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Excerpts from "Dream of the water children, dream of the water children"

Part 3: Watermelon Seeds [2 of 2]

Read “Part 3: Watermelon Seeds [1 of 2]” >>

I am still an only-child. But now my only child identity was not the same as just a moment before. I was born alone but because a sister died. Fragments of unknowns become apparent. I then felt relieved. Some things fell into a certain logical reasoning—or perhaps it was a certain logic that offered comfort. I was an only child, but now I reasoned that a protector-twin had been watching over me, saving me from the few near-death experiences I’ve had. This could also explain the intense waves of loneliness and longing that coursed through me that seemed to come from nowhere (I often thought). Sometimes in those moments I thought I was going insane. Oh, so it’s my sister’s presence and her absence.

Mama rolled the very old oversized, extra-large T-shirt down from above her head to cover the rest of her upper body all the way to her knees. A big drawing of Betty Boop decorated the front of it. She had that shirt since the times she met Dad in Japan before I was born. Now faded and worn-out, it still served Mama. What was Betty Boop doing in Japan?

The T-shirt’s hugeness covered the polyester lime-green pants that fit somewhat loosely on her with the bottom cuffs stopping just above her ankles. Perhaps it was my old-fashioned Japanese-ness or in a specific way my mother raised me to try and read others and moments. I didn’t press her to explain anything about my twin sister right then. I felt that it would be too painful for Mama at that moment. I looked quickly toward the television tube.

The program on the screen was Gilligan’s Island. That day’s episode happened to be where some white guy is wearing over-sized thick black-rimmed glasses with upward-slanted slits drawn as eyes onto the glasses and a long, drooping Fu-Manchu mustache that reaches below the chin signifying that he was a white guy playing “Japanese.” He is found in a tiny submarine lurking below the water. He’s supposedly a Japanese soldier. He talked like some kind of strange creature with some supposedly Japanese accent and yelling Banzai! I seathed with anger while Mama scowled at the screen. I turn the channel to The Mickey Mouse Club. Mama’s pain in life are accumulations. Her brothers and friends that died in the war were not like the cartoon. But some would say they were and told us so with their hateful faces in the first few years in the USA.

The fragrance of sencha (green tea), osembei (rice crackers), and potato chips floated through the room as I half-watched Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello on the screen with their big smiles and huge mouse ears. I asked Mama about the Betty Boop. I had grown up with these characters like Betty and Bugs Bunny and Popeye, both in Japan and in my early years in the U.S.—all as natural as onigiri (rice balls) and beef stew and apple pie. American kids on the military bases in Japan, or in the U.S., had fun watching these cartoons, but I was always disturbed by these cartoons. They often had episodes where Japanese pilots had buckteeth and Chinese coolie hair-dos, flying in puttering Japanese zero fighter-planes whom Bugs or Popeye had to kill, or at least treat them like insects. But this was alongside the Black-face shows and Black Mammies on the screen too, lessening me and driving me to watch other kinds of television shows. You see, my Dad is African-American. Mama is from Japan. I refused Black-face and mammies, too.

Mama then pulled out a scratch pad from one of the drawers in the old over-large seven-foot long dresser that still stood strongly and prominently next to the multicolored loveseat in our New Mexico living room since the 1970s. Then with a pencil in just a matter of 15 seconds, she drew a beautiful and perfect Betty Boop. “Ano toki minna Amerika no manga ya ironna mono o gakkō de narawasareta no yo. Kurisumasu purezento toka…” (In those times we were required to learn American things like cartoons and Christmas presents…). Mama and I smiled, enjoying the drawing, and I complimented her. Jōzu janai, Mama!

I began to be struck that year, with the question of Mama’s silent suffering. They had to draw Betty Boops and learn what December 25th was and who Santa Claus was. Many American views in textbooks and popular books, described the Japanese only as willing and wanting. Yes, after a war when everything is decimated and impoverished and made inferior and defeated, we want the new, the alive, the empowering. But there is also the matter of organizing, strategizing, and implementing in order to create something that benefits the overlords (internalized colonization). The leaders of Japan had to then benefit themselves and the U.S. The U.S., after all, didn’t want to continue creating the Japanese as an enemy after defeating them in war. Now it was about global control—the Cold War and business.

To master the Pacific, with Korea and the Philippines and Southeast Asia looming as flowers for U.S. expansion and control, Japan was an important step. Educating the Japanese with American things and structures. From the previous to the kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school, college model, and everything else.1 This was important. After all, what else is occupation for but to discipline and construct? What did Dad think of all this as a young Black soldier during the racist U.S. era while he was in the “Land of a so-called Rising Sun?” Did Dad know about my twin sister and her death? He has never mentioned to me in my entire life that I had a sister—ever. What other things do I not know about life? My sister? Did HE even know?

So I’m thinking—postwar babies died. My sister died in the 1950s. But did they just “die?” It takes the sting off of the fact that many babies were killed. I don’t think it is inherently Japanese, although some would think of people as naturally something or other. I think that it comes from the ghosts, the histories, the conditions. And in many cases, these conditions I am talking to you about, are only showing up in statistical manuals, case studies, and historical books as anomalies and sorrows. But in life, in front of the eyes, in our rooms, all around, these things are made to happen and they do.

The killing of the young has a history in Japan, mainly thought of by scholars as beginning intensely in the Tokugawa period. The ghosts of that system move into the Meiji period, and into the imperial war-time period to the present. At times of poverty and societal breakdown, the parent-child entitlements and sufferings shift into the connections between suffering, death, self, and other.

Living through hell is not something to be proud of. Death-inducing poisons and certain kinds of shiatsu pressures would do the job to drop2 the babies from the mother’s body, administered by their mothers or grandmothers or midwives. Sometimes it was desired by the Mothers. It is also a form of child oppression in many cases. And even after these babies were born—desired or not, some mothers could not care for them. Other mothers, even as they wanted to keep and raise these infants into adults, lost their babies to disease and malnutrition. Infanticide, Feticide, and Parent-child suicide pacts. Death-wishes and killing are integral aspects of nations.

America and Europe’s socio-economic rise in the world, came at the expense of the killing of Native American babies and African slave-babies at will, coupling this with certain other forms of labor and social exclusion that marked the killing of black children and Native-American children. Japan with its same forms in different garb, different positions, differently positioned motives. Throughout history, many babies have been killed by all kinds of lands and peoples for various reasons. Japan had its particular systems like any nation—to govern life and death. As part of a country, a cultural milieu, we figure out how to survive. All creating an increasingly more recognizable “globe” or “world” into which we can see equality and inequality much clearer, and to which happiness can be increasingly defined by the markers of a global success and breakdown.3

After the war, there were complications from being of ill-health themselves during the months of pregnancy while hundreds of bombs fell and searching for food—with some of it having trace chemicals left from those bombings. And being alone with child was not something a mother announced. We may die just as painfully through social death—of exclusion and shame. Culture and gender, race and nation.

In Mama’s case, she was carrying two ainoko (love child). Black breed. Japanese breed. Enemy breed, American breed, incomplete, too complete, mutt, impure, reminder, not Japanese. Both in Japan and the through the anti-Black racism of Jim Crow USA, transnational through their life in the U.S. military in Japan, Mama’s fears and pride of being pregnant with American Black-Japanese babies, was—I’m thinking, immense. Mama gave birth to me and sister here, into this space and time. What does this silence, until the moment she told me, mean? What was my knowing my dead twin’s existence mean? Was it only to be forgotten that she existed or that Mama gave birth to us, or that Dad’s existence made this?

Did Mama pray for my sister at a Mizuko Kuyō? Was sister alive for awhile and I just don’t remember? Was sister dead at birth? Was she aborted and dead before she was born? In the hospital? Questions came tumbling and tumbling through. I asked her.

