One women's historian notes, "Farming in the desert land of the Yakima Valley was hot and arduous, as she [Tomika] described: As we busily pick beans / Even the Breeze stirring / The weeds at our feet / Feels hot" (Amott and Matthaei 223). The Japanese faced special scrutiny after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and as early as the 1920s, laws had been passed in the area that prohibited Japanese from owning lands. In addition, up until 1926, Blacks had actually been banned from Oregon, and there were also restrictions on black and Chinese voters throughout the area (Schwantes 377). Clearly, these laws would create racial and social tension throughout the area, and made for resistance from blacks and Asians, especially. During World War II, a large influx of blacks came to the area looking for jobs, while the Japanese were removed to internment camps for almost the entire duration of the war. Schwantes notes, "By early 1945, nearly 7,000-8,000 blacks lived in Seattle where, a reporter noted, 'the feeling against them is high. In Portland, where there are 15,000 it is much higher'" (Schwantes 419). Those who were not removed faced discrimination and hardship. Historian Schwantes continues, "When, for instance, Idaho firms hired Japanese workers, the Pocatello Central Labor Union protested: 'We request all members of organized labor to refrain from patronizing any and all business establishments employing Japs'" (Schwantes 418). Clearly, tensions between races were even higher in the Pacific Northwest, whose separatist politics had largely kept the area free of ethnic minorities, and so sheltered much of the population from different cultures and perspectives. After the war, many localities tried to ban the Japanese from returning, and this added more stress to relationships between the races.
Today, the largest minority group in the area is Asian, followed by Hispanics, then blacks. These minorities tend to congregate together in urban areas, creating pockets of cultural diversity in the cities of the area. This division of classes tends to keep the minorities at a lower social level than whites, and often creates barriers in schooling and social services that are available. In the 1960s, blacks in Seattle demonstrated against "job discrimination, housing bias, and de facto school segregation" (Taylor 1), just as they were demonstrating all over the country. However, in Seattle, many sympathetic whites and Asians joined in the protests, creating a melting pot of culture and society that still exists today in the area. For example, by 1967, blacks in Seattle had "only one state representative and no voice in the State Senate or on the City Council or School Board" (Taylor 1). One of the most culturally diverse areas in the nation, the Pacific Northwest faces unique challenges both socially and politically. It seems white, upper-class Republicans still dominate the political arena in the area, and while minorities are making many political inroads, they still have a long way to overcome the prejudices and injustices of the past, including some of the most racist laws in the nation.
In conclusion, race and class have presented unique problems for the Pacific Northwest. Initially, the area was unwilling to accept ethnic and cultural minorities, and when it did, differences created tension and political unrest. From the miners to the Japanese, each member of the working class faced strife in the area. Today, the urban areas of the Pacific Northwest have become vast melting pots, and some of the cultural and class differences have disappeared. However, whenever large numbers of diverse people live together, there will always be differences, discussion, and sometimes discord.
Amott, Teresa L., and Julie A. Matthaei. A Multicultural Economic History of Women in the United States. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1991.
Schwantes, Carlos Arnaldo. The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska…