After President Roosevelt's speech, Papa said, " U-u-wahh , this big war.
Japanese navy go everywhere in Pacific Ocean. Philippine, Guam, Malaysia. American navy, no more battleship, I think. Sohhh . . ." he thought for a while, "He make good speech. He smart. He mad, but no get mad. I think very hard win with no navy, but he say America win anyway."
Papa, during the days that followed the attack, would huddle near the radio and listen for news, switching the knob from American broadcasts to short-wave. The Japanese stations were elusive. Our living room would fill with static. While this was happening, I'd leave the room and go upstairs.
"Who should we be for?" Shii-chan would ask.
"I don't know, but I hope we don't have to go to Japan."
"Me neither," she would say.
We knew we were Japanese. We'd learned their customs, spoke their language, went to Japanese school, and ate with chopsticks. But we were Americans too. We said the "Pledge of Allegiance" in our classroom, sang the "Star Spangled Banner," played cowboys and Indians, and listened to "Captain Midnight" and "Little Orphan Annie" on the radio.
Even Papa loved Joe Louis fights. He'd listen to them on the radio. He also took us to see Bogart movies, and tuned in to the San Francisco Seals baseball team on the car radio. Mama taught us to play jacks, hopscotch and jump rope. She baked a turkey on Thanksgiving and served it with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. In a way, we were an all-American family.
But our cocoon kept us separate -- our language, our food, our music; our Japanese relatives and friends. Yet, oddly, Shii-chan and I had never been to Japan. We'd never met our Japanese grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Papa had pointed them out in the photo album and told us their names, and, though he had done this often, the images in the black and white photographs didn't seem real. Without knowing it, we had somehow become misfit Japanese with American minds.
Papa, on the other hand, had a Japanese mind. He grew up in Japan and had come to America innately Japanese. He had known of Western customs, known that Americans wore shoes in their homes, sat in chairs instead of on mats, and ate with silverware instead of chopsticks. He had anticipated these differences before coming to America, but wasn't prepared for the way Americans treated the Japanese. He was unprepared for the discourtesies. The insults came in many forms: polite refusals, to surreptitious profanities, to blatant name-calling.
He came to despise his persecutors. His back would cinch at the word Jap. How he hated its sound on harsh Caucasian tongues. It often came without provocation, was shouted with so much hatred. Why? He had not committed a crime. Why did they snarl and shout angrily at him and his friends? Predators, he thought, animals - smelly and hairy.
Papa spoke in a loud voice, as though shouting would make a difference in America. Everyone delighted in his enthusiastic demeanor. He'd shake hands as though it were for the first time. But his gregarious manner was deceiving. He couldn't take a joke, not even a casual reference or an unintended pun. "Why you call me Shorty?" he would shout angrily at a salesman. "I no like. You get out!"
"I didn't call you Shorty, Mr. Om i. I only said that most Japanese are short compared to Europeans. I'm sorry if that offended you." Papa cursed the man in Japanese and went back to work; the salesman snapped shut the locks on his suitcase, and left the store, red-faced.
But Papa also conversed congenially with Hakujin s who came into our store. He frequently spoke to sho