Episode 7: Wax On, Wax Off – Lessons from and a History of Japanese Immigration to the U.S. through Mr. Myagi in The Karate Kid

In this episode, Shai and Roderick dive deep into 1984’s The Karate Kid. They specifically focus on how the character of Mr. Myagi allegedly immigrated from Japan to the U.S. during the 1940s. The Immigration and Nationality principles they will explore include Japanese U.S. Immigration history, the Immigration Act of 1924, the Immigration and Nationality Acts of 1952 and 1965, and Japanese internment camps during World War II. Plus, Shai and Roderick debate whether or not The Karate Kid movie sequels, re-make, and the television show spin-off, Cobra Kai, are any good.

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Show Notes

Welcome to this episode of Hasta La Visa, Baby – a podcast that takes a deep dive into US immigration law and its relation to fictitious characters in television and film!  Host Shai Dyan is an immigration attorney with Gibney Anthony & Flaherty, and he is based in Los Angeles, CA.  He is joined for this episode – as for all other episodes! – by his New York-based friend and colleague, Gibney Anthony & FLaherty immigration attorney Roderick Potts.  Together, Shai and Roderick demystify immigration law by focusing each episode on a particular work featuring a foreign national living in the US.  They discuss the show or movie, zeroing in on this character to speculate on his/her visa status and possible problems associated with living in the US, and to summarize a hypothetical law consultation with the character.  Usually, each episode assumes the character lives in a modern-day US, though today’s episode is an exception.

For this first episode, Shai and Roderick focus on The Karate Kid. After summarizing the movie and running through a few fun facts about it, they shift their attention to Mr. Myagi. Though he was born in Japan in 1925, Mr. Myagi moved to the U.S. as a teenager. He fought in Europe in World War II and became a decorated American war hero. When we meet him in the film in the 80’s, he works as a maintenance man and becomes a father figure and karate trainer to Daniel. To properly have an immigration discussion about Mr. Myagi, we must first go back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1860’s, Japanese nationals began moving to the U.S. only to face harsh working conditions and a hostile perception. The Immigration Act of 1924 was then passed, imposing severe restrictions on immigration from any non-Western European country, ceasing legal Asian immigration until 1952. It is extremely implausible that Mr. Myagi could have legally moved to the U.S. in the 40’s as he claimed. Thus, it is Shay and Roderick’s view that Mr. Myagi entered the country under false premise or illegally without inspection.

Rather than imagining a hypothetical consultation with Mr. Myagi, Shai and Roderick dedicate the second segment of the episode to discussing a topic of great importance for Mr. Myagi and Japanese Americans during World War 11: internment camps. In 1942, President Rosevelt issued a policy that all people of Japanese descent were to be taken from their normal lives and sent to be incarcerated in isolated camps with prison conditions. It took over 30 years for that authority to be formally removed from the military.

As many people don’t know about the severity of these camps, Shai and Roderick take the opportunity to bring awareness to this dark period in America’s history. The episode wraps up with a few final conclusions of the movie from Daniel’s innocence to Mr. Myagi’s drinking habits.


Learn more about the movie featured in this episode: The Karate Kid.
Learn more about Shai Dayan, Roderick Potts, and Gibney Anthony & Flaherty, LLP.
Connect with us at hastalavisa@gibney.com.
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