Graduate Student Seminar Series: Burning Our Bridges: Lessons for Today in America's History Immigration Restriction
Student presenter: Robert Hegwood, History
Since the earliest days of migration to Hawaii and the American West coast, Japanese Americans built up the infrastructure for trade between the United States and Japan, helping to shape the image of Japan and its products in the mind of the American consumer public. In my dissertation entitled "The Social Foundations for Growth: Nikkei Brokers and Japan in the Global Imaginary,” I examine the role Japanese immigrants played in U.S-Japan diplomacy and Japan’s expansion into American markets from the 1870s to the 1960s. In migrating to the United States, Japanese farmers and businessmen created transnational social networks, which aided cooperation between Japanese corporations and trade promotion agencies. Furthermore, these networks served as platforms for grassroots diplomacy between the United States and Japan during times of tension during the 1930s and later during the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952). Today, prominent Japanese Americans continue to work with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighting the enduring importance of this American ethnic community in bilateral relations. The historical case of Japanese immigration restriction also offers us a cautionary tale of how the rhetoric and policy of immigration restriction hurt America’s interests in Japan.