Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chin to China, part 5

[cont'd from part 4]



By Kenny Murase

Scanning the nisei literary horizon, we see a galaxy of literary lights-- … a hitch-hike trip up North have etched impressions sharply into our mind. With some of these writers it was just a "Hello" and a "Glad to have met you." But with most of them we've come to know as real friends--the kind of friends what would augment your dreams and your hopes of a brighter tomorrow--the kind of friends that gives you a bit of confidence, a dash of optimism, and something of a reassurance that perhaps humanity is good, and that life might not be so bad after all.

What followed was Murase’s short description of the writing the person and personality of several JA writers in several places on his way northward. All very interesting. Murase the traveling appreciator. He appreciates the writers worth appreciating and visits them. He’s not a writer himself. No urge to write the great Japanese American Novel, but he drools at the thought of reading it. And he speculates on who might write it. A man of taste. Could Omura have been grooming him for CURRENT LIFE’s book critic?


Shawn Wong, the poet, novelist, teacher, as a co-editor set the spelling of Aiiieeeee! with the words “Three ‘eyes’ and five ‘eehs’ if you please.” He lived in a large gingerbread house owned, at the time, by Kay Boyle. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio Kay Boyle, a Cinderella born of a literary and social activist mother and a lawyer father, and a publisher grandfather. She was an American writer in Paris of the ‘20s and deflating ‘30s. She knew James Joyce, drank with Hemingway, Harry Crosby’s Black Sun Press published her first book, SHORT STORIES. She was a Foreign Correspondent for the New Yorker magazine when McCarthy sweat and slobbered his anti-Communism intimidating everyone. The New Yorker fired her. American magazines blacklisted her. Kay Boyle didn’t like my writing. I admired that she mentioned “not caring for leisurely writing” to my face, in passing onto my activism, that she did like. My activism? She thinks I say things for the first time in AIIIEEEEE! I thought that was our writing the American-born into the realm of literary criticism. She smiled. She didn’t smile with her mouth and cheeks. Though she did rouge her cheeks, and wear powder. She didn’t smile with her mouth and cheeks. The face had no muscles left. A sound like a fingernail scrape on slate came from her throat. Her skin glowed younger a moment. I liked her writing. Life had worn her face close to the bone like a newborn bird and left her white haired at 75. She seemed to encourage the likening of her head to newborn bird’s by wearing earrings made of chicken neck bones.

She described two rich and educated people who lived with each other after a horse ride and a roll in the grass lying next to each other “like a corpse next to a corpse” in the THE CRAZY HUNTER. I said, Tasty! I can’t describe the story but certain lines jumped and kept me reading. She tastefully orchestrated the jumps of a reader more experienced and better off than me. I’m uncomfortable among the rich and people raised to the style of the rich. I don’t want to aspire to have a front room that would comfortably hold my whole house. Though I could get used to shelf of books that is actually a bar. I’ve worn the white jacket and served too many rich as a kid. Jeff had been student of Kay Boyle. He called her Kay. She married the Baron Joseph von Frankenstein and had a castle, and began teaching at San Francisco State when he died, in 1962. She held court with the writers, the activists Joan Baez, Mike Seeger Pete’s fiddling little brother. Peggy Seeger and her husband Ewan McColl the Irish singer of folksongs. Names and famous names in her front room toasting their lit by the fire. She refused Norman Mailer an invitation to her house. And among the spacious halls and rooms of a tribute to Frankenstein’s castle in a wood Victorian trimmed in dental work, lived Shawn Wong! Was he the cat or mouse of the house? Was a cad like Dirk Bogard? An innocent paying guest of the elderly and elegant Cinderella living a fantasy? She was still writing, still teaching, and still a political activist. Shawn tells the story of her blocking the stairs with the English Faculty. The cops come. “Lady, you should be ashamed of yourself!” And Kay answered, “Young man, I’m old enough to be your grandmother. And you should be ashamed of yourself.” And men were still falling in love with her. She asked me through Shawn to go on a talk radio ambush with her. In “Literary San Francisco” that has never acknowledged our existence as writers or editors or as the American born of Chinatown the high top of the liberal is Kay Boyle’s house. The less formal but politically the same liberal to radical are the Beatniks become Hippies become white men in beards and jeans who gather at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. He has nothing against her. He’s bewildered by her hated of him. I don’t know why and don’t ask. Their world wasn’t my world.

I gave her a Kwan Kung small enough to close her fist around. He was the number two of the three brothers of the Oath in the Peach Garden. He was redfaced, eight feet tall, wore green and wanted for murder. He makes the oath of blood brotherhood with Brother No. One, a white faced man, a pretender to the throne of the Han, second and most beloved Dynasty in history and myth, and Brother No. Three, the splotchy skinned a spiky bearded, wealthy farmer footing the bill for our coming together to define China and save it as one. More poetry than substance. The different faces were real. Different colors mean different races.

