One of my college friends works for the Foundation for the National Archives -- which, just by the way, is like the coolest job on earth, because she basically spends all day looking at pictures of history. Knowing my fascination with Asian American history and culture, my former suitemate will often send me images that she thinks I’d be interested in. This has been going on for several months, and it occurred to me that other people might be interested in them, too.
This image of Japanese Americans voting in San Bruno, California, really struck a chord with me as we wrap up last week's midterms elections. The full caption reads:
San Bruno, California. Entering Recreational Hall where election is being held for Councilmen. A general election for five members of the Tanforan Assembly center Advisory Council is being held on this day. The Issei [first-generation Japanese Americans] have never been able to vote before because of American naturalization laws, 06/16/1942
Traditionally, Asian Americans have the lowest voter turn-out rate of all ethnic groups in the US. An estimated seven million Asian Americans are eligible to vote but, according to the US Census Bureau 2008 survey, only about four million are registered. That puts Asian Americans at about 2.5 percent of the overall American voting block in 2008.
Now in 2010, the right to vote is something that many people take for granted. For me, this picture is a reminder as to just how recent it was that many groups of people were given that right. Between 1942 and 1976, many changes were made to immigration and naturalization laws to allow immigrants to obtain citizenship and to vote without racial prejudice. That’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about when I cast my vote in the 2012 elections, just 70 years after the first Issei cast their votes in 1942.
Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD, 20740-6001