Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part Five

Part of a series exploring the prejudice each new immigrant group encountered when they arrived in this country.
Chinese and Japanese

Immigrants from Asia fared somewhat better in Waterbury during the late 1800s and early 1900s than did immigrants from Europe, most likely because they came here in small numbers, drawing less attention to themselves. In 1901, the Hartford Courant mentioned in passing that the only Chinese woman in Connecticut lived in Waterbury, running a store with her husband. The paper did not bother to print their names.

Hartford Courant, 2 Aug 1901

Chinese immigrants were associated with opium and gambling dens. A notorious den at 59 East Main Street was written up by the Bridgeport Sunday Herald in 1897. A Chinese laundry was operated on the ground floor, and the "nightclub" (to put in modern terms) allegedly operated in the basement. The Herald's salacious story appears to have been fed to them by a saloon owner, Robert McGrath, who purchased the property and was trying to evict his Chinese tenants.

Sunday Herald, 24 Jan 1897

Although less likely to face persecution in Connecticut, the Chinese still faced discrimination. They were referred to as "the heathen Chinee" -- just as the Irish were put down for being Catholic, the Chinese were put down for not being Christian at all. They were closely associated with laundries, as many Chinese immigrants were able to build lives for themselves by starting up their own laundry businesses.

A backlash against Chinese laundries in Waterbury erupted in 1902. The Bridgeport Herald ran a feature article with the headline "The Chinese Must Go" followed in small print by "At least, that is what the union men of Waterbury say" (Bridgeport Herald, 11 May 1902). The Laundry Workers' Union was being formed in Waterbury to oppose the proliferation of Chinese laundries. Any member of any union caught using a banned Chinese laundry would be penalized.

Bridgeport Herald, 11 May 1902

The Herald defended the Chinese, noting that they "have never been an offensive class of citizens" and that "Waterbury has more than one other class of citizens which causes her more trouble in a year than has ever been caused by the Chinese." The Herald's defense of the Chinese immigrants was followed by a mention of a Chinese "gambling joint" on Phoenix Avenue where "Chinamen" from all over the city enjoyed a "quiet Sunday game and which produced a regiment of devotees of fan tan and a great variety of gambling paraphernalia and other curiosities which remain in the police headquarters to this day." The Herald also alluded to rumors of Waterbury police arresting Chinese immigrants for failing to tuck in their shirts.

Bridgeport Herald, 11 May 1902

The union feud with the Chinese laundries continued for years. In 1909, an unnamed member of the union was quoted as saying "It seems lamentable that Americans or native born residents should continue to patronize Chinese laundries in Waterbury simply because of their convenience of location.... these products of the yellow race leave no money in the communities in which they live.... I recall one Chinese laundry which started on Willow Street barely a year ago. Now it has hundreds of patrons and all this trade is being taken away from the American laundries of the city." 

Bridgeport Herald, 22 Aug 1909

Japanese immigrants were sometimes lumped together with the Chinese by Americans who were unable to understand the difference between the two. Mayayoshi "Andy" Yamashiro, a baseball player of Japanese descent from Hawaii, was renamed "Chink Yim" and Andy Yim. He was regularly referred to in the papers as being Chinese. Yamashiro played in the Eastern League, joining the Bridgeport Americans team in 1918. Also joining that year was William "Buck" Tin Lai, also from Hawaii and also referred to as Chinese.  The Bridgeport Americans regularly played against Waterbury. In 1922, Lai was also playing basketball, and was sought after by management to play for Waterbury (Hartford Courant, 5 Jan 1922).

During World War II, Bunsuke "William" Mori, a Japanese immigrant who came to Waterbury during the 1930s, was the manager of the K&J Three Decker Restaurant at 88 East Main Street. The 1940 census lists three other Japanese immigrants lodging with him and working in the restaurant--Tomoji Mori, Hayashi Hidetaka, and Takani Uchida. A fourth lodger, Roy Abe, was born in Oregon to Japanese immigrants.