A wavy haired well dressed man stopped us at the door to the room with the gleaming microphones and told us what to say. He would strike the themes of the united front.

“Who are you?”

He was Edison Uno the saint of the JACL. He personally suffered the punishment due the JACL for betraying the Nisei. In the name of the JACL he lay the JACL’s guilt at the feet of white writers and white newscasters. (But wasn’t he supposed to be nobly suffering the JACL’s punishment, not palming it off?) The programs he appeared on knew the JACL myth that the Japanese Americans entered and endured camp without protest or resistance, volunteered to fight to prove their loyalty and their battlefield performance freed their race from the camps. They knowingly surrendered their rights to white racists and joined them in their white racism in a strategy designed to destroy the sense of being born to the Japanese pride and avoid the law. There had to be protest and resistance before camp and in camp. But not from him. He stayed inside the JACL, because it was the only JA org. His strategy was to change it from within. He was ridiculed in the inside pages of the JACL paper, the PACIFIC CITIZEN. I found his strategy really distasteful. He had as much chance of changing the JACL as he had of changing the Nazi Party, or the Ku Klux Klan. If JA wanted a changed JACL they would change their name. Obviously they liked their white racist record, they liked their rep for dishonesty, they liked intimidating the JA’s into silence about camp. And like the JACL he rebelled against, he wouldn’t tolerate talk of resisters. He didn’t want to cloud the issue of white guilt with JACL being a fake civil rights org trapping unwitting JA’s for the FBI and the resistance against the JACL and camps.

His people, the Nisei were the second generation from Japan, and the first born in America. In the 1930’s, a generation of Nisei in their twenties, burst out newspapers in English all over the western United States. The Japanese print shops were sensing a change in the job print world. More of the jobs from Japanese names were jobs to print in English. Both the Issei wanting jobs, and the Nisei wanting to show even show-off how American they were the all American newspaper from Japanese America. It was inevitable that out of all this journalistic jockeying and jostling, something of quality would emerge. CURRENT LIFE was the only Asian-American attempt at a real magazine, owned published and edited by James Matsumoto Omura. Omura’s wife Fumi Akuma was the business manager and a writer. The War and the JACL put the mag out of business. They voluntarily evacuated out of Zone 1 of the Evacuation Orders, while they could. Omura was suddenly the editor of the Denver Rocky Shimpo. It was the only Japanese American newspaper in or out of camp that was free of JACL control. Subscriptions from concentration camps in California, Idaho and Wyoming noticeably increased. The patriotic JACL double talk no longer attempted to make sense. They didn’t have to with only one paper out of the JACL grasp. That one JA newspaper was the Denver Rocky Shimpo, the editor was James Omura and Nisei journalism became sublime and courageous till the JACL shut him down. The JACL drove him out of journalism into the anonymity of a gardener. The JACL shutoff the JA instinct for mags.


I came within a name and address to handling a manuscript by a Japanese-American fictioneer, a George FurIya given a moment of JACL fame in the pages of the JACL paper the PACIFIC CITIZEN by the paper’s wartime editor, Larry Tajiri after the war. Not only was Tajiri the editor of the JACL weekly THE PACIFIC CITIZEN, he was a JACL confidential informant to the FBI code named “T-1” during camp. He was the spokesman for Mike Masaoka’s JACL policies. I thought his writing of the unpublished, unknown George Furiya was praise for a pro-JACL wordsmith, in the Jan. 17, 1948 issue of the PACIFIC CITIZEN:

"An Unpublished Novelist."

"There are uncomplete novels in his trunk and one of these days George will be back to finish them. Maybe one of them will be published and he will be famous. You might remember the name. George Furiya."

This distinctly friendly and distinctly anti-JACL pre-war letter to Larry Tajiri and his wife, raises questions about Tajiri and Furiya and the JACL.

