Chronology Of Japanese Americans in San Diego: 1885-2010

The History of Japanese Americans in San Diego
A slideshow illustrating the history of Japanese Americans in San Diego
Music Courtesy: Reiko Obata


The first Japanese immigrants (Issei) arrive in San Diego County to find work on the construction of the railroad or as seasonal agricultural workers.


The vast majority of Japanese who immigrate to the US arrive between 1900 and 1920.


California passes the Webb-Haney Act denying all aliens ineligible for citizenship (which includes Japanese residents) the right to own land in California. Leasing land is limited to 3 years.


Proposition 1 amends California’s Alien Land Law of 1913. Issei are now forbidden from purchasing land in the names of their Nisei children who are US citizens.


The California legislature passes a restrictive law which denies commercial fishing licenses to many alien Japanese.


Japan invades China. The US responds by breaking off commercial relations with Japan.


The FBI prepares a list of Japanese “aliens” who they consider to be risks if war should come.


December 7: Japan bombs the US fleet at Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii.

December 8: US Congress declares war on Japan. The FBI begins arresting Japanese immigrants identified as community leaders: priests, Japanese language teachers, newspaper editors, and heads of organizations. Within 48 hours, 1,291 are arrested nationwide.

December 11: US declares war on Germany and Italy.

December 19: The US Treasury Department freezes bank accounts of individuals having a “Japanese sounding name” and many insurance companies cancel their policies.


February 19: President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, authorizing military authorities to remove civilians from designated military areas without trial or hearing. Most of San Diego County and the entire City were in Prohibited Zone 1.  All Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent are to be evacuated from this Zone.

March 27: A rigidly enforced curfew goes into effect for all persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast.

April 1: Civilian Exclusion Order Number 4 (covering all of San Diego County south of Del Mar) informs all persons of Japanese ancestry to be ready to leave by April 8, 1942.

April 8: The mass removal of San Diego residents of Japanese ancestry begins as they report to the Santa Fe Railway Depot.

April 9: The former San Diegans arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center in Arcadia, California after a twenty-four hour train journey. The initial accommodation is in former horse stables.

May 8: Opening of Camp One of the Colorado River Relocation Center (Poston Internment Camp) located on the Mohave and Chemehuevi Indian Reservation in Arizona.

May 17: Civilian Exclusion Order Number 59 (covering all of San Diego County north of Del Mar) informs all persons of Japanese ancestry to be ready to leave by May 24, 1942. These North County San Diegans are sent directly to Camp Two at Poston, Arizona.

August 26: Most San Diegans held at the Santa Anita Assembly Center are in the first group to leave. They arrive at Camp Three at Poston, Arizona on August 27 and 28, 1942.


February 8: The WRA distributes a loyalty questionnaire (Application for Leave Clearance) to men and women over the age of seventeen in all 10 camps. This is in order to test their loyalty to the U.S. so they may be eligible to enlist in the armed forces. Many of those who fail the test are sent to a new prison camp on the grounds of the Tule Lake camp in Northern California.


January 3: All West Coast exclusion orders against persons of Japanese ancestry are suspended.

September 2: The surrender of Japan was announced on August 15 and formally signed on September 2.

November 28: Last internees leave Poston Internment Camp.


Japanese Americans returning to San Diego are often met with hostility and discrimination as well as a struggle to find work and housing. Many choose not to return at all but to start again afresh elsewhere.

March 9: Poston is returned to the custody of the United States Indian Service who has already moved groups of Navajo and Hopi people into the barracks formerly occupied by internees.


President Harry Truman signs the Evacuation Claims Act which eventually pays less than ten cents on the dollar for property lost by internees who must provide proof of loss.


June 11: The Walter-McCarran Immigration and Nationality Act passes in Congress allowing Japanese and other Asian immigrants to become naturalized citizens for the first time.


California voters repeal Alien Land Laws.


Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) proposes redress (reparations) for the years of incarceration.


February 19: President Gerald Ford signs Proclamation 271 formally terminating Executive Order 9066.


August 10: President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. It acknowledges that the incarceration of more than 110,000 individuals of Japanese descent was unjust, and offers an apology and reparation payments of $20,000 to each person incarcerated.


California State Legislature adopts ACR 37, which urges adoption of history / social science textbooks that accurately portray wartime incarceration.


The first letters of apology are signed by President George Bush. In a Washington D.C. ceremony, the first nine redress payments are given out.


Twenty members of the US Army’s all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team are belatedly given the Medal of Honor.


The Congressional Gold Medal was retrospectively awarded to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and Nisei serving in the Military Intelligence Service.