Chinese-American recalls prejudice during WWII era
Editor-in-Chief Alexander Rurik, ‘19, chose to interview Thelma Haw, a Chinese-American lady who experienced resentment against minorities following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This is the third of three articles showcasing the stories of those affected as a result of the Japanese attack. Read Rurik’s first two articles: Japanese-American internment survivor recalls life during WWII and Yamaguchi reflects on time spent in Japanese relocation camps.
Although World War II began in 1939, the United States of America did not officially join until 1941 after the Japanese bombed the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In turn, many on the mainland began targeting Japanese-Americans, immigrants and other minority groups with prejudice and hostility.
Prejudice against loyal Japanese-Americans and immigrants was heightened substantially after this. Many were unfairly beaten, thrown in jail, had property or houses damaged and some businesses refused to serve them.
I’m Chinese, but people can’t tell us apart so we were discriminated against as well. We were so afraid because people can’t tell us apart. They were beating up the Japanese kids here in Fresno because of the war. They were blaming them for everything and we didn’t want to be beaten up so we had to start wearing pins that said, ‘I’m Chinese-American.’ — Thelma Haw
These events highlighted the prejudice against the Japanese. Unfortunately, other minority groups received similar treatment. Thelma Haw experienced this during and after WWII.
“I’m Chinese, but people can’t tell us apart so we were discriminated against as well,” Haw said. “We were so afraid because people can’t tell us apart. They were beating up the Japanese kids here in Fresno because of the war. They were blaming them for everything and we didn’t want to be beaten up.
“It only occurred at the beginning of the war until the Japanese were taken away,” Haw continued. “So from the time the war started to when they were taken away, it was a problem. They were beating them up and destroying Japanese property. They felt the Japanese were responsible for the bombing and the killing of Americans even though most of them were born here in America.”
Haw explained they needed to wear pins that read “I’m Chinese-American.” With similar features, they did not want to be mistaken as Japanese.
“I think one of the reasons people didn’t realize there was so much prejudice against the Asians is that we were called the ‘model minorities’ because we were very quiet,” Haw said. “We didn’t make a lot of trouble and we didn’t riot. We didn’t go killing people and things like that so it wasn’t noticeable that there was all this prejudice, but it existed.”
A model minority is described as a demographic group whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success, measured by income, education, low criminality and family stability.
Racial prejudice against Asians began before WWII when Chinese immigrants came to the US to work in the mid-19th century, affecting economic competition. However, the prejudice against Japanese became heightened again after Pearl Harbor, especially in California.
Haw elaborates on her feelings towards the anti-Japanese sentiment during WWII.
“When I found out all my Japanese friends were going to camp I was thinking, ‘America is at war with the Germans and the Italians too,’” Haw said. “‘Why aren’t they putting them in the camps? Why are they picking on the Japanese?’ But it was because they could see who the Japanese were, and it’s hard to tell who is German and Italian.”
However, the issues at hand have not completely died out. As a nation, we battle the history and continuation of it. Racial issues can not be solved if people lack understanding of them. Hearing experiences such as Tokubo’s, Yamaguchi’s and Haw’s experiences and understanding them can help us learn to not make the same mistakes.
Haw worked as a teacher, certified financial planner and jewelry designer. She currently resides in Fresno, CA. Editor-in-Chief Rurik interviews Thelma Haw in November in the video below. Senior Jaden Ventura filmed and edited the video.
Read Rurik’s two related articles, Japanese-American internment survivor recalls life during WWII and Yamaguchi reflects on time spent in Japanese relocation camps. For more articles, check out Home ec. students learn how to avoid, deal with conflict.@thefeather, Instagram @thefeatheronline and Facebook @thefeatheronline.
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