Dearest Larry and Guyo,

Anyway, how are you? And you, Guyo. The bugs are well under control, so don't worry. The old saying about children would describe my bugs well if it had been written by Milton: The bugs are not seen, neither are they heard. Or something. Anyway, I'm fine. I notice those bastards in the JACL turned quisling when the invasion ran over 'em. What the hell's the matter with you guys out there on coast. The fact that had to evacuate you can't deny, of course: and it would have been sheer folly not to cooperate with the fascist military boys to make the evacuation as nice as possible. But the JACL boys didn't just cooperate; they actually went and kissed the army's ass. Not even a single protest, be it to the nisei's everlasting shame. By the fact of not protesting (not that it would have done ay go, of course) you actually gave recognition to necessity for evacuation when you knew damn well that no such necessity existed. What the JACL should have done was this: We recognize no necessity for evacuation, and we say to plainly †hat we are all following your orders under duress (whatever duress means). Then the JACL should have gotten busy to try to get that phony military order revoked. Because as long as that military order hangs over the heads of the dumb nisei, it's going to mean that the nisei have been guilty of what the military boys said they were guilty of. Worse the order is going to hang like sword Damocles over the heads of the nisei, poised to come down this time like a ghetto-system, this time like the hostages for the white-American prisoners o the Japs, ad infinitum. I know that safety from West Coast mob-rule was one of the arguments used in favor of evacuation by the JACL quislings-in-effect, but moving inland from the West Coast hasn't safety; they've just hung that sword of Damocles over their heads. Anything can happen as long as sword hangs there. Hell, the JACL didn't cooperate with the army. In France, they call that kind of thing collaboration. The invasion has come and gone, but what the hell is everybody doing? I think what the Pacific Citizen should start campaigning to get that military order revoked.---And for Christ's sake, tell the boys to cut out some of that flag-waving, will? It's really disgusting. Carl Craw came back and told Shiro: "That Mike Masaoka is sure some flag-waver, isn't he?"

South America? Wonderful, from this distance. The most charming people in Argentina were French. (God, how I love the French! One thing this war proved: I'm a damn good Frenchman and damn good Russian.) Padilla's Free Man of America really exists in Latin America--at least, so far as I'm concerned. I had only to mention that was North American. From then on, I was never a Japanese to these refugee Europeans and the Latin Americans. I was a North American. Not even an eyebrow raised. For the first time in my life, I was an American--with nobody to question or doubt that fact. I tell it was terrific. Can you wonder that I consider North Americans the worst kind dopes? These refugee Europeans and Latin Americans never spoke to me as Japanese. They always spoke to me as an American. They never doubted my loyalty to the United States. (Dangerous word, that loyalty. But not now. I mean I won't go into why that word's a dangerous one. What I mean is all this hullabaloo about loyalty this-and-that, disloyalty this-and-that in the evacuation business, no one from DeWitt and Roosevelt down to the least of the JACL quisling's (sic) quislings exactly described what they meant by loyalty disloyalty. What I mean is I am definitely against turning the Japanese people over to Wall Street and the No-dogs-And-Chinese-Allowed boys? Is that disloyalty I traveled eight thousand miles submarine infested waters to come back to the United States from a more or less good life-time job in B.A. with the Asahi. Does that constitute loyalty?- --Anyway, to Latin Americans, Padilla, and the whole French people, my love. Sao Paulo is still a wonderful city to me. Did tell you about my Turkish girl, 22-years, educated in France, widow of a French infantry lieutenant, with whom I was on tu -terms, Spanish and halting French? Lovely. I should have fallen in love with her. And so forth. Sighted two submarines, dodged two torpedoes the night, didn't even so much as get excited, and the navy gunnery crew was given orders by the ensign in command to shoot me on sight if they caught me signaling to any ship, the damn fool (the kind of thing that me despair for America.)

A long letter, but a well-meant one. I love you both, and thanks for letter. It was most touching. Now guess what I'm doing now. I'm on Long Island, stuffing dirt into pots at the Japan Nurseries, Inc., $50 a month with room and fish-diet, 11 hours a day. You should see me. Positively boorish. A muzhik, a muzhak--the Russian for peasant. Am getting my unemployment insurance soon, however. Then to work.


George Furiya

Why did Tajiri wait until he was about to leave the PACIFIC CITIZEN for the DENVER POST, before writing of Furiya? Was it because Furiya was dead? Where was Furiya’s trunk full of unfinished novels? Around 1990 I tracked Tajiri’s mention of him to the letter to Tajiri, to a Nisei who wouldn’t admit knowing him, but gave me a name of someone who wouldn’t admit or deny to having a George Furiya manuscript, but teased me with own distinguished career as an ophthalmologist. A resumé perhaps written by George Furiya? No. And he wouldn’t show the manuscript, he wouldn’t copy it and send me a copy. And so ends the trail of George Furiya, and out of Japanese American memory he goes, unread an unknown, unlooked for.

Wouldn’t you think that in sixty years, someone would have noticed, 1936 to 1946--the All-American generation of Asians—was missing from AALit, and gone looking? No. Why? No magazines. No critics. Meantime, I’ve gone from fifty nine to sixty six and have been away from my own writing for too long.


From WWII through the rest of the 20th century on to the present Japanese Americans have gone from 120, 313 let out of camp to today’s 9600 nationwide in 2006. A yellow woman on the arm of a white man is an image of normalcy in the commercials building worlds in the interruption, interrupted by this other image. Japanese men with white women on their arms is an image that many yellow athletes in the movies wish for, so they can be seen as men. It’s embarrassing to see a muscleman with ultra coiffed hair whining about his dick getting no respect from the white producers of his movies because he’s yellow.

