES to CUT THE WAGES OF THEIR PEOPLE by giving your patronage to the CHINAMEN?

... This is the one unvarying story everywhere. Let white men, in competition with Chinese, mark down wages and profits as they may, extend the hours of labor or re duce the food standard as they may, the Chinese, without seeming effort or privation, can at once get below them and work them out.

It took on a special life, however, when Japanese began emigrating in the mid-1890s, and especially after Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, an event that shocked the reigning white-supremacist worldview. Suddenly Japanese immigration was not just racially distasteful, but a perceived threat.

An article at Densho explains it clearly:
In the West, Japan's victory over Russia sparked fears of Asian world domination. Shortly after the Russo-Japanese War, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst adopted "yellow peril" notions and widely disseminated them through his newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner. In 1907, a two-part Sunday supplement entitled "Japan May Seize the Pacific Coast" noted that, "the Yellow Peril is here." Notions of the "yellow peril," however, were not confined to the pages of newspapers. Popular literature, too, contained similar motifs. Homer Lea's Valor of Ignorance, for example, published in 1909, prophesied a great war between the United States and Japan. These themes continued to be explored throughout the entire period leading up to Pearl Harbor.

As I explain in Strawberry Days, the "Yellow Peril" was essentially
a conspiracy theory which posited that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and that he was sending these immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action, and lay the groundwork for acts of sabotage and espionage when the signal was given. As ... James Phelan put it in 1907, the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates."

Phelan -- who served a single term in the U.S. Senate and was the mayor of San Francisco -- was probably the single most prominent figure in California on the issue of Japanese immigration.

In 1906, Phelan said:
"They now occupy valleys in California by lease or purchase of land to the exclusion of not only whites but Chinese, and if this silent invasion is permitted by the federal government, they would at the rate at which they are coming, a thousand a month, soon convert the fairest state in the union into a Japanese colony. If they were naturalized they would outvote us.

"But California is white man's country, and the two races cannot live side by side in peace, and inasmuch as we discovered the country first and occupied it, we propose to hold it against either a peaceful or a warlike invasion."

Phelan was of course part of a much larger movement, embodied in such groups as the Asiatic Exclusion League, which in its May 1905 newsletter, pronounced the following:
"As long as California is white man's country, it will remain one of the grandest and best states in the union, but the moment the Golden State is subjected to an unlimited Asiatic coolie invasion there will be no more California."

This political agitation was further spurred by a Bay Area newspaper war between the Hearst-owned Examiner and the Chronicle, the latter of which began running headlines like the following:

Eventually, this agitation led to the passage of Alien Land Laws forbidding "aliens ineligible for citizenship" (Asians were precluded from naturalization then) that outlawed ownership of land for Japanese farmers.

The same wave of immigrant-bashing reached high water in Washington in 1919-21, when the presence of Japanese farmers was blamed for the inability of returning veterans to obtain work. This was kicked off by a campaign by a fellow named Miller Freeman, president of the Anti-Japanese League of Washington and a wealthy publisher, who had been agitating about a possible Japanese invasion of the Pacific Coast since 1907. Freeman was chair of the state Veterans Commission in 1919.

As I describe in Strawberry Days:
Beneath the lead-in was a small portrait of Miller Freeman, with a caption: "Sees Menace in Japanese Here." The first paragraph laid out Freeman's case:

That by getting control of 47 per cent of Seattle’s hotels, and by leasing land when forbidden to own it, Japanese violate the spirit of the "gentleman's agreement" between the United States and Japan, was the charge made Friday by Miller Freeman, secretary of the veterans' welfare commission.

The story went on to detail how the Japanese "controlled" 218 of the hotels in Seattle (it would later turn out that "control" included mere managerial status, not necessarily ownership), and worse yet, were taking over all the state's prime farmland: "Practically all the best farming lands in the vicinity of Seattle are in the hands of the Japanese -- a condition true of nearly all of the farming land adjacent to all the cities of the Pacific Coast.

"The law forbade foreigners to own land, and the spirit of the law is to prevent them from realizing the profits of our agricultural acreage. Yet these Japanese come here, lease the land, cultivate it, and take the cream. And the spirit of the law and the 'gentleman's agreement' is violated."

As a result of this travesty, Freeman claimed, World War I veterans returning home from Europe were being shut out of the labor market: "By gaining control of business, the Japanese is crowding our returning veterans out of a chance to get a new start." And if the trend continued, he warned, the result would be inevitable: "In the face of the flow of Japanese to the Pacific Coast, white people are ceasing to move here from the East. Eventually the whites will be forced to go elsewhere to make a living. ... Thus, the Japanese will eventually hold the balance of power in politics on the Pacific Coast. They will vote solid, and will control political affairs. Japan retains control of her people everywhere, notwithstanding that they may be accepted as citizens by the countries of their adoption."

