Tag Archives: politics

Jillaine Cook

“I, Joseph Berger hereby register as an alien enemy at Police District No. 9, San Francisco California and make the following statements and answers under oath.” Thus begins the detailed four-page affidavit containing Berger’s immigration status, employment history, family, background, photograph, and fingerprints that he submitted to the neutrality squad of the San Francisco Police on February 4, 1918. For nearly two weeks that February, police departments across the nation were inundated with German nationals who, like Berger, had done nothing to bring suspicion upon themselves other than failing to secure citizenship in their new home. When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the German-American community came under instant suspicion, and in November, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation requiring all male German nationals residing in the United States to formalize the government’s suspicions by registering. Although initially exempt, their wives and daughters would be forced to register in June 1918. Presumed disloyal and potentially dangerous simply by virtue of their citizenship, these men and women were forced to swear under oath that they were “alien enemies” and provide detailed information to facilitate surveillance of their activities.

Image 3 Joesph Berger Fingerprints

Finger prints from Joseph Berger’s file, 1918, San Francisco Public Library, History and Archives

Housed in libraries, community archives, and genealogy websites these forms have been largely untapped in the historiography of the German-American experience during the First World War, which focuses primarily on outbreaks of mass-hysteria or the increase of vigilante surveillance practiced by groups like the American Protective League. It can be challenging to read meaning into forms that required primarily factual answers and left little room for protest, but these registration affidavits are valuable sources. Documenting an encounter between Germans living in the United States and the federal government, the forms are both a record of the government’s attempt to formalize presumed disloyalty and snapshots of a traumatic experience that reveal the slippage between the government’s assumptions and the way these people regarded themselves. Though a century has passed, the struggles over definitions of loyalty and belonging inscribed in their old-fashioned cursive evoke current headlines, powerfully reminding us of the enduring presence of these debates. Several examples drawn from my work on the registration affidavits submitted by San Francisco’s German-American community suggest the ways in which these forms and accompanying police correspondence can provide insights into this encounter between bureaucratic power and individuals.

In August 1918, Leonhard Bauer was accosted and arrested for failing to register. The documentation of his arrest and the affidavit he was forced to submit highlight the absurdity of trying to pinpoint loyalty and identity based on citizenship and the stakes involved for those who registered. Leonhard and his brother George did not register in February because they had been born in England where they lived until 1913 when their family immigrated to the United States. According to a police report, Leonhard argued that “he had never at any time resided in Germany, and considered himself an English subject.” Aside from the question of loyalty and national identity that made registering anathema for Leonhard and George, there were practical reasons motivating their avoidance as well. Although it was possible to apply for a permit to enter forbidden areas, many alien enemies lost their jobs because, as the San Francisco Chronicle explained on February 10, 1918, “under no circumstances are enemy aliens to be permitted near warehouses and docks.” Leonhard, who was employed at the Crowley Steam Launch Company on the waterfront, discovered this for himself when a Coast Guard officer grew suspicious and arrested him for failing to register and being found within a protected area. He avoided internment, but the U.S. Marshal registered him and forbade him from returning to his job. George avoided arrest by voluntarily going to the Department of Justice office in San Francisco to inquire whether it would be necessary for him to register. As the policy stated that children of German immigrants were to be considered German aliens regardless of the location of their birth unless their parents had naturalized in the United States, the U.S. Marshal registered George as well. George worked at the Globe Grain and Milling Company, which was near the waterfront as well, and it is likely that he and Leonhard had avoided registration deliberately rather than out of ignorance. Their sister, Eva, who had also been born in England and lived with them and their parents had registered in June during the prescribed registration period.

Image 1 Leonhard Bauer

Leonhard Bauer’s affidavit, 1918, San Francisco Public Library, History and Archives

Like the Bauer brothers, women like Neida Huling Adler balked at the assumption that their citizenship reflected their loyalty or national identity. Under the 1907 Expatriation Act, women who married foreign nationals lost their American citizenship. American-born women affected by this law vehemently protested their registration and used the forms to make statements about their identity. Born in Virginia City, Nevada, Neida Adler wrote “Born U.S.” in large letters where information about immigration dates was requested. Under the question about which languages she spoke, she simply wrote “American.” Subtle statements of identification as an American like these show up repeatedly on American-born women’s forms, along with emphasis on their parents’ citizenship or on relatives who were fighting for the United States.

