Immigrant Rights and the Welfare State: Race and Citizenship in Santa Clara County, 1945–65

Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:50 AM
Boylston Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Aaron I. Cavin , University of Michigan
As Japanese Americans returned home from wartime internment in 1945, they returned to a changing landscape.  Long excluded from political rights, Japanese Americans quickly saw progress in several domains, beginning with their release from internment camps, continuing with the repeal of state-level anti-Japanese legislation, and culminating in the removal of racial categories from the nation’s immigration policy.  Yet progress had limits.  The repeal of California’s Alien Land Law, for example, allowed Japanese immigrants to own land, but it did not challenge the racial restrictions embedded in postwar urban policy, restrictions that prevented non-white ownership of most land in the metropolis.  Paradoxically, just as flagrant racial discriminations against immigrants ended, unprecedented expansions of the welfare state produced new, often hidden, racial inequalities.

To explain this contradiction, this paper combines research fields that are often approached separately.  It pushes beyond conventional understandings of the postwar metropolis, usually portrayed in black and white, and it builds on innovative research of the legal borderlands of the nation, asserting that the national border was intertwined with the racial borders that fragmented the postwar metropolis.  Drawing examples from the Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican American experiences, this paper argues that immigrant rights in the postwar decades were determined less by immigration status than by the racial exclusions built into the postwar welfare state.  It analyzes government documents, real estate records, oral histories, and the papers of social movements, focusing on California’s Santa Clara County.  In the postwar decades, the county burgeoned from a sparsely populated agricultural center into the fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation: the epitome of suburban sprawl, the birthplace of Silicon Valley, and an immigrant gateway.  Metropolitan development swept up largely agricultural Japanese and Mexican American communities, transforming racial boundaries, citizenship rights, and immigrants’ and natives’ relationship to the welfare state.

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