Johns Hopkins University Press

This manuscript examine Paredes's short stories set in Japan immediately after WWII, which depict interracial relationships between Mexican American soldiers and Japanese women. As opposed to many white-authored mainstream narratives which often emphasize the war's end with its depictions of romantic relationships between white soldiers and Japanese women, Paredes's stories satirically expose the issue of racism, sexism, and imperialism in such relationships to claim that the war was continuing throughout the occupation. This article analyzes two stories, unpublished "21,000 Ping Pong Balls: A Story of the American Occupation of Japan," archived at University of Texas, and "Getting an Oboe for Joe" from The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (1994).

The Allied occupation of Japan (1945-52) that followed Japan's unconditional surrender in the Second World War produced a number of narratives set in Japan, centering on romantic relationships between American GIs and Japanese women. The list of such narratives includes Earnest Hoberecht's Tokyo Romance (1947), Pearl S. Buck's The Hidden Flower (1952), and James Michener's Sayonara (1954); and films such as Japanese War Bride (1952), Three Stripes in the Sun (1955), and the adaptation of Michener's novel (1957).1 The production of these narratives originated not only from the U.S. military's leadership role in the occupation but also from Japan's set-up of prostitution facilities for Allied GIs. As John D. Dower observes, Supreme Commander of the General Headquarters (GHQ), Douglas MacArthur, took control in the process of Japan's reconstruction, which "epitomized the American monopoly on policy and power" in the Allied occupation.2 But even prior to the landing of the Allied forces on Japan, the Japanese government established the Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA) in August 1945, a large organization that recruited 55,000 Japanese women through newspaper advertisements and that provided sexual services for GIs in Tokyo and the urban areas in Japan.3 Knowing about a number of sexual assaults by American GIs in Okinawa in the ending phase of the war, the government organized the RAA in order to reduce this problem. While the organization helped keep the number of assaults relatively low, the closure of the facilities in 1946 at the order of GHQ re-accelerated the rate of assault.4 The production of the interracial narratives in U.S. popular culture obscures (and thus enlarges) Japanese women's victimhood, which prevailed before and after the prostitution legalized and sanctioned by all parties because they focus on "romantic" and "clean" relationships between exclusively white American GIs and Japanese civilian women.

In these popular narratives, the interracial relationships are based upon U.S. democratic values, specifically gender equality, to emphasize the singular, linear narrative of the U.S.'s successful occupation and democratization of Japan. Just as the GHQ granted universal suffrage to Japanese women through Japan's postwar constitution enacted in 1947, so [End Page 37] American GIs liberate Japanese women from Asian feudalism, patriarchy, and sexism, and teach them the democratic value of freedom. And yet the Japanese woman's body embodies the occupied nation itself in this scenario, with the sexual conquest involving an interracial relationship implicitly yet assuredly symbolizing the power relationship between the U.S. and Japan. This is proven when Japanese men are generally excluded in white Americans' erotic relationships with Japanese women. In The Hidden Flower and Sayonara, the white protagonist eventually marries, or is implied to marry, a white woman after breaking up with the Japanese wife/lover, and this intensifies the "love-'em-and-leave-'em" scenario.

As opposed to these white mainstream writers who largely rely on the trope of romance and tragedy, Américo Paredes satirically deals with the occupation of Japan in five stories from the collection The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (1994) and an unpublished story entitled "21,000 Ping Pong Balls: A Story of the American Occupation of Japan." Paredes joined the Pacific theater of the Second World War as a military journalist for the Stars and Stripes in 1944 and stayed in occupied Japan, except for his brief trips to China and Korea, until his discharge and return to Texas in 1950.5 The military service enabled him not only to receive higher education through the GI Bills but also to speak about racism in the U.S. in his fiction and other writings after the war. Paredes earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1956 and started teaching as an English professor at the same university while publishing articles and books on Chicano culture and literature. He wrote his Asian stories in the immediate postwar period while he was stationed in Japan, although much of his fiction, including the stories, was published about forty years later by Arte Público Press.6 The publication history as well as the current active scholarship on his writings seem to mirror the increasingly important national and racial issue of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the U.S.-Mexico border areas, especially because NAFTA, as Paredes says, "has brought the question of Mexican immigration to the forefront again" in the U.S.7 His fiction set in occupied Japan explores the question of how Mexican-American identity can be shaped on the international scene and clearly rewrites the romance narratives penned in proliferation by white authors after the war. For Paredes, neither romance nor friendship is enough to fully capture the spectrum of the complex experiences of Mexican Americans and the Japanese. Even though both groups are exposed to whites' racial prejudice, the difference of nationality still makes the two racialized groups separated, as the binary between the occupying and the occupied remains. [End Page 38]

Paredes's portrait of Japan sparked a controversy between two Chicano scholars, Ramón Saldívar and José E. Limón, on the pages of American Literary History in 2009. Prior to their contentious exchange in the journal, Saldívar published a monograph, The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary (2006), and discusses Paredes's military experiences in Asia as the focal point for his theory of "Greater Mexico." Paredes coins the term and defines the theory as one which unifies the identity of Mexicans and Mexican Americans while preserving their ethnic culture in the culturally and racially diverse but white-dominant United States. Although Paredes begins using the term of "Greater Mexico" in With His Pistol in His Hand (1958), Saldívar claims that Paredes formed the concept as early as in his Asian years in the late '40s. Analyzing a short poem that Parades wrote when he was in occupied Japan, Saldívar states,

[The poem] denotes . . . the kinship of affiliation with other races and ethnic groups that already existed in Paredes's experience of the transnational borderlands of Greater Mexico but which accelerates to fruition in Japan under the consciousness created by a sense of shared oppression and injustice, as mutual recipients of race prejudice, and of having experienced the catastrophe of imperial conquest.8

