The Press-Enterprise, February 21, 1971
“Japanese in Riverside area: new mystery about old tragedy,” by Tom Patterson
An unpublished history of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Redlands area has recalled the story of Arthur Kaneko of Riverside in a strange and mistaken version.
It raises a mystery about an old tragedy.
Kaneko was born in Japan on Jan. 13, 1886, and was graduated with high scholastic and other honors from Riverside High School in June, 1905.
He went on to earn a bachelors of science degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He married a young Japanese woman, who came from Japan for the ceremony—suggesting the traditional arranged marriage.
They had several children. His health failed. Tuberculosis has been mentioned as the reason, but when he died in Riverside on Jan. 10, 1917, the immediate cause was given as meningitis.
The mystery begins when the new history of the local Japanese, written by Roy Ito of Corona from Japanese language memoirs of the early Southern California Japanese, relates the Kaneko story.
He says Arthur was named valedictorian of his high school graduation class and that the school board refused to let him function as such.
Actually, the school never designated a “valedictorian,” but Arthur was named one of the five graduation speakers. He spoke as planned and The Press reported the talk and referred to him as “the idol of his school and class on gridiron and tennis court.”
How did this mistaken version from Japanese oldtimers arise?
The rediscovery of the Arthur Kaneko story reminds this reader of a novel by Gene Stratton Porter called “Her Father’s Daughter,” published in 1921 when anti-Japanese agitation was at or near its peak.
Unlike all or most of her other novels, this one has a Southern California setting, including considerable mention of Riverside. The villain is a Japanese-born high school student named Oka Sayye. He comes close to shaming the all-American Anglo boy of the story by excelling him in scholarships.
The real hero, as in most Gene Stratton Porter novels, is an ingenious girl, who inspires the Anglo boy to greater effort. After the good boy triumphs, he discovers that Sayye isn’t just another good student but “a mature Jap.” He is “thirty if he’s a day.”
Defeated and with his age exposed, Sayye attempts to kill his youthful adversary by pushing a rock off a cliff. The rock misses and he slips and falls to his own destruction.
Was there anything in the Riverside 1905 high school graduation that would explain the old Japanese-American version of the Arthur Kaneko story?
There was an odd fact. The news reports in The Press disclose that one of the five originally scheduled student speakers didn’t speak. No explanation was given. A different graduate did speak, reading an essay on “The White Man’s Burden.” It downgraded “the yellow man” with the prevailing outlook of the day.
But it is also well known to students of local history that Riverside, despite an undercurrent of hostility, was far more hospitable to its Japanese minority than were most California communities. Frank Miller of the Mission Inn, known for many celebrated actions and positions sympathetic to Japanese, was a major influence in this.
Miller’s activity in behalf of the Japanese and his interest in Japanese culture expanded as the intensity of the anti-Japanese movement increased. This movement was near its peak around 1020 when Mrs. Porter was in Southern California, probably to help with the filming of her more famous earlier novels like “Freckles,” “Laddie,” and “Girl of the Limberlost.”
“Her Father’s Daughter” implies that the villainy it describes is protected by conspiracy in high places.
“It was a curious thing,” the author says, “that such occurrences… could take place and no one know about them. Yet the papers were silent on the subject and so were the courts.”
The novel oozes with antipathy to the Japanese.
“Japs,” the novelist says in various ways, have no real intelligence but are accomplished copycats. Already educated to t limits of his native land, Sayye has been sent here to learn American ways and undermine American morale.
A in the older anti-Chinese movement, the California attitudes toward the Japanese were highly ambiguous. The more recent attitudes toward the Mexican braceros, who are also foreign agricultural workers, involved less overt race prejudice.
The issue has finally become more clearly stated as economic. Employers who want lower labor costs were arrayed against native born and other locally resident workers who opposed lower wage standards from abroad.
California’s history has been filled with labor importation, including not only Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican but Hindu, Syrian and others.
The anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese movements, largely spearheaded by the labor movement, sought allies by the use of such terms as “yellow peril,” frankly using race prejudice to the hilt.
It was liberal to be anti-Chinese, and later to be anti-Japanese. Hiram Johnson, great progressive in his time, was elected governor of California in 1910 after a campaign in which hostility to the Chinese was a major platform plank.
It surprises those who think of themselves as liberals today to read that Dr. E. A. Ross, who was best known for vicious orations against the Chinese, was dismissed as professor of sociology by Stanford University in 1900, although Stanford for considered a bastion of conservatism. The dismissal is less surprising when it is recalled that Ross was considered an outstanding liberal.