At the end of the war, when Japanese Americans who had been unjustly interred by the federal government in concentration camps out west were finally freed, some were resettled in Connecticut towns, including Waterbury. Bill Mori's restaurant hired several of the newly freed Japanese Americans. Mori traveled to War Relocation Authority centers to find men he could bring to Waterbury. Many came from the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.

Japanese employees at K&J Restaurant, 88 East Main Street, August 1944.
Left to right, 1st row: Bill Mori, a non-evacuee, K. Nagai, H. Taniliai; 2nd row, left to right: Mas Yarragi (Rohwer), Henry Ishi (Rohwer), M. Oishi (Rohwer); 3rd row, left to right: T. Minami (Manzanar), S. Oishi (Rohwer); 4th row, left to right: Jos. Matsunage of Waterbury, I. Ura of New York. -- Photographer: Iwasaki, Hikaru. (Collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

Bill Mori and an unidentified "resettler" strolling across West Main Street in June 1945.
"Mr. Mori recently returned from a trip to several centers to hire residents for his restaurant. Among those who are coming to Waterbury are Tatsuji Iwasaki, Takao Sonoda, Takashi Iwamoto, and Tsunetoshi Iwamoto, all from Topaz." -- Photographer: Van Tassel, Gretchen -- (Collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

Mori and staff at the K&J Restaurant, 88 East Main Street, August 1944. Photo by Hikaru Iwasaki. (Collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

Today, we would expect a Japanese-operated restaurant to serve sushi. In 1945, Mori's restaurant served western food, including Irish Stew, something that would have been "foreign" a century earlier.
"Mr. Mori already has several resettlers working in his restaurant, has just returned from two centers to recruit more, including Tatsuji Iwasaki, Takao Sonoda, Takashi Iwamoto, and Tsunetoshi Iwamoto, all from the Central Utah Relocation Center. -- Photographer: Van Tassel, Gretchen" (Collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

Street view of Mori outside the K and J 3 Decker Toasted Sandwich Shop, August 1944.
(Collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

So what's the lesson in all of this? Throughout our history, immigrant groups have been treated poorly, suspected of plotting against "us", lumped together as conspiratorial, untrustworthy groups. Yes, there have been a few who have committed crimes--because  in any large segment of the population, you will have people who commit crimes. But in every historical instance, immigrants as a whole are no different than "us" -- they want a place to live in peace, a place to raise their families, to do more than just barely scrape by. 

It's normal to be afraid of strangers, but we should never allow our fears to run wild. History shows us that new immigrant groups enrich this country through their diversity of culture. Today's immigrants should be welcomed with open arms, not persecuted the way immigrants were in the past. The melting pot is one of our great strengths, something we can rightfully boast about, something that makes us better than many of the places immigrants are fleeing. Why do they come here? Because the United States is for everyone--the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Because they don't have to worry that they will be massacred here for having the "wrong" religion or the "wrong" political views or the "wrong" ancestry. Because things might not be perfect here, but you can still build a good life for yourself through hard work and perseverance. America is a great nation, and we can make it even better by learning how to stop being afraid of people who are different from ourselves.

Part One: Irish Immigrants 

Part Two: German Immigrants

Part Three: Italian Immigrants

Part Four: Russian Immigrants

Part Five: Chinese and Japanese Immigrants


Anonymous said...

Great job, as always, in giving this overview of our town's history

Ana MarĂ­a Arellano said...

This is a great article! I love the photos.
Thank you for sourcing them, too.
I think you should do a post on the Albanian Community in Waterbury.
They have an annual fair. Connecticut Institute of Hair Design in Woolcott
where I get my hair cut) is owned/and or managed by an Albanian woman.
My hair is cut by one of her students who is Albanian.
(Many other ethnic groups)

Waterbury Girl said...

Albanians are definitely on my list of topics to write about. Stay tuned!