Paredes's stay in Japan "provided a defining paradigm for his understanding of racial discord and concord" and forms the basis for the "Greater Mexico" theory when he saw "oppression and injustice" inflicted upon the Japanese by the occupying forces. In Saldívar's rendering, Paredes sees parallels between the Texas-Mexico borderland and occupied Japan, and as non-Anglo-American groups who suffer from white racism, both Mexican Americans and the Japanese are "friends," and here a possibility that Paredes began theorizing "Greater Mexico" in Japan arises. However, Limón criticizes this rendering as well as Paredes's seeming silence on Japan's war crimes especially against the Chinese before and during the war. For Limón, the Japanese cannot be viewed in the same light as Mexican Americans, because Japan was "at that moment an imperialist and racist aggressor nation," and thus the Japanese were "much more akin to many of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth century Anglos who came to dominate the US-Mexico borderlands."9 Speaking about Saldívar's quote from Paredes's journal entry, which illustrates his fascination with Japanese women in Tokyo, Limon also condemns their orientalist attitude: "In a manner consistent with popular [End Page 39] Hollywood films of the 1950s . . . Paredes's/Saldívar's largely positive focus on Japan is centrally articulated through [Japanese] women."10 As opposed to Saldívar's claim about the "sameness" of the two non-white groups, Limón emphasizes the "otherness" of the Japanese due to Japan's imperialist role in Asia during WWII.

These two scholars' views are oppositional, because the Japanese are either "friends" or "enemies" for Mexican Americans in the fiction of Paredes. However, his stories set in occupied Japan resist such a binary—the two groups are both friends and enemies. Paredes presents both groups as the oppressor and oppressed, and eventually declines to view them as victims of the same kinds of oppression, while depicting the racism that both groups get from whites. Paredes presents the impossibility of that interethnic friendship because Mexican Americans are part of the occupying forces and the Japanese and other Asians are not able to recognize the fact that these Americans are a racial minority group in the U.S. Limón is correct when he points out that Paredes frequently depicts Japanese women and is somewhat silent on Japan's war crimes against other Asian countries. Paredes's fiction is more concerned with ethnic Americans' status as belonging to the occupying forces and their racial and national conflicts with Asians. This question was certainly pertinent for Paredes himself as being part of these military forces in the midst of the rapidly changing geopolitical situations of East Asia in the postwar period. Despite such flaws, however, Paredes' fiction, written in the immediate post-WWII era and published in the 1990s in part, should be viewed as significantly different from white-authored novels and films that emphasize the war's "end" between the U.S. and Japan through the occupation. In multiple stories by Paredes, especially the unpublished "21,000 Ping Pong Balls: A Story of the American Occupation of Japan" and "Sugamo" (1950, 1994),11 Japanese women are reserved for white GIs, a scenario that illustrates the way the author's "fixation" on the women tells of ethnic Americans' marginalization and isolation both in and outside the army. Paredes also depicts male Asians (Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans), who are minor characters but dynamically and often comically affect ethnic Americans' course of action. Thus, Limón's claim that Paredes's positive views of Japan come solely from Japanese women does not apply to his fiction. For Paredes, nationality, race/ethnicity, and gender intermesh in occupied Japan and are never to be rendered into a single, simplified narrative.

Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue observes that in Paredes's "Ichiro Kikuchi," the eponymous Mexican-Japanese protagonist is rescued on the Pacific battlefield but awkwardly shunned by a Mexican-American soldier, Melguizo, [End Page 40] after the war, because of "Melguizo's own racial dilemmas within US social structures."12 In other words, while Melguizo's consciousness as a Mexican in the U.S. drives him to rescue the Spanish-speaking protagonist on the battlefield, his consciousness as an American in U.S. army in occupied Japan eventually makes him silent in front of Ichiro. Sae-Saue's discussion points out both the possibility and impossibility of interracial friendship between Mexican Americans and the Japanese in a war context and departs from the oversimplified rendering that the Japanese are either the friend or the enemy for Mexican Americans. However, I note that in "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" and "Getting an Oboe for Joe," Mexican-American characters directly engage in the acts of racism or/and sexism and embody U.S. imperialism, and Japanese and other Asian characters attempt to increase survival funds by seducing or making gestures of friendship toward these Americans. Paredes does not necessarily depict ethnic Americans and Asians as morally good characters: he satirically depicts that they cannot be equal friends, although they are similarly viewed as others by whites.

Paredes's interests in race relations involving multiple races and nationalities and their resulting "multiple" binaries are already seen in his first novel set in prewar South Texas, George Washington Gómez: A Mexicotexan Novel (1990), which he wrote in the late '30s. There he refers briefly to Japan's imperialism in the years leading up to WWII, as Jimmy Shigemara—presumably a misspelling of a Japanese surname of "Shigemura"—of a prosperous Japanese-American family in Texas boastfully says, "Of course, we're not the same race as the Chinese. We're much more civilized."13 Echoing the racist language common both in U.S. and Japanese imperialist contexts, Jimmy's remark illustrates how the convergence of the issues of ethnic/national identity, assimilation, and the war ironically ends up simplifying his identity.14 We can observe a continuity in South Texas and occupied Japan in terms of the dividedness, a sense of similarity or sameness in that both are divided, instead of ethnic American and Asian characters' racial unity or solidarity in texts. Paredes explores the theme of dividedness in the two short stories examined here, "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" archived at the University of Texas, and "Getting an Oboe for Joe" from the aforementioned collection, which depict interracial relationships specifically between Mexican-American GIs and Japanese women. In these stories, he depicts the interracial relationships as well as friendships and antagonism between Mexican-American and Asian national characters. In both stories, Mexican-American protagonists perform racial passing as Japanese by wearing Japanese clothes and act Japanese to satirically expose the white tendency to ignore or [End Page 41] not see important group differences when dealing with the non-white world. However, although their passing works in relation to whites, the Mexican-American protagonists remain "others" who belong to the occupying forces in the eyes of Asians. By depicting various interactions between these ethnically, racially, and nationally diverse non-white groups, Paredes explores interethnic friendship or intimacy and its limits in an environment where Asians are dominant but white supremacy is maintained away from the U.S. mainland.