Frank Miller, on the other hand, was associated with the conservative wing of the Republican party, not with the progressive wing nor with the Lincoln-Roosevelt League of the Hiram Johnson movement.
Miller was an employer of low-paid Japanese and Chinese, which detracted not at all from his cultural enthusiasms. He helped to establish the Japanese Methodist Church here about 1901 and encouraged its amalgamation with the later Japanese Union Church.
He vigorously opposed the Alien Land Law, which was proposed for many years and finally adopted by the State Legislature in 1913. He donated $500 in the name of the Japanese church to the building of the Community Hospital. He visited Japan and was host to Japanese cultural figures at the Mission Inn.
Ito’s history of the local Japanese being circulated in manuscript form says there were Japanese working Riverside citrus groves as early as 18[illegible] and that for some 15 years [illegible] under eucalyptus trees at Magnolia Avenue and Adams Street each year, and gave the location a name, The Gum Tree.
He doesn’t mention it, but there was a Chinatown near there in the early twentieth century, probably earlier, on Adams between Magnolia and California avenues.
Although they kept their racial and cultural traditions separate, the Chinese and Japanese in California often shared segregated residential areas, not only on Adams Street in Riverside.
They learned, Ito says, to get along. For instance, “Japanese foods were either not available or too costly in those days. Most of the kitchens in the camps were suited for Chinese style cooking. Japanese workers came up with dishes that were neither Japanese nor Chinese nor American.
“They used available materials and Chinese utensils. They made sup of bits of bacon, onions and potatoes with wheat flour dumplings. They ate this almost three meals a day.
“For special occasions, they went to Chinese food stores and bought long-grained Chinese rice and Chinese soy sauce. With these they made something similar to Japanese dishes and celebrated with cheap California wine.”
A group of Caucasian workers attacked some 30 Japanese in 1896, Ito says, and loaded then on carriages and sent them out of Riverside.
Bur while hostility continued, other influences in Riverside ameliorated the situation for both the Japanese and the more numerous Chinese.
Soon after 1896, the Ito history continues, “The orange grove owners asked the city to take action, and the police gave protection to the Japanese workers. The population of the Japanese started to increase.”
There were attacks by masked or armed Caucasian workers, Ito says, in Redlands in 1898, and 1905, in Rialto in 1902, Cucamonga and Highland in 1904 and Corona and Upland in 1905.
In some areas the ostracized Japanese managed to stay, or return. From Highland in 1904 and Corona in 1904 they were sent back to Riverside, from where they had come. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office Ito says, was summoned by orange growers and prevented an eviction from Upland in 1905.
Ito estimates that there were about 500 year-around Japanese residents in Riverside in 1910 and as many as 3,000 at the height of the citrus harvest season. There were two Japanese churches, a Japanese club and several Japanese-owned grocery stores.
After 1915, Japanese population of the area declined, and those who remained included a increasing number of Nisei—of Japanese parentage, but citizens of the U.S. by birth.
In addition to the influence of Miller, one of the reasons for the greater tolerance of the Japanese in Riverside might have been the merits, achievements and the personality of Ulysses Shinsei Kaneko, Arthur’s father.
He was one of the earlier Japanese in California, arriving in San Francisco in 1888. He did housework in San Francisco and soon was able to send for his wife and son. His San Francisco employer, George Meet, went to Redlands and the Kaneko family went with him.
Encouraged by Meet, Kaneko in 1892 bought land and planted a citrus grove in Redlands. He won U.S. citizenship in 1896, which presumably naturalized his children.
In 1897 he moved to Riverside and acquired a restaurant on University Avenue ( Eighth Street then). Mrs. Kaneko managed the restaurant while her husband started and managed a poultry ranch at Moreno. He worked as an auditor for the City of Riverside and served on the county Grand Jury.
Riverside, in addition to being relatively friendly to Japanese as residents and workers, was the testing ground for the right of Japanese to hold property in the name of their minor children.
In 1915, Jukichi Harada, an alien, bought a home at 3356 Lemon St., Riverside, in the names of his three daughters. U.S. Webb, longtime California attorney general, the man who had drafted the Alien Land Act, brought suit, charging that this purchase in the name of minor children, was evasion of the law.
The court ruled that the three children, as citizens, were entitled to equal protection with other citizens, and that it was “natural for Harada to live with his children and provide protection for his children.”