Mama defiantly answered me with a look of disgust and anger:

水子供養? どうしてそんな所に行く必要があるの? そんな所に行くもんか

Mizuko kuyo? Doushite sonna tokoro ni iku hitsuyou ga aru no? Sonna tokoro ni iku mon ka! Why would I have a reason to go to such a place? I wouldn’t dare go to such a place!

What did her insistent and strong response mean? To me, I only asked a simple question. Why wouldn’t she dare go to such a place? How and when did my twin sister die? When? Why? Did I know my sister and just forgot? What was Mama defying? What did honoring my dead sister at a Japanese ceremony for dead children mean? Or was it because of something else?

Part 4 >>

Notes:

1. See, for example, a good piece on Japanese education and Americanization in a thesis: War Guilt and Postwar Japanese Education by Naoko Kato. Masters Thesis from University of British Columbia 2002.

2. In traditional Japanese, the term orosu 堕ろす, is a popular term for aborting a fetus. It can also sound out the verb to lower, or to drop, let go.

3. My perception and definition of globalization and occupation, come from various subaltern studies, feminist, and post-structural, postcolonial thinkers and workers. You can look up “occupation” and “globalization” as they are defined on the internet and in books. My insistence and take on this is begun wonderfully in Arjun Appadurai’s work: Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger published by Duke University Press 2006.

 

This is an anthropology of memory, a journal and memoir, a work of creative non-fiction. It combines memories from recall, conversations with parents and other relations, friends, journal entries, dream journals and critical analysis.

To learn more about this memoir, read the series description.

© 2011 Fredrick Douglas Cloyd

hapa occupation postwar japan us military war babies World War II

About this series

This is an anthropology of memory, a journal and memoir, a work of creative non-fiction. It combines memories from recall, conversations with parents and other relations, friends, journal entries, dream journals with postcolonial critical analysis.

This first book of a planned trilogy: Dream of the Water Children, dream of the water children focuses on sociological haunting and legacies of race-relations, gender, and war-trauma, told through the lens of the mother-son relationship. Its specific focus is on the mother, Kakinami Kiyoko. It is a work for all those interested in Black-Japanese mixed-race people and their parents, the US militarization of the Pacific after World War II and its complex legacies through Black-Asian identities, and gender relations, and the will to freedom.

Note for the Reader

All the incidents and events in this work, including dreams, are actual events and constructed and/or recorded from memories including recall and meditations, journal entries, conversations and interviews. Although memory and journal entries have been recalled and used, I have taken liberty in the writing of memory itself, using certain tones and descriptions in lieu of not remembering or knowing completely, certain details of past events. Some names have been changed to protect people’s identities. I have noted references to those events, facts, and comments that are not from memory or conversation.

Since I am a ethnographic research scholar, as well as all of the categories that identify me as person, race, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, from a certain region, time-period in history, with certain relations with history, my parents and friends, places, and my ways of thinking and remembering, the vignettes I produce for you, the reader, in this book, represent all of these parts of me, without leaving things at the door. In this, there are silences. There are spaces where I hope that the reader will think and question, along with feeling, remembering, in order that we may transgress dominant norms, and therefore easy categories of life. Often these categories keep us apart, afraid, angry, unreal. Memory as a disjointed recall, told through the passages of transnational homelessness, disjunctures and juxtapositions, and the continual legacies that dot the different landscapes, is where I leave you, the reader, with, in order to open dialogues toward peace, social justice, and a different imagination of homelands.

Note from the author:

SEEKING EDITOR: I am presently looking for an editor, familiar with cross-genre writing and transnational, transcultural writing. If you or someone you know would be willing to do this, please contact me!

Also, SEEKING a PUBLISHER. I have multimedia projects and other books in relaiton to this first work, that I would love to work with an interested publisher on.

For these and other inquiries, please contact: fredrickdc@gmail.com