- Haunted by Waters: A Journey through Race and Place in the American West, and: I Call to Remembrance: Toyo Suyemoto’s Years of Internment, and: Letters to the Valley: A Harvest of Memories
Three recent works by Japanese American writers—Robert T. Hayashi, Toyo Suyemoto, and David Mas Masumoto—highlight not only the ways contemporary Japanese American subjects are haunted by ghosts and memories of landscapes that have been lost, contaminated, or denied to them, but also the innovative ways these specific spaces have been reclaimed through language. In Haunted by Waters: A Journey through Race and Place in the American West, literary scholar Robert T. Hayashi explores the complex relationship between categories of race and nature and makes a major contribution to the fields of ecocriticism, environmental history, and Asian American studies. He opens with a discussion of the renaming of a mountain in Idaho from Chinks Peak to Chinese Peak in 2001; this incident allows him to explore how “race and place” have been connected and culturally represented “in the symbolic space of American democracy—the storied mountains, sage desert flats and wild rivers of the West” (1). As a whole, he focuses on Idaho, which provides the landscape to explore conceptions of race and place through a broad time scope, from the writings of famed explorers Lewis and Clark in the epoch of early statehood to the time period of Japanese American internment.
Hayashi situates his exploration of race and place in Idaho within the suggestive gaps identified by environmental and Western historians, most notably Carolyn Merchant (The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution ) and Patricia Nelson Limerick (The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West ), who ask how people of color have intersected with the land. Hayashi writes, “We must remind ourselves how some were cast out of the Garden of the West [End Page 199] because of the restrictions upon this imagined and expansive democratic space and how these histories all connect to underlying ideals that chart a human evolution steered by a federal republic—not a natural process” (23–24). Hayashi’s project of “denaturalizing” nature and race in the landscape also is indebted to the foundational work of environmental historians such as Mark David Spence and Linda Nash, who wrote Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (1990) and Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge (2007), respectively. Although Haunted By Waters is shaped by environmental history, it is not centrally located within it. Thus the engagement with particular fields, like environmental history, at times is less thorough than a study grounded in a single discipline. However, the study’s interdisciplinarity gives it scope and foregrounds the relationship of Asians and Asian farming communities with the land; Hayashi is particularly strong in placing environmental history in direct conversation with literary studies.
Another strength of Hayashi’s book is that he incorporates interdisciplinary modes of writing that enrich his explication of Japanese American experiences such as farming, survival, and the internment. He examines memoirs, poems, legal cases, and his own subject position as an avid fly fisherman and a third-generation Japanese American with a grandfather who died in Minidoka; the book also includes photographs of internees, maps, and other visual images that bring alive the experience of internment. To some degree Hayashi is haunted by a past of land denied and forsaken, even while in the present he takes his place within it: “Maybe it is this that haunts me, what I find in these waters . . . . For being naturalized as an other in America has always meant moving in...