John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy
Edited by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung
John Okada’s No-No Boy is a legendary and foundational work in both Asian American Studies and Japanese American history. First published in 1957, the novel was largely forgotten for over a decade until a group of young Asian American writers rediscovered it in the early 1970s and oversaw its republication. It has since been published by the University of Washington Press in two editions, the latest coming in 2014 and has been a staple of Asian American Studies courses for decades now. If there were an Asian American Literature Hall of Fame, No-No Boy would be a first ballot selection.
On a clear day, the 14,411-foot peak of Mt. Rainier looms large on Seattle’s southern horizon. The glacial mountain has played a major role in the lives of people living in the region for centuries. Long before settlers arrived, Indigenous peoples called it home and, to many, it remains a sacred place. Early Japanese immigrants living in the region also regarded it with great respect, dubbing it “Tacoma Fuji” because it reminded them of Japan.
“Kodomo no tame ni. They’re our children, set them free.” In a protest at the site of the old Tule Lake jail earlier this month, survivors of WWII incarceration pounded their fists in the air and chanted alongside family and friends. This action coincided with #FamiliesBelongTogether protests, in which people all over the country raised their voices in opposition to the practice of separating and detaining immigrant children and families, a practice that strikes too close to home for many.
By guest author Brandon Shimoda
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act, with which the United States closed the book on Japanese American incarceration. Closed the book, with the overbearing hand of both the proud, proprietary storyteller and the person who is tired of, though more accurately haunted by, the story. The question now, 30 years later, is whether or not the book is in fact over. I risk preempting the question by saying that any history that still possesses the power to generate silence and denial, violence and shame, and seemingly boundless and unbroken reincarnations of injustice, is a history that has not ended.
In stories of the forced removal and incarceration, certain types of stories recur. There is the shock of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent exclusion orders, the preparations for removal including human “vultures” who come by to buy household goods for a fraction of their value, and Issei women who break dishes rather then sell them at such prices. Once at the concentration camp, there is dust, extreme temperatures, barbed wire fences and guard towers, spartan living conditions (sometimes in converted horse stalls), lack of privacy, and the slow disintegration of family life. And there are the toilets. Always the toilets.
If Japanese American/Canadian incarceration happened today, what would you bring with you? That’s the question at the heart of Kayla Isomura’s new Suitcase Project. This year she has been photographing Yonsei and Gosei in Seattle and Vancouver who answered her call for participants. The portraits serve as somber reminders of our not-distant past and will appear in an exhibit opening June 16, 2018 at the Nikkei National Museum (and sometime soon in Seattle, we hope). We talked to Densho Development Manager Danielle Higa about her experience as a participant in The Suitcase Project, and then to Kayla Isomura about the thinking behind the project and her reflections now that it’s wrapping up.
Do you love the stories we share at Densho? Use our digital archives and educational materials? Appreciate the insightful analysis, on-the-ground advocacy, and fire clapbacks we deliver online and IRL? Then we hope you’ll consider donating to Densho through the Seattle Foundation’s one-day online giving event GiveBIG on May 9th!
A middle school renaming process in Palo Alto, California has kicked up some of the same xenophobic dust that clouded public understandings about Japanese American complicity in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the local school board issued their decision on the matter in March — well before this issue was even on our radar — we think it’s critical that we revisit the debacle, and we’ve got some suggestions for how they can go about starting to repair some of the damage done.
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture