Authored by Laura A. Andrews
On Sunday, June 27, 1954 the Japanese American Citizens League in Washington D.C., held a banquet honoring newly naturalized Issei citizens. The event was held at the Sheraton Park hotel and commemorated the second anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality act of 1952. Better known as the McCarran-Walter act, the night featured speeches by its authors, Pat McCarran and Frances Walter.On the surface, this program may look like an ordinary event. However, in the context of its time, this banquet honoring these new American citizens was quite significant. The journey to this point, for those honored at this event was not an easy one, as the Japanese overcame many hardships to become American citizens.
For the Japanese, merely immigrating to the United States became impossible after World War I, when Congress through the Johnson Reed Act of 1924 banned Asians from immigrating to the United States (Reimers 1982). In addition to this, the Japanese that were already in the United States, commonly referred to as the Issei, were prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens as only Caucasian and people of African descent were permitted to become citizens (Naturalization Act 1870).
However, the worst treatment that the Japanese in America faced came seventy-five days after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Japanese in America were then considered enemy aliens and many were placed in camps in accordance with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 (Daniels 2002, 16). Although quite discriminatory and thought to be unconstitutional to other cultures and ethnic groups, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, allowed the Japanese, albeit in very small numbers, to once again immigrate to the United States. More importantly the act overturned the race requirement to become a citizen allowing the Issei to finally become naturalized citizens of the United States (Immigration and Naturalization Act 1952).
This program from the 1954 banquet is significant in many ways. It symbolizes America’s embracement of the Japanese Issei people. After many Japanese Americans were discriminated against and persecuted, this event was a turning point for the Japanese in America. This event could also be seen as a way to make up for the injustices that they suffered during the enemy alien act of World War II. In this way, I believe that the banquet and what it symbolizes embodies several Vincentian values, such as “the commitment to equality, justice, courteous regard for all people whose diversity is embraced, and responding to the needs of others (St. John’s University, n.d.).”
Reimers, David M. 1981. “Post-World War II Immigration to the United States: Americas Latest Newcomers.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 454, no. 1 (1981): 1-12. Accessed October 12, 2018. doi:10.1177/000271628145400102.
H.R. 2201, 41st Cong. (1870) (enacted). “Naturalization Act of 1870.”
Daniels, R. 2002. “Incarcerating Japanese Americans”. OAH Magazine of History 16, no. 3: 19-23. doi:10.1093/maghis/16.3.19.
H.R. Pub.L. 82–414, 66 Stat. 163, 82nd Cong., (1952) (enacted).”Immigration and Nationality Act.”
St. John’s University. n.d. “Our Mission.” Accessed October 23, 2018. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.