The attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 marked a turning point in Asian American history. Before, Asians were lumped into one ethnic category, but afterwards distinctions between different Asian ethnic groups in mainland US were deeply emphasized, leading to high regard for Chinese, Korean, and Filipino allies, but internment for the Japanese.
The Chinese and Koreans were most similar to the Japanese, but their differences were made public through a display of signs, buttons, or magazine articles. For instance, to prevent confusion, the Chinese put "this is a Chinese shop" in front of their building's windows, or wore buttons that read "I am Chinese" (Takaki 371). Like the Chinese, the Koreans pinned "I am Korean" buttons to distinguish themselves as much as possible from the Japanese. But the distinction between Chinese and Japanese were emphasized more fiercely, probably as a way to prevent American government from accidentally harming the Chinese ally. As many Chinese American soldiers noted, people with Chinese last names "Wong" or "Lee" were immediately pardoned while any person with a Japanese name was immediately taken into internment camps. Also, magazine articles like Life Magazine's "How to Tell Japs from the Chinese" or Time Magazine's "How to tell your Friends from the Japs" served to highlight the differences between the two Asian groups. As an additional aid, pictures of a Japanese and Chinese man were put side by side to compare features. This was similar to the racial comparisons between the Germans and the Jews during the Holocaust.
The Filipinos also experienced a rise in social standards because of Pearl Harbor attack. Japanese internment allowed Filipinos to purchase vacated Japanese farms. Eager to prove their loyalty to Americans, Filipino Americans fought alongside US soldiers. Overtime, FDR eliminated exclusive drafting laws so even "nationals" could serve in the army; this was done through executive order 8802, "provid[ing] full and equitable participation" in the labor force regardless of a person's origin (Takaki 362). In just a matter of decades, their social image in America went from an uncivilized child to that of a respectable "Little brown brother" (Gonzalves 307).
In short, the mainland United States labeled the Japanese as enemies while the other Asian groups were considered American allies against the Axis powers. (Japanese in Hawaii were allowed to join the army and were never interned). Due to the poor treatment of the Japanese Americans, many Nisei and Issei living in the mainland became disillusioned with the American ideal of equality.
1. In his vow to cooperate with government removal plans, Nisei Mike Masaoka stated that "[Japanese Americans] have every right to protest and to demand equitable judgment on their merits as American Citizens" (Murray 296). As proof of Japanese American loyalty to America, he notes how many Nisei soldiers have fought on behalf of the American army despite their discrimination.
2. The Tiger Brigade, or Manghokun, was an army unit formed by Koreans living in Los Angeles who joined the California National Guard (Takaki 366). Determined to defend the California front against enemy invasion (especially the Japanese), they trained every weekend for 6-8 hours. This marked the beginning of increased social status of the Koreans because of their helping hand in defeating the Japanese. However, this did not resolve the mixed feelings of second generation Koreans, who, unlike their parents, did not share their hatred of the Japanese.
3. "How to Tell Japs from the Chinese" was published on December 22, 1941 to raise awareness of the distinct Asian groups (Life Magazine 1). The underlying purpose of the article was to make sure Americans did not accidentally discriminate the wrong ethnicity. The start of the war led Americans to regard Chinese with more respect, while the Japanese were seen as the enemies, and thus were interned. The article includes a picture comparing a Japanese man with a Chinese man. There are multiple comments written above the two pictures to mark the differences between Chinese and Japanese.
4. As an indication of change in America, the First Filipino Infantry Regiment mentioned how "freedom is the most important thing here in America" (Gonzalves 307). Thus, to support this belief, the Filipinos noted how they saw military assistance as a way to upgrade the social image of the Filipino. After fighting as soldiers alongside the US army, Filipinos went from "the violent, lazy, (white) womanizing, foreigner seeking instant gratification through gambling...to the hard-working, Christian ally from the Pacific" (Gonzalves 307).