Image 2 Neida Adler

Neida Huling Nickersen Adler’s affidavit, 1918; San Francisco Public Library, History and Archives

Registration could have economic consequences for those employed in protected areas and it frequently contradicted the identity of the registrants. Beyond the ideological issue of loyalty and national identity, it also carried strong connotations of criminality and subjected the registrants to police surveillance of their every move. The sense that they were being booked as criminals came most forcefully through the photographs and fingerprints submitted on the final pages of the affidavit. Most registrants were able to provide their own photographs, controlling the image they presented as they thronged the photography studios of San Francisco. The photographs taken by the police of German residents at the city’s Relief Home for Aged and Infirm, like John Jonkosky, stand out from the rest. In these photographs, the subjects often look dejected or angry. Most significantly, the police placed numbered placards on each person’s chest, probably to assist in matching photographs with the correct paperwork. While most of the photographs in the registration files look like portraits, these images are a stark reminder that in effect they were really mug shots, documenting suspects and preserving their image in case of future investigations.

Image 4 John Jonkovsky

John Jonkosky’s affidavit and photo, San Francisco Public Library

Unlike their photographs, over which most registrants had a degree of control, no one could avoid the indignity of being fingerprinted, and the association of fingerprinting with criminal procedures was clear. Newspapers published articles about the new techniques of fingerprinting and its use in identifying German alien enemies. For the registrants, the full page of fingerprints they had to provide was surely tangible confirmation that they were suspects and registration was not a mere formality. Taking finger prints made such an impression during the first round of registration in February that the expanded instructions on the top of the forms used to register “alien females” in June included a caveat explaining that “The finger printing is a method of identification and the taking of the finger prints is not to be deemed an imputation that the registrant is not a law-abiding person.”

One hundred years later, the snippets of thousands of lives dutifully inscribed on alien enemy registration affidavits in police stations across the nation continue to speak eloquently. Collectively, these forms offer demographic information about entire communities of German immigrants, offering insight into immigration, occupation, housing, and family trends. As the examples presented here suggest, they also offer insights into the way individuals push back against the rigid boundaries of bureaucratic formalities and address questions of identity and power that remain all too relevant in today’s America.

Jillaine Cook received her bachelor’s degree in History from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. She joined the History PhD program at USC in 2016. Her interests include questions of immigration, citizenship, and empire in late 19th-early 20th century America and the Pacific.


Photo of Governor-elect Jerry Brown at his Los Angeles campaign headquarters in 1974 is courtesy of
UCLA Library’s Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.

By Miriam Pawel

On April 7, 1895, the Los Angeles Herald ran a story to celebrate Otto von Bismarck’s eightieth birthday, noting that “a world shouted as he crossed this rarely touched milestone of time.”

On April 7, 2018, another long-standing ruler, master politician, and statesman of Prussian ancestry marks the same milestone: Edmund G. Brown Jr. turns eighty. Eighty is no longer quite as noteworthy as in Bismarck’s day, of course, and even Jerry Brown cannot match the Prussian leader’s reign of almost three decades.

But Brown has certainly left his mark on California, breaking records along the way: The youngest California governor in modern times when he first took office in 1975; the oldest ever when he returned as governor in 2011; the longest-tenured governor in state history; and the only governor elected four times. Between Jerry and his father, Pat, the Browns will have ruled California for 24 out of the past 60 years.

Bismarck was in good company, the Herald noted in its birthday tribute, offering a round-up of other octogenarians: Pope Leo still wrote Latin sonnets, William Gladstone wrote essays, and Verdi had just received acclaim for Falstaff. Brown will leave office at the end of this year. Given his classical education and eclectic interests, there’s no telling what he might compose in his next act.

Author of the 2014 book “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez,” Miriam Pawel is an author, journalist, and independent scholar. She is currently working on a book about four generations of the Brown family in California.


Photo of Edward Roybal courtesy of the Julian Nava Collection at CSUN’s Oviatt Library.

In 1949, Edward Roybal, who had been defeated in an earlier attempt,  won election to the Los Angeles City Council on the strength of one of the first multiracial coalitions to elect a minority candidate. His candidacy symbolized postwar Mexican American aspirations.  The coalition united organized labor with the Catholic Church amidst the multiethnic neighborhoods of the 9th District. Roybal also owed his council victory to a grassroots voter registration drive headed by Mexican American activist women (including Roybal’s wife Lucille).  Roybal became the first Latino elected official to serve on the L.A. City Council since 1881. He served 13 years before resigning his position to run for U.S. Congress in the new 30th Congressional District, which included Boyle Heights, downtown L.A., MacArthur Park, Hollywood, and Hancock Park. The 30th District was one of the most racially and socio-economically diverse districts in the State of California. Roybal used the same multiracial political coalition to win his congressional race on this date in 1962.  He served in Congress for 30 years.