Of course, very little of Freeman's tirade was true, but that last assertion was flagrantly deceptive; thanks to the 1790 Immigration Act restricting citizenship to
"free white persons," naturalization was not an option available to the Japanese. The only means by which a person of Japanese ancestry could obtain citizenship was by being born on American soil; but then, as Freeman would make clear on numerous other occasions, even those American-born Japanese were not racial equals and could never mix with white society. They were Japanese through and through, and thus their citizenship was of dubious nature at best.

Despite his later contentions that he had no prejudice against the Japanese, this racial separatism was a cornerstone of Freeman’s argument as he presented it in the pages of the Star. He voiced it largely by sprinkling his writing and speeches (including his remarks to the Star) with popular aphorisms: "The Japanese cannot be assimilated. Once a Japanese, always a Japanese. Our mixed marriages—failures all—prove this. 'East is East, and West is West, and ne'er the twain shall meet.' Oil and water do not mix."

And his conclusion became a political benchmark: "It is my personal view, as a citizen, that the time has arrived for plain speech on this question. I am for a white man's Pacific coast. I am for the Japanese on their own side of the fence. I not only favor stopping all further immigration, but believe this government should approach Japan with the view to working out a gradual system of deportation of old Japanese now here."

... [T]he notion of a statewide prohibition [against Japanese land ownership] appealed immensely to Freeman, who founded the Anti-Japanese League of Washington in 1916 and began campaigning for an alien land law in the state. His early attempts at pushing the legislation met with little success, but in 1919, the plight of returning veterans gave him the opening he sought.

Freeman was appointed by Governor Louis F. Hart in early 1919 to the state’s Veteran Welfare Commission, which was charged with reemploying returning veterans of the Great War. Though some economists noted at the time that the problem was a complex (but probably short-lived) one caused by slow-acting market forces, for Freeman it became abundantly clear that there was a singular cause: the Japanese, once again.

His opening salvo was a July speech before a group of 170 grocery, laundry and retail store owners that he titled, "This is a White Man's Country." In it, Freeman decried the steady stream of picture brides into the region since 1907, declaring that Japanese mothers bore five times as many children as white women. If the trend were not forestalled, he warned, the entire Pacific Coast would soon be overrun completely with Japanese. And, he said, they now owned and controlled large amounts of property in the state.

Freeman had plenty of support, including the staffs of the local papers:

One editorial in the Star read:
Miller Freeman's proposal in The Star of Saturday to deport the Japanese from the Pacific Coast and to put up the bars against future immigration from Japan has aroused a storm and it has brought Seattle up-standing—face to face with a problem that cannot be settled secretly and cannot be put off much longer.

The Japs are here. They are rapidly gaining control of the best farming land near Seattle. They are in control of the Seattle markets.

... Multiplying five times as rapidly as the whites, the Japs must some day—unless the problem is met now—absolutely control this coast. Just as Hawaii and the Sacramento Valley have been Japanized, so will the state of Washington.

Another, headlined "Japanized!", described all the vast holdings in the Seattle area of the Japanese.

There were also national bestsellers that supported these sentiments, such as Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race, published in 1916:
We Americans must realize that the altruistic ideals which have controlled our social development during the past century, and the maudlin sentimentalism that has made America 'an asylum for the oppressed,' are sweeping the nation toward a racial abyss. If the Melting Pot is allowed to boil without control, and we continue to follow our national motto and deliberately blind ourselves to all 'distinctions of race, creed, or color,' the type of native American of Colonial descent will become as extinct as the Athenian of the age of Pericles, and the Viking of the days of Rollo.

Or Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, which concluded:
"Finally perish!" That is the exact alternative which confronts the white race. For white civilization is to-day conterminous with the white race. The civilizations of the past were local. They were confined to a particular people or group of peoples. If they failed, there were always some unspoiled, well-endowed barbarians to step forward and "carry on." But today there are no more white barbarians. The earth has grown small, and men are everywhere in close touch. If white civilization goes down, the white race is irretrievably ruined. It will be swamped by the triumphant colored races, who will obliterate the white man by elimination or absorption. What has taken place in Central Asia, once a white and now a brown or yellow land, will take place in Australasia, Europe, and America. Not to-day, nor yet to-morrow; perhaps not for generations; but surely in the end. If the present drift be not changed, we whites are all ultimately doomed. Unless we set our house in order, the doom will sooner or later overtake us all.

If it all sounds too familiar, it should. Just turn on your TV.

This may be why these memes are so successful: We're hard-wired for it by sheer virtue of our history.

A history, it seems, we're doomed to repeat, because we keep forgetting it, all too conveniently.

[For more on the Yellow Peril, see here.]

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