Santa Cruz County History - Executive Order 9066 and the Residents of Santa Cruz County

Citizenship and Loyalty
by Rechs Ann Pedersen

Intertwined throughout the War are the issues of the citizenship and the loyalty of persons of Japanese ancestry. Japanese immigrants were legally denied citizenship; their children born in the U.S. were citizens. The U.S. government and many Americans expected persons of Japanese ancestry to prove their loyalty to the U.S. A common assumption was that race is the same as nationality. Some individuals believed that persons of Japanese ancestry were treacherous by nature and would be inherently loyal to Japan.

Japanese American Citizens League float in the Watsonville 4th of July parade, 1941
Japanese American Citizens League Float
Watsonville Fourth of July Parade, 1941.
(Photograph courtesty of Bill Tao)


When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, leaders in the Japanese and Italian communities quickly made public announcements of loyalty to the United States.

December 7, 1941:

I. Motoki, secretary of the Japanese association [said], "As far as the Japanese community here is concerned, we pledge our whole-hearted loyalties to this country which we love. Most of the Japanese here, say 95 per cent, are residents of more than 25 years standing in Watsonville and the Pajaro Valley and are in a true sense Americans. The only thing is they did not become American citizens because the law does not provide privileges of naturalization to them. There have been many petitions in the past from different organizations seeking this goal of becoming American citizens." (Watsonville Morning Sun. December 7, 1941. p.1 Full-Text )

December 9, 1941:

MALIO STAGNARO SPEAKS...Malio Stagnaro, spokesman, Sunday night vouched for the sincerity of the Italian colony on the municipal pier and said this community has "nothing to fear" from their loyalty to the nation they have adopted. "There are only a few aliens in the local fishing colony," he said, "but these men have sons in the United States navy or the U.S. army and are 100 per cent behind this nation." (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News. December 9, 1941. p. 2. Full-Text)

Mr. Stagnaro went on to say, "Some have taken out their first papers and will take out final papers as soon as the necessary time has elapsed." (Ibid). He was referring to the process of becoming a naturalized citizen. Citizenship classes continued throughout the War and newspapers regularly carried lists of new citizens. For those living in the U.S who were born in Japan--no matter how long they had lived here or what their personal wishes--U.S. citizenship was not a possibility.

No Naturalization

The limitations on citizenship and immigration for Asians was longstanding and in effect at the outbreak of World War II. In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court in Takao v. United States upheld the Naturalization Act of 1790 which prohibited Asians from citizenship. The Immigration Act of 1924 (also called the National Origins Act) put quotas on immigrants from specific countries and totally barred the Japanese. These laws were not changed until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.1

Dual Citizenship

Children born in the United States whose parents were Japanese (called Nisei), were automatically U.S. citizens. In addition, some of them were also citizens of Japan. Japanese law stated that when a child was born to a Japanese father, the child was a citizen of Japan regardless of where the child was born. The United States did not recognize this dual citizenship, but Japan did. Japan could compel military service from a person with dual citizenship. However, this obligation could be enforced only if the person were in Japan. In 1914, Japan changed its law so that Nisei could renounce their Japanese citizenship. By 1930, half of the Nisei were dual citizens. By 1943, the number was reduced to one-fourth. 2

At the start of the War, an editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel-News explained the dual-citizenship situation and brought up questions of loyalty.

December 18, 1941:

...for the most part the Nisei - the American born Japanese - can be depended upon to stand by the United States. He [Ernest Hauser] feels that the Kibei - the American born Japanese who were sent to Japan in childhood for training and who have returned to this country - are the crux of the whole problem. "These Kibei, returning to this country with American passports, are, to all intents and purposes, Japanese. They have spent their childhood and adolescence in Japan. They think in Japanese and they speak Japanese. They are imbued with the spirit of Nippon, with its strong elements of loyalty to the Emperor and to the Rising Sun. What would be easier for Japan's military and naval authorities than to send some of the over here with appropriate instructions?"... (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News. December 18, 1941.p.1.Full-Text)

Removing citizenship

The Native Sons of the Golden West, which had a local parlor in Santa Cruz County, called for stripping the children of Japanese immigrants of their citizenship and/or their voting rights. They filed a suit in Federal court which was dismissed in July 1942. They appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. They talked about a constitutional amendment.

April 24, 1943:

... a California case being appealed to the supreme court may provide a test of the 46-year old court decision under which citizenship is granted to American-born children of Asiatics who are prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian April 24, 1943 p. 3.Full-Text

May 18, 1943:

San Francisco (UP) - John T. Regan, grand secretary of the Native Sons of the Golden West, said Tuesday a bill amending the constitution to deny American citizenship to Japanese born in this country would be revived immediately in congress. ..."Now that the supreme court has decided that the 14th amendment insures citizenship to native-born Japanese, then the only thing to do is to amend the constitution. These people should never again be permitted to enjoy the blessings and privileges of American citizenship," he said. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. May 18, 1943 p. 3.)

Issue of Loyalty

Throughout the War, the loyalty of persons of Japanese ancestry, citizens and non-citizens, was a public issue. It appeared in the public statements of officials and organizations, editorials, and letters to the editor. The impossibility of telling if a person was loyal was used as a reason for evacuating all persons of Japanese ancestry--though not for evacuating persons of Italian and German ancestry. Possible disloyalty was stated as one of the reasons for not allowing evacuees back to the West Coast. (When the threat of sabotage was no longer seen as likely, the threat of violence against the evacuees displaced loyalty as a public reason.)

February 24, 1943:

The defense council stresses one point that no one can dispute - who knows for sure whether a Japanese, whether alien or American born, is loyal to the United States? Even the Japanese evacuees themselves have admitted they cannot tell! ...Americans have been known to "bend over backwards" many times in efforts to be tolerant but the events of Dec. 7, 1941, and subsequent activities of the "yellow aryans" have shown only one thing - the Japanese government is determined to conquer and humble the United States or commit national hari-kari in the attempt. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. February 24, 1943 p. 4.Full-Text)

On February 8, 1943, a loyalty questionnaire was administered to all adult men and women in the camps and was used as proof that citizens were loyal. It was a major element in the granting of release from the camps. Even when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American citizens could not be imprisoned, "It upheld constitutionality of the removal program by a 6 to 3 decision, and was unanimous in holding that (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. December 18, 1944. p.1)

Ultimately, the question remains, why should this particular group of American citizens have to prove that they were loyal when other groups did not have to?

"Remember also -- persecute these people for the accident of birth -- establish a precedent and the cold heavy hand of persecution and intolerance may one day rest on your shoulder because your name is Smith or Jones -- or because you are Protestant or Catholic or Jew -- white or Negro -- and the persecutors will use this incident as a precedent." John L. McCarthy. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, March 9, 1943. p.6)

>>Continue with Alien Land Laws.


  1. "Aliens ineligible to citizenship,"Asian American Encyclopedia.Marshall Cavendish, 1994. Vol. 1. pp. 18-19.
  2. "Dual citizenship," Ibid. Vol. 2. p. 383-384.

Additional Information:

Related article: Debate Over the Return of Persons of Japanese Ancestry

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View similarly tagged articles:

internment camps, Japanese Americans, racism


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