These images reflect some of the diverse ethnic groups that came to the West Coast from locations around the globe. They also illustrate some of the challenges they faced in assimilating into California society.
People from around the world continued to come to California in the early 1900s, many in search of work and a better life. Two photographs depict men in turbans in San Francisco in 1910. Southern California attracted numerous Japanese immigrants. Photographs in this group show Japanese workers standing in front of delivery trucks at the Nakamura Company and inside Japanese owned businesses such as the Kusumoto Barbershop in Anaheim.
Mexicans and Filipinos also came to California during this period. As new farming technologies enabled the consolidation of smaller parcels of land into large farms up and down the state, the need for workers increased. In response, many Filipinos came to work in the fields and in related agricultural jobs. "Snapshot of Workers' Camp" shows some of these men.
Mexican and Japanese immigrants also found agricultural work in California. Photographs in this group show Japanese workers in a field; and another image shows a young Mexican agricultural worker. The photograph of workers in the Tokay grape packing shed in Florin shows a diversity of workers, including an African American woman and Japanese and Filipino men.
This mix of very different cultures gave rise to tensions and conflicts. Migrant workers were threatened and warned not to take jobs away from other groups. Images include two letters threatening a farmer with reprisals if he hires Filipinos; and a US Immigration sign in Spanish threatening non-citizens with deportation if they go on strike.
Although the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented new immigrants from coming to the United States, the Chinese who were already here continued to assimilate into Western culture. A photograph taken in 1910 shows an unidentified San Diego Chinese American family. Anti-Chinese discrimination continued, as evidenced by a letter from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce pointing out the unfair conditions inflicted by the Immigration Law of 1924. Nonetheless, many of these images show that Chinese people persevered, engaging in daily activities — going to school, working, walking in a funeral procession.
The text of this exhibition is available under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. You are free to share and adapt it however you like, provided you provide attribution as follows:
Growing Ethnic Diversity in Early-20th Century California curated by University of California staff, available under a CC BY 4.0 license. © 2005, Regents of the University of California.