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  • Race, Prejudice, Class Conflict, and Nationalism
  • Oliver Cromwell Cox

The United States has set the pattern of Oriental exclusion for such countries as Canada and Australia. On the Pacific Coast, and in California especially, a distinct and rather involved racial situation has developed; perhaps it may be thought of as the completion of a "race-relations cycle." Here, because of the rapid cultural advancement of these colored people, the natural history of race relations has been greatly expedited. Like all racial situations, we approach this one also from the point of view of the white man's initiative—he is the actor in chief; the Asiatics react to their best advantage. The Asiatics came into California because there was a great demand there for their labor; they came because the relatively high wages in California enticed them. But the "pull' was far more significant than the "push." No matter how great the lure of higher wages, they could by no means have "invaded" the Coast if the encouragement and inducement of certain hard-pressed white employers did not facilitate it. The great wave of Asiatic common labor began to move upon the Western Hemisphere after the decline of the Negro slave trade—after 1845 especially. The West Indies, the Pacific Coast of America, and even South and East Africa received their quotas. The Asiatics came not as slaves but mainly as coolies; and gradually, among others, California and other Pacific states had their Chinese and Japanese problem; Trinidad and South Africa, their East Indian problem; and Cuba, its Chinese problem.

These "Coolies" came mostly as contract laborers, some form of indentured-servant relationship; and "Wherever they were imported, they were used as substitutes for slave labor in plantation [End Page 169] areas." 1 The Japanese, however, came later and probably with somewhat more personal initiative. Carey McWilliams summarizes the process of their coming:

With the conclusion of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1876 between Hawaii and the United States—which opened the islands for American capital—the sugar interests of Hawaii began to clamor for Japanese labor. As early as 1868 these interests had "practically stolen" 147 Japanese for plantation labor in the islands. Most of these initial immigrants, however, were returned to Japan in response to a sharp note of protest. The execution of the Reciprocity Treaty was followed, in 1886, by the adoption of the Hawaiian-Japanese Labor Convention. It was this agreement that, for the first time, "officially opened the doors for the immigration of Japanese laborers to the outside world." Under the terms of the agreement approximately 180,000 Japanese were sent to Hawaii—the largest single body of workers that Japan sent to any land. 2

Following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese workers on the Pacific Coast became less available and employers began to look to the Japanese for the supply of their labor deficiency. As H. A. Millis observes with respect to the agricultural interest: "Many farmers faced the practical problem of finding substitutes for the disappearing Chinese, who had shaped their investments and methods." 3 A large fraction of the immigrants came by the way of Hawaii. Thus in 1910 the United States Immigration Commission reported:

With the strong demand for the common labor prevailing in the west, the Japanese contractors on the Coast, and especially those doing business in San Francisco and Seattle, induced many to come to the United States. Some of these contractors were for a time regularly represented by the agents sent to Honolulu; recourse was made to advertising in the Japanese papers published there, cheap rates were secured, and in some instances assistance was given in other ways to those desiring to reach the mainland. 4

The Chinese, the Japanese, and a much smaller number of East Indians, then, came to the Coast as workers—mainly as common laborers. 5 And this is probably the principle source of antagonism in this racial situation—a conflict between workers of different races. Before discussing this, however, it may be well to observe the numerical relationship among the races involved. The Asiatics were always a smaller minority in California then Negroes have been in the South. In 1920, at the...


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