War Continuing: Américo Paredes's Failed Hero

Set in occupied Japan, Paredes's "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" depicts a triangular relationship among white and Mexican-American soldiers and a Japanese prostitute. This story is not collected in The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories, which contains the other stories set in Japan, perhaps because of the existence of a couple of different drafts.15 However, Paredes seems to have originally thought of this piece as one of the series set during the occupation, since the story's enigmatic title comes from a line in another story, "Getting an Oboe for Joe," regarding a white officer's error: "But everybody knows he'll never make it because of that time he ordered 21,000 ping pong balls for the camp when he meant to order 21. But that's another story."16 "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" centers on a married 36-year-old Mexican-American soldier named Felopardo, who is stationed at a military base in Chiba Prefecture after the war. There he is infatuated with Nanako and attempts, and fails, to rescue her from having to be a prostitute working for American GIs, especially from the hands of his white superior officer, "anti-Jap" Captain Sandhurst.17 Felopardo grandiosely views himself as her rescuer from the occupying forces while he is actually part of these forces and cheating on his wife. Feeling jealous and frustrated with the captain who is trying to monopolize Nanako, the hero knocks him down and then deserts the army to be with her. He temporarily succeeds in concealing his identity by living with Nanako in Tokyo with the aid of his Japanese and Chinese friends, who procure him an illegal job transporting military supplies to the black market. However, Sandhurst soon takes Nanako back to Chiba, and when Felopardo attempts to get her back at the end of the story, he is shot to death by a white American MP.

Despite the tragic ending, Paredes declines to present the protagonist as a civil rights hero. In drafting this story, the author seems to have hesitated to give Felopardo major flaws, since he cuts the reference to this married [End Page 42] man—"he has her that night"—actually sleeping with Nanako. Instead, Paredes describes Felopardo as a shy, timid, and innocuous Mexican American, who "cannot bring himself to suggest sexual relations" and thus does not sleep with Nanako even when he goes to the brothel to see her. Nevertheless, despite his earlier sympathy for and friendships with the Japanese and other Asians, the hero fatally shoots two Japanese police officers, who come to arrest him after his desertion for violating the U.S.'s military discipline. In other words, Paredes emphasizes that Felopardo's gestures of friendship, love, and sympathy cannot match the strife of the Japanese who live in an under-resourced environment immediately after the war. In Paredes's rendering, the war did not end in 1945 but continued for both the U.S. and Japan throughout the occupation. The white authors that I mentioned earlier stress the war's end with the "successful" occupation when they depict love between white American GIs and Japanese women. In contrast, Paredes views the war not as a thing of the past but as ongoing in occupied Japan, due to the presence of racial and national tensions between Americans and the Japanese, between white Americans and ethnic Americans, and between ethnic Americans and the Japanese. Through the deaths of the Japanese officers and Felopardo, Paredes's story exposes another reality of the occupation and resists his contemporary white authors' singular, overtly romantic narrative of this period.

From the beginning of the story, Felopardo distances himself from white Americans in light of their continuing anti-Japanese sentiment. On their battleship's top board on its way to Japan after the war, he hears a white soldier says, "After Nagasaki, [the Japanese] knew better than to fool around with us," and another GI responds, "These damn yellow bastards . . . I wish they'd killed every goddam one of them. They should've kept right on dropping bombs on their cities till they wiped them out." Felopardo thinks, "Silly young kids . . . Snot noses," with emotional detachment coming not only from his being a decade-and-a-half older than his white counterparts but also from his imposed racial inferiority, which makes him feel antagonistically towards yet act timid in front of the white soldiers. Instead, "dark, stocky Felopardo . . . looked like a sad ape and had the build of a wrestler"; he is characterized by his "lack of guts." Later in the story, Captain Breen calls him "my boy," and Felopardo thinks, "That captain was 23 years old and that he knew from Felopardo's records that the enlisted man was 36 did not keep him from calling him 'my boy.'" Per the experiences of African-American soldiers of the period, Felopardo is prevented from becoming a "man" because the army's institutional racism allows for this demeaning language. The [End Page 43] setting of occupied Japan gives an irony to this situation because while Felopardo is part of the occupying force, he is unable to establish his masculinity in a way that represents the U.S.'s military forces as his white counterparts do.

Felopardo's emotional alienation in the army leads him to identify with the Japanese. In the story, while looking at the spread of ruined buildings in Tokyo, Felopardo "knew it was going to be very hard to hate the Japanese," despite his previous hatred for the country and its people, learned from anti-Japanese propaganda newsreels back in the U.S. In Japan, Felopardo confesses in a letter to his wife that while he killed several Japanese soldiers in the Philippines, he does not want to think about it now because of the ruins in Japan, transferring his guilt to anti-Japanese newsreels. He writes, "when you see their own people you know that [Imperial Japan's] worst crime was not against us but against the Japanese. When you see these poor people dressed in wooden clogs, living in paper houses and working with scrany [sic] oxen, you know that it was a crime to take such a people into war." When Felopardo and his troops land, a crowd of Japanese in rags swarm about the candies, chocolates, and other supplies they provide. His sympathy for such Japanese civilians, however, does not mean that he is ignoring Japan's war crimes during the war, but he is seeing a continuity among the countries destroyed by the war. The narrator writes, "the bombed out people of Japan looked much the same as did the people that Japan had bombed. And hungry Japanese orphans looked like the orphans of China, Europe or the Pacific islands." The reality of postwar Japan's poverty and destruction as portrayed in Paredes's stories, especially "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" and "The Terribly High Cost," is mostly hidden from the landscape in the white-authored narratives. The absence of such a dirty reality in the American popular narratives obscures the very recent past of the war to stress the U.S.'s role and its capability of "saving" Japan quickly and efficiently. In this respect, Felopardo's sympathetic gaze at poor Japanese civilians helps to humanize the previously de-humanized people, while also criticizing Japan's war crimes against their victims both at home and abroad.

Nevertheless, Felopardo's sympathy for the Japanese is problematized by his relationship with Nanako, because it reaffirms his being part of the American occupying forces. Before his desertion, he is assigned by Special Services to direct a Japanese company to produce ping pong balls for Americans, and this is when he meets Nanako, who speaks "a mixture of broken English, basic Japanese and sign language" and lives financially supported by her "papa," American GIs. Initially Felopardo [End Page 44] refuses to sleep with her or even go to a Japanese brothel to sleep with other women due to his marital status, even though he is laughed at by his fellow-soldiers. Yet Felopardo changes his mind when he learns that Captain Sandhurst is trying to monopolize Nanako; by this time, he has fallen in love with her, as is the case with Sandhurst. Earlier in the story, the captain is portrayed as a strict, high-handed officer who orders his fellow-soldiers to maintain a soldierly attitude: "You are about to land as occupation troops in a land we have just conquered . . . Don't ever forget that these bastards are your enemies and that you're here to keep them in line, not to pamper them." Because of jealousy, Felopardo tries to "buy [Nanako] out of the brothel" by selling his own things such as blankets, cigarettes, and other army supplies into the black market. He quits answering letters from his wife and thinks about divorce to be with Nanako. Though Felopardo succeeds, at least temporarily, in taking her away, he does it only by violating the military codes, knocking the captain down and deserting the army, and in no way that is ultimately fair to her or his wife. After deserting the army, he goes to Tokyo with Nanako and hides himself in the house of her parents, and with the help of a Japanese prostitution broker named Yanaka and his Chinese-born friend named Yase, the hero engages in carrying and selling military supplies on the black market. Felopardo's desertion shows not only the dysfunction of the occupying forces but also that he is able to wield his privilege over the Japanese as an American, even after he escapes the army. He is able to engage in criminal activity while using a Japanese family's place as a cloak until Nanako is taken away by Sandhurst and Felopardo escapes the scene so as not to be arrested.

Meanwhile, in the later typed drafts, Nanako keeps working as a "free-lancing" prostitute even after she quits the brothel with the help of Felopardo. While he feels furious at her betrayal, "she wins him over to the idea that she supplement their black market income." Nanako's evasiveness weakens the story's coherence because it is unclear how Nanako eventually agrees to go with him to live in Tokyo—there is no scene in the drafts that depicts Felopardo's proposal for marriage. Paredes seems to hesitate whether to present Nanako as a sort of villain (for Felopardo), who attempts to gather her survival funds from American GIs, or as a stereotypically obedient and silent Japanese woman. Yet this "villain" version of Nanako underlines the limits of the romantic relationship between her and Felopardo and makes her different from those Japanese women who are almost always glad for their situation in the white-authored novels. In less romantic iterations of this story, Felopardo's gestures of friendship, love, and sympathy cannot match [End Page 45] postwar Japan's (and Nanako's) poor financial situations. And without the romantic interactions with Nanako, Felopardo still comically continues to think about divorcing his wife and now attempts to monopolize Nanako out of his jealousy and hostility with Sandhurst, instead of love.

What complicates the relationship between Felopardo and Nanako furthermore is a racial tension between them. In one passage, Nanako reveals to Felopardo that she has been proposed to by one of her customers, presumably Sandhurst: "[the customer] wants to marry her and at first she says no because she is 'same as Negro,' but finally agrees." Though it is difficult to discern exactly what she means by her self-identification with an African American, she seems to aim at winning Felopardo's sympathy. Her identification with postwar-era African Americans, who would be forbidden to marry whites, suggests to her white customers that she is willing to sexually serve them instead. Whereas the narrator earlier describes Felopardo's skin-color as "dark," Nanako's contrast of her "Negro" self to the two American GIs, Sandhurst and Felopardo, suggests that she views both customers as whites, or simply those who are different from her. In other words, she does not recognize Felopardo's ethnic identity properly, and this undermines her ability to recognize his racialized status in the army and his potential alliance with/marital suitability for her.

Besides, Felopardo realizes his own limited ability to embrace Nanako's racial otherness. The narrator writes, "although he has always told himself he has no racial prejudices, though he is sincere in his furtive love for [Nanako], the prospect of his affair with a Japanese woman being widely publicized in the American press is what gives him the greatest sense of shame." In addition to his guilt for betraying his wife, Felopardo's feeling of shame also reveals the way in which the under- and mis-representation of Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. impacts ethnic Americans' perceptions of the race, complicating race relations among non-whites even more. While Felopardo seems to have abandoned his prejudices when he actually sees the Japanese at the story's beginning, the impending reality that he may marry Nanako and take her to the U.S. with him makes him aware of the U.S.'s (and his own) racism. Felopardo's course from sympathy to antagonism is quite the opposite with those white GIs' in Michener's Sayonara and Buck's The Hidden Flower where white soldiers finally abandon their racist attitudes through their interactions with Japanese women. As is the case with the bombed-out landscape of Japan, Paredes rejects beautifying the reality of racial tensions between non-whites and exposes the impossibility of solving racism even through non-whites' relationships during the occupation. [End Page 46]

Paredes condemns Felopardo's unsavory motives for deserting the army when he later shoots Japanese police officers to death and is killed off by a white MP at the story's end. Here the author villainizes the hero, who pays the price of his killing the Japanese with his own death. Yet it is also significant to notice the way Paredes stresses the hero's isolation on foreign soil. In addition to the portrait of Felopardo's estrangement from both the U.S. army and the Japanese, the author makes a contrast between Felopardo and Yase, the same Chinese character who appeared earlier and now gives Japanese civilian clothes to the hero when he escapes both Japanese and American pursuers. Yase is connected to an underground society of the black market (he introduces the job of a truck driver to Felopardo), illustrating Yase's alien status and his engagement in illegal business. Despite their similar circumstances, however, Paredes contrasts Yase's capability of passing as Japanese with Felopardo's inability to do so due to their racial difference. Yase provides the Japanese clothes to Felopardo, but without shoes, such that he continues to wear his boots, and Yase tells him to go to Karuizawa, a rural resort in Nagano Prefecture, where a relative of Yase and "many foreign nationals" reside. Yet Felopardo returns to Tateyama to take Nanako back and is called out to stop by one American MP at the end of the story:

"Chotto matte," says the MP, "where the hell did you get those boots, you goddamned gook." The MP, his former roommate, recognizes Felopardo and shoots him dead as Felopardo stares into his face. The other MP comes running up the street. "He was drawing on me," says the first MP, "he was drawing on me."


