The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was the culmination of a history of racial discrimination against Asians begun in the mid-1800s, when the Chinese first immigrated to the U.S.Like the Chinese, the Japanese had been welcomed at first as a source of cheap labor, but shortly thereafter, became targets of anti-Asian campaigns, maligned as the “yellow peril.” They inherited much of the new prejudice directed previously against the Chinese, especially as the Japanese moved from itinerant farm laborers to become owners of farms and small businesses.
Discriminatory laws passed during the early l900s denied the Japanese the right to become citizens, to own land, and to marry outside of their race. In addition, they could not buy homes in certain areas and were barred from jobs in certain industries. Some could only send their children to segregated schools, and in 1924, immigration from Japan was halted altogether.
In fact, America as a whole in the 1930s was a place of little tolerance toward people of color. Institutional racism prevented many of them from living in places of their choice or moving about in society at will. Many unions prohibited them from membership. Employers routinely barred Asians and African Americans from choice jobs. Native Americans lived on reservations in poverty, ignored.