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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 105-114
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from Clay Walls
[Isan Kajok Spora]
Faye! Have you heard?"
"The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor!"
"What? Where's Pearl Harbor?" It must be somewhere in the Far East, I thought.
"Hawaii. It means war for the United States. Everyone's talking about it. Where have you been?"
"Right here," I said, remembering I left the house before Momma had turned on the radio. "What do you mean, war?"
"Just what I said, war. A sneak attack. Typical of the waenom, isn't it?"
The week's Bible lesson fell on deaf ears as everyone tried to comprehend what being at war meant. Afterwards, we stood outside the church and talked about Pearl Harbor, saying things like, "Those stupid Japs," "Punks dropping bombs on the U.S.," "The Americans will sink the 'rising sun' so fast it'll be over before we know it."
We didn't notice the car slowing down along the curb where we stood. "Hey!" a man yelled from the car. We turned to see what he wanted. The brown-haired, blue-eyed man made sure his three companions were paying attention before he growled at us. "You stinkin' Japs. Go back where you came from!"
Alice and I looked at each other. "We're not Japanese," we told him.
Reverend Lim had been standing at the top of the stairs waiting to greet his parishioners. "Go away or I'll call the police," he warned the man.
The man's spit landed at our feet. "Go back where you came from!" As the driver began to speed away, the man yelled, "You fuckin' yellow monkeys!"
Reverend Lim ran down the stairs to join us. "I think you children had better get off the streets. Go straight home and stay in your house. People are in a state of shock. Go home where it is safe."
Alice decided to stay at church and wait for her parents. I hurried down the streets I had walked earlier: past the wood-framed houses with their aprons of green grass, past the picket fences that enclosed naked dormant plants, past garage-high poinsettias bursting with fiery blossoms. I ran until I heard Momma's radio from the street. As soon as I walked in the door, she shouted, "The waenom bombed Pearl Harbor!"
I walked over and turned down the volume of the radio. In the same loud voice she said, "The fools. They can't beat the United States. They'll get what they deserve. At last, Korea will have her independence."
The radio announcer spoke of sneak attacks, ships sinking, fires, deaths, war. He said nothing about Korean independence.
"Momma. War means we could all be killed."
"Oh no, don't you worry. They'll never touch us here. The Americans will smash them right away. The Japanese will be defeated. Now be quiet. I want to hear this," she [End Page 105] said, turning up the volume.
It wasn't long before the phone began to ring. Koreans were getting in touch with their countrymen. They talked excitedly as they cursed the Japanese, cheered for the United States, and planned their country's independence. The telephone became inadequate and meetings were called. Momma pushed aside her work to attend. She told me about them later.
"We're going to get together. United Koreans to help the United States. Men are going to volunteer for the national guard. People with money will buy bonds. And we're going to wear badges saying we're Koreans."
"You don't have to worry. You're an American citizen. But we might be mistaken for Japanese."
"That's nothing new," I said.
"The war is new. We don't want people to think we're our enemy."
Momma looked puzzled when I laughed. "There's an old saying about being one's own enemy," I explained.
"Never mind. I don't know why it struck me as being funny. It has nothing to do with this," I said.
The Christmas dance was cancelled because of the...