The MP's use of the Japanese phrase meaning "wait," as well as his use of the term of "gook," indicates that the MP at first mistakes Felopardo for a Japanese person because of his attire, while the MP soon recognizes the protagonist's military boots and a minute later recognizes the "Japanese boot thief" as his own military roommate.

Though in another version of the story, the MP kills Felopardo simply because he felt "frightened by [Felopardo's] reputation as a killer," Paredes's language in the version above shows that the murder takes place right after the MP recognizes Felopardo's true identity as "his former roommate." This makes this ending passage ambiguous, raising three possible readings: (1) the MP murders him intentionally, implying that the MP kills Felopardo out of his racist feeling, despite their former roommate relationship; (2) the MP recognizes the protagonist as military and shoots him, vigilant-style, for desertion; (3) the MP, most presumably, [End Page 47] shoots him out of sheer confusion/in self-defense. His inability to tell the Japanese enemy from his fellow American (to read one racial other as an enemy and another one as a friend) is what Felopardo ultimately dies for. While both he and Yase are foreigners in Japan, the Chinese character is able to find a space to live due to his racial sameness with the Japanese, and Felopardo does not have a place to belong even if he is recognized properly by his fellow American soldiers. Felopardo's identification with the Japanese is not sufficient to counter Nanako's impulse to see him as a white GI, nor is it disguise enough to allow him to a successful escape from the racist MPs, with the help of the clothes from Yase. The military boots are an "at bottom" type of identity, and Paredes condemns Felopardo's rather ill-advised attempt to "go Japanese" only by disguising, stressing his eventual belonging in the U.S. army, ironically, through the murder. Paredes presents Felopardo's death as inevitable in this story, because, despite his racialized status, he isolates himself through his escape from the army, his killing of the Japanese, and his neglect of Yase's advice, all of which originate in his desire to possess Nanako for himself.

"You Look Like the Emperor": A Mexican American Becomes an American in Japan

Japanese Americans in Paredes's fiction cannot be both American and Japanese because in the defeated country, their identities are continuously challenged both internally and by others. In "Getting an Oboe for Joe," the Mexican-American protagonist, Johnny Picadero, briefly visits the Red Cross in Tokyo to see his Japanese-American girlfriend, Mabel, who belongs to the second generation of Japanese immigrants in the U.S. Seeing that she is "handing out coffee and doughnuts to a bunch of GIs,"18 Johnny continues, "She's a Nisei, one of those who got caught in Japan during the war, but she's one hundred percent American, same as you and me. I look at her fondlingly [sic]. Her face is sort of flat, but the rest of her isn't, and she's a lot of fun." Despite Johnny's stress on Mabel's "one hundred percent" American-ness, he views her almost as a Japanese woman when he sexualizes her body in a postwar context. Johnny sympathizes with Mabel when she is deported to Japan at the onset of the war, but the gesture is weakened when he fails to mention the irony of her dedicated Red Cross service after the war, stressing only her bodily attractiveness instead. Johnny's rhetoric aims not at accusing the U.S. for racism against ethnic Americans, but at justifying his possession [End Page 48] of the "Japanese" girl. His rhetoric insinuates that Japanese women are sexual objects and easy to seduce, ideas presented in the white-authored novels, although oftentimes in a more nuanced way. Johnny's relationship symbolically illustrates his desire to abandon his Mexican heritage and assimilate to white (sexist) American culture. As we have seen in "21,000 Ping Pong Balls," Japanese women are reserved for white soldiers in Paredes's fiction, and the author treats Johnny's relationship with Mabel as an index for his desire to become white in the story.

"Getting an Oboe for Joe" depicts Johnny's journey in Tokyo to find an oboe for another Mexican-American soldier, Joe or "José Evaristo Longoria-Garza de la Garza,"19 who has broken his instrument and therefore feels too depressed to work as a cook in the army. Johnny is ordered by his white superior officer to find a new oboe and embarks on his journey, although he eventually fails to complete the assignment (he mistakes a clarinet for an oboe) and encounters racism from white American MPs. Yet this is a story not about friendships among Mexican Americans in a white-dominant environment but about Johnny's tragi-comic struggle (and failure) to be viewed as a true/white American by his white peers. To prove his American-ness, Johnny comically attempts to differentiate himself from two other Mexican Americans from Texas, Joe and Pablo López, through his romantic relationship with Mabel, friendships with the Japanese, and animosity toward Koreans. In Paredes's rendering, all of these actions are characteristic of "white Americans" during the occupation. "Getting an Oboe for Joe" also includes an autobiographical element; Paredes meets and marries Amelia Nagamine, a half-Japanese and half-Uruguayan person, who was working for the Red Cross in occupied Japan, as Mabel does in the story. Because Paredes met his wife of similar origin in a similar manner, he satirizes himself in Johnny, exploring the issue of assimilation for Mexican Americans and their relations with the Japanese. At the end of the story, Johnny internally and bitterly insults his white superior officer and mocks institutional racism in the army, when he realizes that he is still not viewed as a white American. Paredes thus mocks Johnny metatextually for his struggles to assimilate to white culture—Johnny is able to be white toward the Japanese but remains a "Mexican" American a long away from home.