The Harada children were reaffirmed as legal owners of the house. One of the daughters, Sumi Harada, owns and occupies it today.
Although it was modified by this decision, the Alien Land Law remained a handicap to Japanese of foreign birth until 1952, when the State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
Despite the relative hospitality of Riverside to the Japanese in 1905, feelings were obviously mixed.
As a graduation speaker, Arthur Kaneko read an essay on his native Japan, which he had revisited.
One of the other speakers, according to The Press’ Report, was scheduled to be Edgar Moon, on the St. Louis exposition of the previous year. Instead, Nellie Gleason, previously unlisted as a speaker, read her “White Man’s Burden” essay.
She depicted the white man as toiling up-hill with a heavy basket containing not only his own needs but much that served charitably to help the lesser breeds. Back of him those lesser breeds toiled, apparently in reverse order of their deficiencies: the brown man, the red man, the yellow man (including, presumably, her fellow speaker, Arthur Kaneko), and the black man.
Despite his position a little ahead of the black man, the yellow man was particularly downgraded by his “dark glasses of self-sufficiency, heathen idolatry, infanticide, child-marriage and woman bondage.”
Anglo Riversiders who attended high school with Arthur Kaneko remember him as popular and as an able tennis and football player as well as a good student.
John R. Jahn of 4258 Pine St. put it this way:
“Ordinarily the Japanese were laborers and they weren’t liked, but Art Kaneko was a nice kid. We liked him tremendously. I graduated a year before him and saw him later when we were both at the University of California in Berkeley.”
As of that time, it appears that very few California Japanese and very few Mexican-Americans went to high school. The 1905 Riverside class of 29 members had no other Japanese names and only one Spanish name: Francisco Gonzales.
Of course Arthur Kaneko was not Oka Sayye. Like Oka, however, he was Japanese born, attending a Southern California high school and earning high grades. Oka Sayye was over-age and concealing it for sinister reasons.
Arthur’s stated age at death would have made him 19½ years old on graduation. The average graduation age is 18 and some of his brighter classmates might have been 17. The record does not indicate that he concealed his age. His early language and social handicap would explain it.
A logical explanation of the novel might be liker this: The author’s visit to Southern California coincided with he high-intensity period of the anti-Japanese movement. She absorbed and accepted the anti-Japanese arguments. She visited Riverside and heard complaints from anti-Japanese residents who were critical of their city’s relatively friendly attitude toward the Japanese. She heard of the Arthur Kaneko story including the story that he was over-age.
But of course this is only supposition. It is usually conjectural what real events are woven into novels; even the best documented historical events are usually altered to the novel’s purpose.
To the literary critic, it does not matter whether Oka Sayye was a version of Arthur Kaneko. The critic inquires whether Oka Sayye is a plausible character, good or evil.
Mrs. Porter makes him an implausible monster and asserts that this monster is typical of the Japanese as a group.
Most of her earlier settings (the more famous of her novels were written before 1910) were in her native Indiana or elsewhere in the Midwest. She reflected popular American traditions and outlooks. Some of the outlooks are out-dated, but few, if any, of them were unkind. Surely none had the viciousness of her thrust against the California Japanese.
Her use of Riverside is partly implied by her carefully indirect disclaimer that it is Riverside. Nominally her setting is a place called Lilac Valley, in or near Los Angeles. Oka Sayye and his adversaries attend a Los Angeles high school.
One character announces that she plans to go to Riverside the next day. No reason is given for going there. No activity there is mentioned, but the trip is recalled on later occasions, a propos of nothing.
It appears to be a legalistic way of denying that the finger is being pointed at Riverside or any events there, since Riverside is not Lilac Valley or in Lilac Valley, but elsewhere. At the same time attention is drawn to Riverside.
Descriptions in the novel also suggest Riverside.
The hero and heroine pass “hundreds of acres of orchards of waxen green leaves and waxen white bloom of orange, grapefruit and lemon.” They drive along “avenues lined with palm and eucalyptus, pepper and olive and through unbroken rows, extending for miles, of roses…” and so on.
Riverside’s Victoria Avenue appears to be part of this patchwork of scenery. So, possibly, are the city’s grove, store and hotel owners and its Japanese, Chinese and Mexican-American workers in town and grove and packing house. In real life, these groups and individuals had diverse interests, prejudices and qualities, sometimes mixed, like Frank Miller’s.