- Remembering Our Grandfathers' Exile: US Imprisonment of Hawai'i's Japanese in World War II by Gail Y. Okawa
Remembering our Grandfather's Exile by Gail Y. Okawa is a personal narrative chronicling Okawa's efforts to rediscover the wartime experiences of her grandfather, the Reverend Tamasaku Watanabe, and other Issei from Hawai'i who officials incarcerated during World War II. Although she had been born during the war, Okawa had not realized that her grandfather was among the over 2,000 incarcerated individuals of Japanese ancestry from Hawai'i until a passing comment from a neighbor who mentioned her grandfather's experience. Remembering our Grandfathers' Exile is the narrative of a Sansei's personal journey of exploring the internee experience that combines personal interviews, archival research, letters, poetry, photographs, and internee accounts. It examines the silence and trauma that surrounded inmates and their families through a personal story of discovery that highlights the strengths and limitations of such an approach.
Many historical accounts of the incarceration experience, particularly in Hawai'i, have been told through the experience of Issei who left behind personal letters or first-hand accounts. In contrast, the story of the Nisei has often focused on their military contributions in response to the discrimination and incarceration experienced by the first generation. The story of the Sansei and their response to and understanding of wartime injustices is less known. Thus, Okawa's own personal journal of discovery and understanding is revealing for the absence that exists still today in many families' personal history of their connection to incarceration. As a composite chronicling of the Hawai'i Issei experience in mainland incarceration during the war, this book is also a personal account of a Sansei granddaughter's journey discovering her family's history. Okawa's personal experiences drive the narrative as well as her professional training as professor emeritus of English at Youngstown State University. Okawa's book is divided into nine chapters that can be broken up into [End Page 184] three sections: prewar lives and subsequent arrests; mainland incarceration and experiences, and finally the return of the Issei and the impact, silence and significance of their incarceration. The majority of the book—Chapters Four through Eight—focus on the experience of Hawai'i Issei in mainland incarceration centers, specifically Fort Sill, Camp Livingston, Lordsburg, and Santa Fe that her grandfather and the other Issei who she interviewed resided. Okawa focuses on the injustice imposed upon Issei fathers who were incarcerated and visited by their Nisei sons who served in the U.S. military, and in particular, their anguish when their sons were killed fighting in the Pacific or Europe. Through letters, poems, photographs, and interviews, Okawa highlights the activities and creativity of the inmates to preserve their humanity in difficult and sometimes traumatic circumstances while removed from their families and homes.
As this narrative is driven by Okawa's own personal family history of her grandfather, there is an absence of a discussion of Issei resistance to this upheaval and trauma that was most radically manifested at Tule Lake. Authorities often recognized Hawai'i inmates as some of the most troublesome residents as they participated in riots, protests, nationalistic activities to demonstrate loyalty to Japan, and renunciation petitions to return to Japan. While Okawa highlights the petitions that inmates drafted to challenge their incarceration, clearly other Japanese were radicalized to emphasize the failure of American democratic processes and the abrogation of their civil liberties. Additionally, the book ends with examining community memories of Santa Fe Internment Camp, which could also be contextualized with other community efforts to conduct pilgrimages and memorialize community memories across different incarceration sites both in the mainland and Hawai'i.
These minor critiques should not detract from the value of this book which provides a holistic understanding of the incarceration experience for many Hawai'i inmates who were arrested and later sent to mainland incarceration centers where they...