Johnny is driven to abandon his Mexican heritage to escape prejudice against Mexican Americans by their white peers in the army. He says in the story's opening line, "I'm a Mexican, but I'm not crazy like Joe,"20 and he continues, "That's what I keep telling Moriarty, the mess sergeant, because he keeps talking about you crazy Mexicans this and you crazy Mexicans that." Johnny's remark illustrates that his primary relationship [End Page 49] is to whites, who tend to view non-white groups collectively rather than individually. Johnny's first-person narration allows us to see his internalized double consciousness as a Mexican American. He villainizes his fellow-Mexican Americans by regarding them as "crazy" as the whites think they all are. Johnny comes from San Antonio, Texas, while Pablo López, who also grew up in San Antonio, was born in Coahuila, Mexico. Joe is also from Texas, but unlike the other two, his hometown is Jonesville on the Rio Grande, the same fictional place Paredes uses in George Washington Gómez. The Texas borderland town is envisioned as a place where Mexican culture is preserved more authentically than in other places, as is embodied in Jose's use of the oboe in playing traditional Mexican music, although Johnny calls it "that silly contraption of a tube."21 Paredes indicates that those who live in the borderland are looked down upon by other Mexican immigrants and their children in Texas—a divide between those living in "urban" San Antonio and those in "countryside" Jonesville. Johnny and even his father back home view Joe and other borderland residents as provincial, unsophisticated, and odd. Johnny says, "the people around there, my father says, have lived in the same place too long. And they keep marrying each other. That's why some of them are sort of odd."22 Paredes presents Johnny as an honest but self-centered young Mexican American, who comically but desperately wants to be accepted by his white peers.

Despite his attempt to be (viewed as) different from other Mexican Americans, Johnny's superior white officer, Major Schmidt, orders him to get an oboe for the despairing Joe. Johnny unwillingly follows the order and gets a new instrument for Joe after having a skirmish with a racist MP named Moses, who falsely accuses Johnny of using Major Schmidt's jeep without permission. Calling Johnny "Spanish," Moses threatens to court-martial him and even says, "I wouldn't be surprised if that trip ticket ain't forged. And maybe those stripes you're wearing don't belong to you either."23 When Joe later mocks Johnny's error with the clarinet, the protagonist feels enraged. His anger stems from knowing that Joe has broken only the reed of his oboe and that he still can play it with a spare one. Johnny says to Joe, "give thanks to God that they have a rule in this man's army, about hanging people that kill other people. Otherwise, your life would be endangered."24 Now feeling anxious of being court-martialed, Johnny is angry at Joe who caused him the troubles that may lead his white peers to view him as another trouble-making Mexican American.

Being placed among white and Mexican Americans, both of whom remind Johnny of his Mexican origins, he finds a temporary comfort in [End Page 50] his relationships with the Japanese, who see him simply as an American GI. He escapes Moses with the help of a Japanese stranger named Hiroshi, who gives him both a disguising kimono and the clarinet. Hiroshi says, "You look very Japanese . . . The girls say you look like the Emperor."25 But Hiroshi's quip does not indicate that Johnny really looks like a Japanese person; instead, it is a compliment toward someone belonging to the occupying forces. Thus, Paredes mocks Japanese over-politeness and ironically depicts Johnny being viewed as a true American only by the Japanese: as an American, he promises to give the Japanese chocolates and cigarettes in return. The author's comic mode accelerates further when Johnny is actually able to pass as Japanese toward whites, when the kimono allows him to evade Moses's pursuit. The MP "takes a quick look at [Johnny] and goes to [another friend] . . . and says, 'We sorry! Gomen nasai! Mistake! You know? Miss-take!'"26 When Moses asks Johnny if he has seen him before, the protagonist even replies in Japanese while also using a Japanese hand gesture, pretending not to be able to speak English. He writes, "I fan my hand in front of my nose and say 'Wakaranai.' Which means, 'I don't understand.'" Though Johnny is caught by Moses again later in the story, he is able to enjoy being both white American and Japanese due to both parties' racial color blindness, or the ineptness of whites of discerning people of color from one group to another and of the Japanese of discerning Mexican Americans from whites.

Unlike Felopardo in "21,000 Ping Pong Balls," who is killed tragically when he passes as Japanese, Johnny in "Getting an Oboe for Joe" performs racial passing in order to take advantage of his twoness as a Mexican American. In other words, while Felopardo's story stresses his isolation in the army and occupied Japan because he is neither a white American nor a Japanese, Johnny's passing stresses that he can be both, satirically criticizing the exclusion of ethnic Americans in the bilateral occupying/occupied dynamics between white Americans and the Japanese.

This criticism is also seen in "Getting an Oboe for Joe" when Johnny curses an unnamed Korean stranger whom he happens to meet on a Tokyo street. The Korean says, "Me no Jap, me Korean. Me American friend. You take me to America?"27 He tries to help the protagonist find an oboe but takes him to a brothel due to his misunderstanding of Johnny's predicament. The Korean presumes rather hastily but not quite inaccurately that Johnny is wanting a Japanese woman as do other GIs. Feeling offended, Johnny exclaims, "What the hell! . . . This is the whorehouse district!" and continues, "I call him all sorts of names, none of them nice, and tell him to get out of the jeep, but he just keeps telling me he's my blood brother and that he knows just the girl for me."28 Ramón Saldívar [End Page 51] comments that "Johnny dumps the Korean who, not quite ready to be discarded, tries to con him once again, this time by playing on their racial solidarity as mutual double outsiders, 'blood brothers' (92), in a forbidden world now inundated with white men."29 Notably, however, the protagonist rejects this proffered brotherhood: while Paredes stresses the similarly racialized status of ethnic Americans and Asians in his portraits of Chinese Yase in "21,000 Ping Pong Balls," the author treats the Korean civilian in "Getting an Oboe for Joe" differently, stressing the difference of the Japanese and Koreans from an ethnic American perspective.

Johnny's shunning the Korean contrasts his partiality toward Hiroshi and other Japanese. It is significant that the Korean uses the racist term of "Jap" here in differentiating himself from the Japanese, implying that he is one of those workers from Korea who were forcefully drafted in Japan as the labor or military force during the war,30 although it still does not excuse his use of the epithet. In other words, this Korean character works as which signifies that the war is not settled but still continuing, as paralleling with Johnny's tackling racism in the army. Therefore, despite Johnny's rejection of an alliance with this figure, both he and the Korean are similarly oppressed in the U.S. and Japan, respectively, and similarly want to differentiate themselves from those who look alike (Johnny vs Joe/Pablo and the Korean vs the Japanese). Thus, the relationship between Johnny and the Korean can be viewed as "blood brothers," although Johnny rejects the quasi-brotherhood. The brotherhood is impossible partly because the Korean is incapable of discerning Johnny's Mexican origins and partly because Johnny wants to be white and friendly only with the rapidly modernizing Japanese.