Drawn, in part, from Andrea Thabet, Shawn Landres, and William Deverell, Space to Lead: A Century of Civic Leadership in Los Angeles, forthcoming.

US Map 1836_DavidRumsey

This 1836 map by James Webster comes from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

By Thomas Richards, Jr.

This past June the Huntington Library generously provided me a fellowship to research its vast manuscript holdings in the history of the American West. The research was meant to provide additional sources for my book manuscript, tentatively titled The North America that Almost Was: Breakaway Republics and Contested Sovereignty in the Era of Manifest Destiny, which is based upon a dissertation I defended at Temple University in the fall of 2016.

My study examines the motivations and subsequent actions of Americans who left U.S. borders between 1836 and 1846, for places as diverse as the Republic of Texas, Upper Canada, Indian Territory, Oregon Country, and Mexican California. Historians have often defined these American migrants as harbingers of the United States’ “Manifest Destiny,” who longed to expand U.S. borders. However, a closer reading of their letters and diaries at the time reveals a much more complicated story, one in which most migrants left U.S. borders because the United States no longer facilitated their economic and social ambitions. Thus, once beyond these borders, migrants cared little whether the United States would expand in the near future, but instead sought to assert local sovereignty that would further their own goals. Indeed, for several years in the late 1830s and early 1840s, migrants (and many other Americans) imagined that the United States would never expand, but rather North America would be composed of several Anglo-American republics. My study concludes with a reinterpretation of the politics surrounding the Mexican War and the Oregon Treaty. I argue that one overlooked reason for Polk’s aggression was because he reached a similar conclusion as many migrants; for him, however, any independent Anglo-American republic would be a distinct threat to U.S. expansion, and thus the independent political actions of Americans beyond U.S. borders needed to be promptly curbed.

While at the Huntington, I have been primarily examining the library’s rich sources on Mexican California, including both the papers of Californios and Americans who already resided in the territory, as well as the diaries and letters of American overlanders traveling to the region. These include prominent collections like the Abel Stearns Papers, and also lesser known holdings such as “Affidavits of Americans in Mexico, 1840,” in which Americans captured during the infamous Graham Affair provided statements of what their lives were like in California prior to their arrests. In addition, I have also explored collections on Oregon Country, particularly the Elkanah Walker papers, as well the Huntington’s substantial holdings of overland trail diaries and travelogues detailing the journey to Oregon. The Huntington’s Mormon File has likewise been immensely helpful to my research, especially the Mormon Battalion diaries in the collection. Remarkably, I have even found several useful items in areas that the Huntington is not known for – on Indian Territory in the 1830s (most are located in the American Indian File) and even Upper Canada (found in disperse items like the Gilbert Belnap Autobiography and the Edmund Kirby Papers).

In the coming months I will start a postdoctoral fellowship at Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU, where I will integrate these sources into my manuscript. I thank the Huntington for its generosity, its librarians and archivists for their kindness and immense help with my research, and its other fellows for the many interesting discussions over lunch and coffee.

After receiving his PhD from Temple University, Thomas Richards, Jr. will start his postdoctoral fellowship at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in the Fall.

West Work is ICW’s blog series highlighting Western History scholars’ findings based on their research in local archives.


Adam Goodman is currently a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities at the USC. Beginning fall 2016, he will be an Assistant Professor of History and Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Goodman is a scholar of migration interested in the interconnected histories of people throughout the Americas and received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. His current book project explores the rise of the deportation regime and the expulsion of Mexicans from the United States over the last century. He has published articles, essays, and reviews in academic venues such as the Journal of American Ethnic History and popular outlets such as The Nation and The Washington Post.

We interviewed Adam about his research, what he’s currently teaching at USC, and how his work affects his experience of Los Angeles.



ICW: Tell us about your background and training. How did you come to your interest in immigration history?

Adam Goodman: Before starting graduate school I worked as a high school history teacher in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on the US-Mexico border. Many of my students came from families that had recently migrated to the United States, and some continued to cross the border on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis. Living in the Valley sparked an interest in how migration and migration policies shape people’s lives, which I then went on to explore in more depth as a history Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania.


ICW: What was it like to study American immigration at Penn, and how did Mexican immigration history fit or not fit the paradigms you studied in graduate school?

