Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Erasing the Space Between Japanese and American: Progressivism, Nationalism, and Japanese American Resettlement in Portland, Oregon, 1945–1948
by Hegwood, Robert Alan, M.A., Portland State University, 2011, 165; 1499980
Abstract (Summary)

This study examines the return of Japanese Americans to Portland, Oregon, following their mass incarceration by the United States Federal government between1942 and 1945. This essay examines the motivations of both returning Japanese Americans and various groups within the white community with equal focus in the hopes of writing a history that provides agency to both groups. The return of Japanese Americans to Portland was an event with broader implications than a mere chapter in the history of Japanese Americans.

The rise of the Japanese Exclusion League and other groups interested in preventing the return of Japanese Americans to Oregon had their roots partly in the Oregon progressive coalition of the 1930s known as the Oregon Commonwealth Federation (OCF). Unified behind the cause of public ownership of electricity distribution, racially exclusive progressives such as Oregon Governor Walter M. Pierce and civil rights progressives such as American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Gus J. Solomon sought to protect Oregon's producer class of farmers and workers from exploitation by Portland business interests. After the dissolution of the OCF in 1940 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the two progressive factions took opposite sides on the issues of the rights of Japanese Americans.

In 1945, anti-Japanese organizers across the state, including Pierce, American Legion officials, and Portland politicians called for the permanent exclusion of Japanese Americans. The racist rhetoric of these organizers drew the ire of the Portland Council of Churches, civic leaders, and War Relocation Authority officials, who formed the Portland Citizens Committee to Aid Relocation, the main white group to help returners find housing and employment. Their arguments for tolerance depended heavily on the story of Japanese American military service during World War II.

Responding to the shape of debates within the white community, returning Japanese Americans community leaders, especially Toshi Kuge and George Azumano of the Portland Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL), used the rhetoric of military service to demonstrate their Americanness after World War II. The rhetoric of valorous military service provided the ideological center of both remerging Japanese American leadership organizations and connections between the Nikkei community and white civic leaders.

After the reestablishment of Japanese American community organizations in Portland, Issei leaders lead a successful fundraising campaign to support a legal challenge to overturn the Oregon Alien Land Law and fund the Portland JACL. Subsequently, between 1946 and 1948, the Portland JACL served as liaisons between the Japanese American community and the white Portlanders interested in overturning laws that challenged Issei social and economic rights. Despite their efforts, Japanese Americans in the early postwar period, along with other Portland minority groups,faced significant discrimination in housing options, employment, and even blood supply. Their experience demonstrates both the power and limitations of arguments for racial tolerance in the early postwar period.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ruoff, Kenneth J.
Commitee: Barber, Katrine, Jenks, Hillary, Johnson, David A.
School: Portland State University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Oregon
Source: MAI 50/02M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Japanese American citizens league, Japanese Americans, Oregon, Portland, Progressivism, Resettlement
Publication Number: 1499980
ISBN: 978-1-124-90454-2
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