Downtown Brown Books has issued a new catalogue focused on Asian Americana. The contributions of Asian Americans have been enormous through America's history, though not always recognized or appreciated. Today, Asians play an outsized role at the highest level of business and education, though this was not always so. Many first came to America to fill labor-intensive roles that others did not want, while enduring all sorts of discriminatory laws and rules in the process. If slavery and Jim Crow are inevitably a major part of African-American history, exclusionary rules and internment camps are too large a part of Asian-American history. Much of the material found in this catalogue pertains to such issues since these are older items from less tolerant times. Still, conditions remain imperfect, and attacks on Asians for the “China virus” have been too common of late. There are reminders in this catalogue of why we should move forward, never back. These are a few selections.
This first selection is an account of the Japanese American community north of Santa Barbara, California, from 1936. Written by Hisagoro Saka, it provides a history of the Japanese in the Santa Maria Valley, community activities and organizations, the exclusion movement, and a general description of the valley. It includes prefaces by two Issei (first generation) immigrants, Yaemon Minami and Setsuo Aratani, both affluent farmers and shippers. Both presented their own success stories as a model for others seeking prosperity. The book features three yard-long foldouts of agricultural scenes. Item 44. Priced at $2,000.
Those writing about Japanese American life in California in 1936 couldn't have imagined what was in store just a few short years away. Item 22 consists of the Heart Mountain Sentinel (40 issues) and Hato Maunten Senchineru (22 issues), the latter being a Japanese language version of the former. Heart Mountain was a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, where Japanese Americans from California were imprisoned during the war, their being deemed a threat despite a lack of evidence. They were kept in fenced-in pens in various rural and often hostile locations through most of the war. And yet despite the harsh conditions, despite the lack of crimes or disloyalty ever shown, through it all, these communities mostly managed to maintain an upbeat attitude while protesting their treatment. Dates range from July 29, 1944 – July 14, 1945. It includes the X-Day issue, December 23, 1944, when it was announced the internment would end. Publishing continued well into 1945, as while those who joined (or were drafted) into the military and those with places to go on the east coast left sooner, others stayed. They had no place to go, their homes in California seized and no connections anywhere. The newspapers tell about activities in the camps, their sports teams, prejudices experienced outside the camp, news about former internees serving in the army in Europe, and news about civil rights lawsuits. $8,500.
Next up is a program for the Rickshaw Jamboree. I'm not sure they would use that name today, but this was from 1947 and the location was the Portland (Oregon) Civic Auditorium. It was described as a “theatrical extravaganza” and based on the advertising it drew support from local Chinese American businesses. The sponsor was the Victor Ying Lee chapter of the American Legion. Lee was a Chinese American serviceman in an anti-tank unit killed in France in 1944. He died only three days after his sister, Hazel Ying Lee, a pilot serving in the WASPS, died in a runway accident in Montana while ferrying planes for the military (women were not allowed to fly combat missions). She was the first Chinese American woman to fly for the military. Item 9. $150.
Item 20 is the New York Japanese American Directory for 1948-1949. It contains a Who's Who of Japanese Americans, text about the resettlement and post-war activities of American Japanese, information on community organizations, a tourist guide to New York, photos of Japanese American politicians, community leaders and artists, and a hundred pages of advertisements for Japanese American businesses. The yearbook also contains pictures of Japanese American soldiers on leave, one of which is seen on the cover of this catalogue. Sadly, ethnically Japanese Americans felt a need to regularly display their patriotism, understandable considering how they were treated during the war. $1,500.
Japanese journalist Motosaku Tsuchiya visited America in 1922 and wrote about his experiences in this 1924 Japanese language book after returning to Japan. Two things concerned him deeply, America's recurring and seemingly never-ending problem of white supremacy, and the effects of Prohibition on the country. He feared these issues would have a bad effect on international relations. The book contains a photo of a KKK cross-burning at the front of the book. The 1920s were a high point for the Klan, but they still won't go away. He was also concerned about the corruption that arose from Prohibition. The liquor trade was an illegal, corrupt one, and he observed that Americans led double lives – sober in public, drunk in private. Item 53. $500.