Goodman: From the outside looking in, the Penn history department doesn’t seem like an obvious place to study Mexican migration history: there are no Mexicanists or Chicana/o historians on faculty and, although it has grown in recent years, the Mexican community in Philadelphia remains relatively small compared to major metropolitan areas in the Southwest and West. But it was the perfect place for me. When I started graduate school I didn’t know what I wanted to specialize in. (For a time, I thought it might be the history of education and social inequality.) Fortunately for me, I found a dynamic group of engaged scholars—Michael Katz, Tom Sugrue, Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Eiichiro Azuma, and Steve Hahn, among others—who nurtured my burgeoning interest in migration history and policy, pushed me read widely and “think big,” and encouraged me to conduct archival research and oral histories in Mexico. Ultimately, their advice made me a better historian and added depth to my work. And, in the end, the fact that Penn didn’t have anyone working in my direct field forced me to branch out and make connections with colleagues at other institutions across the country.


ICW: Do the metaphors of uprooting and transplanting still mean something in immigration scholarship?  Why or why not?

Goodman: More than anything, metaphors like “the uprooted” (popularized by Oscar Handlin in 1951) and “the transplanted” (coined by John Bodnar in 1985) are useful to understanding the historiography of immigration and how much it has changed over the last few decades. Up until the 1990s, studies of one-way European immigration and assimilation dominated the field of immigration history (aside from a few notable exceptions). Since then, however, scholars—from increasingly diverse backgrounds—have focused on the histories of migrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa; the many connections people maintain to their countries of origin; and how nativism, exclusion, and deportation have shaped United States history. There has also been an important shift away from the study of immigration and toward migration and mobility studies.


ICW: How does your work inform your daily life in LA?

Goodman: There are times when I see the city in a different light because of my work on Mexican migration and deportation. Dodger Stadium isn’t just where the Dodgers play: it’s also Elysian Park, the place where immigration authorities rounded people up in a make-shift detention camp during the infamous “Operation Wetback” deportation campaign in 1954; and it’s Chavez Ravine, the home to a large Mexican community until the city and team ownership forcibly displaced them so the ballpark could be built. Two of my favorite places in LA are Grand Central Market and the central branch of the Public Library. But when I emerge from the Pershing Square metro station en route to either, I can’t help but think about the people whose deportation hearings are taking place at that very moment, just two blocks away at the Immigration Court at 6th and Olive.


Chavez Ravine, exact date unknown. photCL 486 (307) from the Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles, 1950 – 1970 at The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


ICW: Tell us about the class you are teaching at USC.  What do you think you might expect from USC students on the topic(s) you are working with in the course?

Goodman: This semester I’m teaching a class on the history of Mexican migration to the United States. The first half of the course covers the sixteenth century to 1986. (We move fast!) It starts with the legacies of colonialism and conquest by European powers and the United States, and then it explores the first Mexican migrants to the US, Mexican American community formation, the Bracero Program, undocumented migration, and return migration to Mexico—whether by choice or force. The second half of the semester we’ll be examining topics on contemporary Mexican migration, including the militarization of the US-Mexico border, popular culture and migration, and Mexico’s impact on migration and migration’s impact on Mexico.

I hope that the course’s historical orientation enables students to better understand the essential role migration has played in shaping the interconnected histories of Mexico and the United States. Today, more than 34 million people of Mexican origin live in the US, making up around 11 percent of the total population; and the 12 million Mexican migrants who reside in the US comprise around 10 percent of Mexico’s population.

There’s also no better place to learn about Mexican migration, past and present, than Los Angeles. I hope the class helps students engage with the city in new ways. I want them to get off campus and see LA for what it is: a global metropolis that is home to more Mexicans than anywhere else in the world aside from Mexico City. With that in mind, during the second half of the semester students will be heading out into the community and conducting institutional histories of local migrant-serving organizations.


ICW: What’s the best thing about Los Angeles?

Goodman: The food is hard to beat, but, as a public transportation user and advocate, I’d add that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the metro. The Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, Gold Line extension to the SGV, and Purple Line extension to Westwood are going to be game changers. An affordable, integrated public transportation system will make Los Angeles a more livable city for all of its inhabitants.


ICW: What are you working on now, in the short and long term?

Goodman: In the short-term I’m working on a couple of articles and essays, in addition to a book chapter about how migration policy has affected families split between Mexico and the United States. (It’s largely based on oral histories I did in the central-western Mexican state of Jalisco.) I’m also organizing an event on the roots and realities of the Central American refugee crisis that will be held at USC on March 22. And, a couple of weeks later, I’ll be giving a talk in El Monte on the history of immigration raids and immigrant resistance in 1970s Los Angeles. In the long—but hopefully not too long!—term, I’ll be working on my book project about the growth of the deportation regime and expulsion of Mexicans over the last century, and preparing it for publication.