United States control on citizens' freedoms by Niall Conway
Since the birth of the United States, the acquisition of citizenship has been riddled with racially-motivated exclusionary policies targeting non-white groups as less fit. Despite Thomas Jefferson's statement "that all men are created equal," it would take more than 200 years for some to receive that recognition. Not long after the ink on the Constitution had dried, the U.S. passed the Naturalization Act of 1790, for instance, which prevented immigrants who were not free, white men, from petitioning for citizenship. Under the 1870 Naturalization Act, Asian immigrants were barred from naturalizing, even if their American-born children (the Nisei) were granted citizenship by birthright. After the start of World War II, Japanese Americans were viewed by the U.S. government as threats to the nation's security, and approximately 120,000 immigrants and citizens were forced into internment camps. It was only after Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (the McCarran-Walter Act) that Japanese and other Asian immigrants became eligible to naturalize.
These photographs tell the story of disenfranchised Nisei and Issei (Japanese immigrants) whose generational journey to United States citizenship and inalienable rights came at a price. They also tell the story of the Seabrook Farms community, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and American Legion Post 95 coming together to empower Japanese immigrants, and convincing them to become US citizens. These organizations lobbied and assisted Japanese immigrants at Seabrook to enroll in classes in order to pass the US naturalization test.
Mume Minakata, who worked for Seabrook Farms, is seen in all three photographs presented here. Minakata received the title of Gold Star Mother because her son died while serving in the U.S. 442nd Combat Regiment. This was a regiment primarily comprised of Japanese Americans, who volunteered and then fought in Europe. It became the most decorated unit of its size in US military history. At the ceremony for the returned regiment, President Truman addressed the Japanese Americans soldiers:
"You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice-and you have won. Keep up that fight and we will continue to win to make this great Republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all the time."
Along with Minakata, two other Gold Star Mothers, Misae Fujiki and Riyo Mukai, also appear in the other two photographs. The second image shows the final step in becoming a US citizen: swearing an oath to uphold the Constitution, which in this case took place at the Seabrook Farms Community House. This moment shows how the U.S. projected its national identity and ideals to the world, and its message that freedom comes with allegiance. These rights are given by the US and it ultimately has the power to revoke them. Freedom is a civil not a human right.
In the last image, the Gold Star Mothers, Minakata, Fujiki, and M,ai, are being congratulated by the JACL on their US citizenship. This was a proud yet surreal moment for these mothers who had been forced into internment camps because of the war and had ultimately lost their sons in combat. It was a brief celebration for these women since they will still face prejudice and would have to continue to prove their citizenship for years to come. Many people would never realize the sacrifice these American citizens endured for the freedoms of the U.S., because of the soldiers' ethnic background as Japanese.