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  • An Okinawan Nisei in Hawaii
  • Philip K. Ige (bio)

Among other things, I'm an Okinawan, but if you should ask me what it feels like to be an Okinawan Nisei in Hawaii, I would have a hell of a time answering you. But for sure I can tell you I don't feel inferior or superior to others just because my father and mother came from Okinawa of the Ryukyu Islands. I'm glad, of course, that they did, for that made me "Hawaii-born," with all the rights, opportunities, and responsibilities of an American citizen. I don't feel particularly "different" from other Japanese Americans in the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, I don't feel particularly "Okinawan," if that makes any sense. But it wasn't like that in the beginning. No, it wasn't like that for a long time.

I was born years ago in a banana patch deep in a valley in Kahaluu, Oahu, but I don't recall anything of that time or place. My earliest recollections go back to Maunaloa, Molokai, where I spent most of my childhood. It was there on a pineapple plantation in the 1930s that I first became aware that we were Okinawans, supposedly different from and possibly not even Japanese. There were seven of us children then. One more was to come years later. My father was a truck driver, while my mother stayed home to look after us. I was the eldest, the "number one son," who, together with my sister below me, was supposed to set the example for the rest of the kids.

Enclosed by wind-breaking eucalyptus trees and surrounded by miles of pineapple fields cut up into countless gray-green blocks by dusty red roads, our plantation lay on a high, gentle slope of Maunaloa facing Molokai Channel. Oahu-small, low, and gray-was often visible on the far horizon. A dirt road separated Japanese Camp-a group of dark duplex homes arranged in a square-from much larger Filipino Camp, which housed mostly unmarried male Filipino workers.

On the Japanese Camp side of the main road were the public bathhouse, a general store and bakery run by a Chinese, a barbershop, a pool hall, Chinese bachelor's quarters, a movie house, the plantation stables and garage. On the Filipino Camp side were a small hospital, a restaurant, the plantation office, a post office, a boxing and wrestling arena, a mess hall for single Filipino men, and several houses for the plantation lunas, or foremen, public schoolteachers, and a handful of haole office workers. The haole [End Page 174] plantation manager's home-painted white and surrounded by a spacious green lawn abundantly planted with shrubs and trees and enclosed by a white picket fence-sat on a hill overlooking the two camps. The assistant manager, another white man, lived in a small house below his boss. The public elementary school, a red-roofed bungalow, lay at the foot of a long incline in the middle of pineapple fields. Most of the families in Japanese Camp were Naichi Japanese, but there was a goodly number of Okinawan Japanese and a handful of Chinese, a Korean-Hawaiian family, a Filipino-Hawaiian family, and a Portuguese or Spanish family. Although home visits and dinner invitations were usually limited to their own group, on special occasions like New Year's and weddings and funerals, Naichis and Okinawans alike visited each other's homes and participated in each other's celebrations and mournings.

One afternoon-I've forgotten whether it was a Saturday or a Sunday-my sister below me came home crying. She was ten years old and I was twelve. We converged around her quickly-Mother and the rest of us. Father was not around. "What happened?" we asked. "Somebody give you licking?"

"No!" she cried, not looking at us and wiping her eyes with the back of her hands.

"Then why you crying?" we asked.

"Haru called me one Okinawa Big Rope."

"Whatsa matter with her? She got mad at you?" I said.


"I never do what she like I do."

"What she like you do?"

"I forget, but I never like do...


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