Paredes satirizes American preference for the Japanese over the Koreans in a manner that anticipates the straightforward treatment of this issue by James Michener's Sayonara, produced a few years after Paredes's story. In the novel, the protagonist Lloyd Gruver is attacked and injured on a street by a gang of "hoodlums,"31 who look "distorted, evil, brutal and inhuman," and they turn out to be Koreans, shouting, "Americans go home! America go to hell! Go home!" The Japanese women who attend Gruver later say, "The hoodlums who attacked you—they were not Japanese. They were Korean communists. We are Japanese. We are your friends."32 The U.S.'s victory in WWII liberated Korea from Japanese rule, but this alliance between the U.S. and Korea is denied in Sayonara. Instead, Michener stresses the "otherness" of communist Korea for capitalists America and Japan, although the Korean peninsula was divided into two and South Korea was established before the novel was published in 1953. An anti-American sentiment in Japan, [End Page 52] which some Japanese would certainly hold during the occupation, is rendered as responsible for ethnic Korean residents in Japan, stressing "good" Japanese and "bad" Koreans in Sayonara. Paredes satirizes this version of the occupation being a honeymoon-like period between the U.S. and Japan. Johnny declines to be a friend with the Korean because he wants to assimilate to white America, and becoming a true American in occupied Japan is achieved through his friendships with the Japanese, not with other Asians.

Despite Johnny's struggles to be a true American, he eventually fails to achieve the goal because whites still view him as no different from other Mexican Americans. Johnny's fear of being court-martialed disappears when Major Schmidt praises his effort to help out Joe by saying, "I understand the loyalty you people have for each other."33 Earlier, Pablo talks to the major to explain Johnny's situation, and this adds to his frustration because it shows his dependence on other Mexican Americans. In addition, as the major's remark illustrates, he views Mexican Americans as a group and even promises to promote Pablo López, although he inaccurately pronounces his name as "Lo-oh-pez." The major continues to say, "If you'd just stop clowning around and speak straight English . . . You're good officer material."34 And Johnny thinks, "Officer material? ¡Mis dos . . . pistolas! Why don't he just call me by my mother and let it go that!"35 Johnny's "¡Mis dos pistolas!," meaning "my two pistols," indicates his consternation, and "calling someone by his or her mother's name" is an idiomatic form of harsh insult as is also used in George Washington Gómez.36 Johnny's use of these Spanish phrases illustrates that he gives up his goal to be a true/white American as he sees his superior officer's lack of attention to his struggles to be different from other Mexican Americans. Ironically, Johnny's attempt to treat the Japanese and Koreans differently is invalidated through the major's same treatment of Mexican Americans. Paredes seems to mock Johnny's failure to represent America and thus reveal the supremacy of whites in the army, who can treat the Japanese and Koreans differently or treat Mexican Americans identically at will.

Conclusion: The "Border" Imagination of Américo Paredes

José E. Limón criticizes Ramón Saldívar's rendering of the "sameness" of Mexican Americans and the Japanese, as both being victimized by Anglo Americans, in the fiction of Paredes. In doing so, Limón parallels the similarly oppressive role of the Japanese before and during WWII in Asia and of Anglo Americans in Texas, and his criticism extends to Paredes's [End Page 53] seeming silence on Japan's war atrocities in his fiction. Although Limón's point is well-taken, it is notable that unpublished drafts and fragments of Paredes's work refer to Japan's invasion in China. They include one story set in a small Chinese town during "the Japanese occupation of Manchuria"37 in the '30s, wherein the mercenary main character at first views the coming invasion as another opportunity to increase his wealth but then returns to his hometown to join the resistance. The story ends with his determination to participate in even a losing battle: "[The Japanese] would kill the people and burn the town, and Li would have his revenge" by attacking the winners along with his bandit members. This story critiques the history of Japanese invasion and conquest, and imbues the Chinese Li, ambivalent toward his hometown "in which he had grown up and which he hated so much" until his return, with a proud spirit of national identity. Paredes's depiction of the conflict between China and Japan resists a Eurocentric tendency to view Asia as an entity when he presents the two nations as a binary. In "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" and "Getting an Oboe for Joe," he intensifies his criticism of Eurocentrism by also depicting American racism and producing multiple binaries.

Paredes becomes fluent and productive when he depicts American racism, and even when he illustrates the inter-ethnic conflict among Asians, such as one between Korean and Japanese persons as is presented in "Getting an Oboe for Joe," he connects it to his own racial politics in the U.S., as is seen in Johnny's comical aspiration to become a white. Mexican Americans' racialized status in the U.S. sets a foundation in his work when he illustrates the commonality of racism in the U.S. and Asia. Paredes depicts interracial romances between American GIs and Japanese women in occupied Japan, but as opposed to the mainstream narratives produced by white authors who approach the theme by delineating the trajectory from antagonism to unity, he declines such an oversimplified solution. Rather, he "racializes" the romantic narrative by depicting racism against ethnic Americans and Asians, refusing to render the narrative into a linear and singular story which emphasizes the U.S.'s "savior role" during this period. Paredes includes various types of Asian and ethnic American characters and disrupts the white-authored bilateral narratives between American GIs and Japanese women in seemingly clean and peaceful Japan. Ironical ruptures of friendships, romance, and solidarity between ethnic Americans and Asians, and within their respective groups in the fiction of Paredes aim at exposing the impossibility of such overly sanitized stories. While being set in Asia, the theme of borders that separate the characters due to differences in ethnicity/race, gender, and nationality is certainly a product of his experience ingrained in Texas. For [End Page 54] Paredes, both sites are divided due to war histories and ethnic conflicts, which continue to separate or border peoples and cultures. As a veteran, he saw this parallel first hand and employed it as a negotiation with his "ethnic" "American-ness" or both possibilities and limits of cross-racial relationships between ethnic Americans and Asians. [End Page 55]

Takuya Matsuda
University of North Texas
Takuya Matsuda

TAKUYA MATSUDA is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at the University of North Texas. He is currently working on a dissertation, which examines representations of the Pacific Theater in the Second World War in ethnic American literature, with a focus on its rendition of U.S. and Japanese racism and imperialism in the mid-twentieth century.


