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  • Toru
  • Keith L. Camacho (bio)

Kenji Tanaka was born in Japan in 1976. His father, a hotel developer, moved to Guam with his family when Kenji was about seven years old. Originally from Nagoya, an industrial center in Japan, they now lived in the suburban neighborhood of Tamuning, a village located less than a mile from the island’s tourist mecca. It was a nice place, too. Manicured lawns, as well as plumeria and flame trees in full bloom, lined the sidewalks in an orderly fashion. At the entrance of some hotels, indigenous vendors greeted tourists with smiles and sold locally made crafts for modest prices. Not far away, the Tanakas recently purchased home reflected the fine architecture of their neighborhood. Neatly trimmed hedges, an elaborately designed fence, and tall granite walls graced the exterior of their residence. Overlooking the bay, with a sweeping view of the hotels, their house provided a warm setting for social gatherings. On many occasions, Kenji’s parents hosted guests from Australia, Hawai‘i, and Singapore. His mother dutifully ensured that their home remained clean, with an ample supply of food and drink ready on demand. She prepared daily meals and often rearranged the furniture to give the home a fresh look. Kenji’s parents looked forward to establishing a lasting partnership with the island’s tourist community.

But that was not the case for Kenji, the Tanakas’ only child. He was now eight years old, with rich, black hair that contrasted with his white, powdery skin. Kenji enjoyed swimming at the beaches and exploring the jungles, activities he fondly called “Snoopy’s adventure trips.” His mother sometimes organized these outings, especially during special days of celebration, like a birthday. But every weekday morning, Kenji dreaded waking up and having to attend a public elementary school. His parents, one of whom graduated from a university in the Kansai region, deliberately placed Kenji in a local school. Their son could have easily attended a Catholic primary program or a Japanese language institute. Instead, they [End Page 321] wanted their son to receive a well-rounded American education and to engage daily with the native population. On the evening before his first day of school, they told him, “Son, make us proud, okay? Your grandparents, if they were alive, would be happy to know that you are in America.”

During the initial weeks of school, Kenji’s mother had no difficulty in preparing her son for class. But by the third month of his enrollment, she noticed that her son’s sleeping patterns had become irregular. Kenji became fidgety and irritated at night, making the morning routine for his mother all the more taxing. In an effort to awaken him, Kenji’s mother usually kneeled beside her son and nudged his shoulder. Nowadays, Kenji quickly turned on his stomach. Clinching his small fingers into the bedding, he gripped the edges of the futon and buried his head deep into the blanket. He imagined that if he stayed motionless, like a lazy land turtle, his mother would rise, turn around, and walk away, and he wouldn’t have to go anywhere. After several minutes of struggling to stay in one position (even turtles cramp), Kenji eventually relented to his mother’s urging.

“Mama, I don’t want to go school!” he asserted, squinting his eyes and wiping the perspiration from his neck.

“My son, you have to go. Anyway, don’t worry. I already packed your favorite bento,” she responded, caressing his warm forehead.

Grudgingly, Kenji stood up and staggered to the bathroom. As his mother prepared her husband’s coffee, Kenji straddled his short legs across the toilet. It often took him a couple of minutes to get over his morning stupor, enough time for him to pee and to change out of his pajamas. Kenji was a small fellow, just tall enough to brush his teeth at the sink if he stood on tiptoe. By the time he put on his navy-blue polyester pants and floral-print shirt, his father had left the house. The loud grinding of the car’s clutch signaled his dad’s goodbye.

“Come here, let me fix your collar,” Kenji...


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pp. 321-327
Launched on MUSE
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