« AnteriorContinuar »
The Americans of to-day are wont to speak slightingly of the “ Forty-niners" and those who followed their footsteps in search of gold. Yet from those sturdy, if somewhat unruly, pioneers the Californians of to-day have inherited their undaunted courage and their enterprising spirit. The hardships and privations which the pioneers endured in crossing the continent, through deserts and over mountains infested with highwaymen and savage Indians, were in themselves a sure test of superior mental and physical qualities. The descendants of such indomitable souls cannot help being self-reliant, plucky, and progressive.
Herein lies the explanation for the peculiar attitude which the Californians assume towards the Orientals; yes, towards all outsiders. The native son of California regards himself, and not without reason, as the chosen son of God, a superior being to whom all foreigners, whether Asiatic or European, should pay homage. To speak of this attitude as foolish or boorish is unreasonable, for did not even our great Carlyle, that beacon light of English literature and philosophy, cherish intense, almost bitter, prejudice against the Irish? What nation, what race has not in one stage or another of its history glorified itself with the halo of superiority ?
California's assumption of superiority is not in itself a bad trait, rather is it a wholesome confidence in her ability. The only danger lies in the fact that such confidence is liable to be carried to extremes, especially by the ignorant and vulgar. It is such extravagant selfconfidence which we call provincialism. Except such blind self-respect, California's contempt of Orientals is not unjustifiable. Meanwhile, let us record a few cases in which this provincialism manifested itself in a manner which all judicious-minded Californians deeply deplore.
A Japanese Consul-General at San Francisco rented a house for his residence in what the newspapers called a fashionable district of that city. The official was one of the ablest and most cultured of the younger diplomats of Japan. Yet his prospective American neighbours objected to his moving into the house he rented, and it was only after a protracted parley that he was at last allowed to occupy it.
The Yokohama Specie Bank of Japan, one of the largest banking establishments in the world, and Mitsui & Co., the largest Japanese firm engaged in international trade, maintain a branch office at San Francisco, and have been a potent factor in the development of the trade which passes through the Golden Gate. The treatment accorded the representatives of these firms in San Francisco is anything but pleasant. When the manager of the San Francisco office of the Mitsui firm rented a house in Berkeley, his neighbours looked suspiciously at him. If they had only declined to associate with him he would not have fared very badly. But their methods of snubbing assumed a more aggressive aspect. They organized themselves into a sort of "holy alliance," and issued an injunction forbidding the fuel dealers and provision merchants of the city to accept the patronage of the heathen Oriental. At first the merchants took the mandate rather lightly, but when the belligerent neighbours of the unfortunate Japanese threatened them with a boycott, they were forced to heed it.
The Japanese, a man of cosmopolitan culture who had travelled extensively in Asia and Europe, was not worried—he took the situation in good humour like a philosopher. And why not? His landlord knew him and liked him, and told him to stay, no matter what his neighbours might do. Then the belligerent folk resorted
to novel strategy and enjoined their children not to associate with the little daughter of the man who rented his house to the Japanese. Still the landlord laughed and remained steadfast, though he had to send the daughter away from home. “ These people,” he declared resolutely, “need education and a great deal of it." Meanwhile, the Japanese, unable to buy necessaries of life of the intimidated home merchants, sent to Oakland and San Francisco for his supplies. He furnished the house adequately, hired an American girl as servant, and lived as respectably as anybody in the vicinity. Weeks passed by, and weeks grew into months, with his neighbours slowly awakening to the folly of the whole performance. They could see no reason why they should be so finical with their new neighbour from the Orient, and they began to exchange with him such social felicitations as are usually exchanged among neighbours, first from sheer curiosity, then with a desire to make acquaintance with him.
Another tragi-comedy was also staged in Berkeley. George Shima, the Potato King, procured a residence in an exclusive section of the college town. He had made a fortune as potato grower. His ranches are deltas on the lower reaches of the great San Joaquin River, and cover an area of more than ten thousand acres, partly leased and partly owned by himself. It is bonanza farming, and Shima was called the “ Potato King." Yet when he moved into his new home at Berkeley, the “society” of the college town began to talk, heaping upon him all sorts of insinuations and invectives. The newspaper reporters of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland quickly lined up with the frivolous society gossipers, and conspired to pull down the man whom they had voluntarily placed upon a royal dais.
" Jap In
vades Fashionable Quarters," " Jap Puts on Airs,” “ Yellow Peril in College Town”-such were a few of the hundred and one flings and epithets which the newspapers hurled upon Shima.
But Shima was a philosopher and a strategist. He lived in his new home in respectable fashion, employing a retinue of servants and embellishing the rooms with elegant furniture. He purchased the adjoining lot and converted it into a garden adorned with rare shrubs and flowers imported from Europe and Asia. Then his "exclusive" neighbours rubbed their eyes and began to wonder what sort of a “ Jap” had come to live in their midst. And when Mr. Shima donated $500 to the Y. M. C. A. of the University of California, the townsmen had to recognize that even a Japanese could be as public-spirited as they. That settled it. Shima was no longer a social outcast, and to-day the crown of the Potato King rests upon his head as securely as
It is indeed regrettable that we have come to attach too much importance to the worldly possessions of a man in determining his worth as a man. Mr. Shima is a gentleman before he is a potato king. He is possessed of the highest sense of honour; his character is impeccable. Neither is he an uncultured boor, for he is well versed in the Chinese classics, and can compose a poem or two even in the thick of business. All these qualities passed unnoticed, and not until he demonstrated his wealth in things that could be spoken of in terms of dollars and cents did the people take him seriously.
The inability of the Japanese to secure desirable dwelling places is pregnant with significance, for it must inevitably result in the virtual segregation of the Japanese from the American community. The Japanese are accused of congregating in their own quarters in our cities, but how can they avoid the course when we ourselves set up a barrier of prejudice which they are not yet able to scale or destroy? There are of course classes of Japanese who are foreign to the amenities of refined society, and no one insists that such Japanese should be permitted to reside in “exclusive" quarters. Neither would they care to live in such quarters, even if they could. At the same time, there are Japanese who deserve and are anxious to be admitted into respectable quarters. Such men will prove themselves, if only allowed an opportunity to prove, as desirable as anybody not only as tenants but as members of the community in which they live.
It is indeed sad to think that even in such college towns as Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Los Angeles the Japanese students find it well-nigh impossible to board or room with American families. What a contrast is here presented with the kindness and cordiality with which the Japanese students are received in the college towns of the East! In the East any family welcomes Japanese young men as roomers or boarders, because they are more quiet, more orderly, more cleanly in habit, and less critical than their American schoolmates. Thus coming in close contact with American life, the Japanese students in the East enjoy opportunity to adopt and absorb American ideas.
In Los Angeles, the Japanese Students' Club, consisting mostly of students of the University of California, desired to purchase a lot on which to build its clubhouse, but it had to drop the plan entirely, as the prejudice of the citizens made it impossible for it to secure a desirable site. Is it any wonder that the Japanese students in California, in spite of all the splendid