1. For a more complete list of interracial narratives of American GIs and Japanese women in U.S. popular culture, see Gina Marchetti, Romance and the "Yellow Peril": Race, Sex, and Discoursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); and Naoko Shibusawa, America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the American Enemy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

2. John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: N.N. Norton, 1999), 73.

3. Yuki Tanaka, Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the US Occupation (New York: Routledge, 2002), 145–147.

4. Referring to several Japanese sources, Dower estimates that "the number of rapes and assaults on Japanese women amounted to around 40 daily while the R.A.A. was in operation, and then rose to an average of 330 a day" after it was terminated in early 1946. See Dower, Embracing Defeat, 579. He also notes that such facilities were abolished in 1946 because GHQ declared it violates women's human rights; yet, "[p]rivately, they acknowledged that their major motivation was an alarming rise in venereal disease among the troops" (130).

5. Manuel F. Medrano, Américo Paredes: In His Own Words, An Authorized Biography (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010), 30–31.

6. Ramón Saldívar, The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 132.

7. Ibid., 140.

8. Ibid., 343.

9. José E. Limón, "Imagining the Imaginary: A Reply to Ramón Saldívar." American Literary History 21.3 (2009): 595.

10. Ibid., 595–596.

11. The years when Paredes composed "21,000 Ping Pong Balls" are unknown, although other stories set in Japan are all drafted between 1946 and 1953, according to Saldívar's correspondence with Paredes (See Saldívar, The Borderlands of Culture, I-Ii). In typing drafts of "21,000 Ping Pong Balls," Paredes uses papers issued by the Red Cross and the War Department, and some drafts are signed by Paredes with his address in Frisco, Texas. Hence, the story was clearly drafted both in Japan and the U.S. in the same period as the other pieces. See Folders 12 and 13 of the Américo Paredes Papers, Box 11, at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection in the University of Texas at Austin archive drafts of the story. Américo Paredes Papers, Box 11, Folder 12, "21,000 Ping Pong Balls [Incomplete Draft]," and Folder 13, "Plot and Some Detail on Yamamoto was Her Name [21,000 Ping Pong Balls]," the Américo Paredes Papers, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin.

12. Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue, Southwest Asia: The Transpacific Geographies of Chicana/o Literature (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 55.

13. Américo Paredes, George Washington Gómez (Houston: Arte Pùblico Press, 1990), 170.

14. John Alba Cutler points out that Jimmy and his brother Bob Shigemara are depicted as interchangeable and claims that "George Washington Gómez may in fact reify the logic of Asian Americans' alien citizenship" in Ends of Assimilation: The Formation of Chicano Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 42. His reading is valid given the Japanese-American brothers' minor and comedic role in the novel. Although both the protagonist Gualinto and the Shigemaras are viewed as others in a white dominant environment, this does not make them friends due to the brothers' family's financial better standing in the community.

15. The aforementioned folders of the Paredes Papers Box 11 at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection archive three drafts of the story. While in one draft the woman's name is Nanako, it is Barako in the other drafts. Though the latter name is uncommon for a Japanese woman (so I refer to her as Nanako henceforth), "bara" means rose in Japanese as Paredes writes in his hand-written notes, invoking symbolic images of love, passion, and sexual attractiveness. Unless otherwise noted, I discuss all these drafts and notes in a way that preserves the story's consistency.

16. Américo Paredes, The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (Houston: Arte Pùblico Press, 1994), 187.

17. To avoid confusion, I do not cite the page number of the quotes; however, all the in/direct quotes of the story are derived from the above two folders of the Paredes Papers Box 11.

18. Paredes, The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories, 192.

19. Ibid., 186.

20. Ibid., 185.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., 186.

23. Ibid., 194.

24. Ibid., 202.

25. Ibid., 196–197.

26. Ibid., 198.

27. Ibid., 191.

28. Ibid., 191–192.

29. Saldivar, The Borderlands of Culture, 336.

30. Though the number of these Korean victims varies among historians, at least 110,000 Koreans were conscripted to serve the Japan's army and a greater number of Koreans were conscripted to work in Japanese factories and mines during the war, especially in the final years of the war when the labor shortages became severe. See Takashi Fujitani, Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 33; John Lie, Zainichi (Koreans in Japan): Diasporic Nationalism and Postcolonial Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 5; and Brandon Palmer, "Imperial Japan's Preparations to Conscript Koreans as Soldiers, 1942–45," Korean Studies 31 (2007): 63.

31. James Michener, Sayonara (New York: Random House, 1953), 213.

32. Ibid., 215.

33. Paredes, The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories, 203.

34. Ibid., 203-204.

35. Ibid., 204.

36. Johnny says "¡Mis dos . . . pistolas!" earlier in the story when he is surprised to see Joe bringing up an oboe instead of a guitar as he plays Mexican songs to a white audience. Paredes uses the same idiomatic phrase of calling someone by his or her mother's name in George Washington Gómez when he makes a comparison between it and another insulting gesture of "[sticking] the forefingers of both hands into [one's] mouth." See Paredes, George Washington Gómez,128. Paredes explains that it is "the greatest form of insult of all, far greater than calling a fellow by his mother."

37. The story is not entitled but three drafts are contained in Box 11 Folder 16 of the Paredes Papers. Américo Paredes, "Drafts of Japanese Novels 1950," the Américo Paredes Papers, the Nettie Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin.

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