An AA mag would ask the writers and makers of the films why they won’t let a “yang” yellow musclemen have a “yin” white woman? A yellow critic, pitching to a yellow audience, would save the boys the embarrassment of representing all of Asian manhood, as in the recent propaganda boo hoo, THE SLANTED SCREEN putting a lineup of Hollywood yellow movie macho men on camera to plead for their dicks getting white women’s attention. There are ways of saying what THE SLANTED SCREEN says without making so many males embarrass themselves.

Actors act, we shouldn’t put them in the position of asking the questions of the audience that the critics should ask. But we have no critics. We’re reluctant to criticize. There is no Asian American lit without a literary argument. I see NO-NO BOY dying because Asian America wouldn’t talk about it. How do the revealed truth about the JACL betrayal of Japanese America and they invented the term “No-No boy” as a mistaken synonym for “criminal” they’re taking over the history and the publicity for their people.

The Saint was for working inside the all-powerful JACL. He couldn’t buck the spirit of Mike Masaoka while he lived. If he was a Saint, Masaoka was God.

The wavy haired Saint preached: Walking the JACL path of white righteousness against Japs and for the Japanese Americans, the American-born that so desperately wish they were as white on the outside, as they were on the inside. And to the whites of white news writing and news casting and Network newscasters, the JapAmface and voice of the news, in the realm of news stars in a sky of entertainment. He had become I learned later, the Networks’ expert’s last word on Japanese-American camps.

“I don’t know you. And I don’t like you,” I said. He lowered his eyes to mine. He was a tall dead man. And showed me his dead man’s eyes as if to intimidate me. “You’re a dead man!” I said, “Die!” and pushed past him.

In 1978 I was researching the WWII camps for Japanese Americans to bring me up to date as to why they were going to congress or court looking for “Redress,” I learned that the chickenshit dying man whose eyes I looked into had inspired the boys and girls that grew up to be the men and women who brought the redress movement to life.

The flat fizz when our eyes met. And the disgusting deadeyes that cringed from me, are all that I remember. Nothing of what was said by whom on the air. Kay Boyle and me are in the taxi taking us away from the forgotten broadcast studio. Kay Boyle thanks me for giving her a small redfaced Kwan Kung and telling her the story of who he was. Our cab pulls up to a black who recognized Kay Boyle in the cab had his cab call us so he could thank her for kind words he gave his first book. He gives Kay Boyle a copy of his new book of poetry. Lawson knew the poet. “Politician,” he said. Politics in poetry? “You don’t want to hear about it.” I don’t want to hear about it. It was because she loved Shawn Wong that she took the time to read the essay we were writing to introduce AIIIEEEEE! She knew James Joyce in Paris. She scolded Joyce secretary Samuel Beckett the author of WAITING FOR GODOT. They zinged postcards to each other with such fury, their writing was couldn’t be read as anything but speed. In reviewing AIIIEEEEE! in ROLLING STONE she did us a great favor. I hope the Stone paid her.

From China a message: They had checked the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, The Cambridge, The Webster’s, The American Heritage, the Columbia Dictionary of the English Language for “Aiiieeeee!” China-she or China-he had checked all the dictionaries and came up blank. Might “Aiiieeeee” be a word from another language? AIIIEEEEE! and THE BIG AIIIEEEEE! were anthologies of writing by American-born Chinese and Japanese with two exceptions that proved the rule; Taro Yashima and Mitsu were two artists and political activists who fled Japan for America after the disappearance of fellow artist-activists. They came with a vision of Japanese-American art forms, they actualized in artwork for the Office of War Information, and several children’s books that were still selling in 1969, among them UMBRELLA, MOMO’S KITTEN, and CROW BOY.

Their Japanese American children, Mako and Momo are likewise accomplished in the arts and extend their parent’s vision, as they build their own. Louis Chu was born in China, came to America at 14 and his only novel, EAT A BOWL OF TEA, was cannily written across both Chinese and American cultures, in English wrenched into the grammar of spoken Cantonese. Something that only someone with a taste for Cantonese and English smack their lips over.

The reasons why, these two we discussed in the essays of smartass literary history I wrote to introduce the continuity we found in generation after generation of the born-in-the-America Asian-way of looking at things published in America, since 1880. The real reason was there instances when I could read Louis Chu and get one impression of the people in English but in the Chinese that he’d worked in, in puns and jokes he hums and grunts another impression that jars with the English. The book closes with Ben Loy not able to stiffen his rod. He describes Ben Loy’s wife Mei Oi going down on him, as the literal flesh and blood woman (yin) and him going down on her as the literal yang (man) of the Tao , tonguing each other. It was perfectly obvious to me but too much for my co-editors, so I didn’t mention it in AIIIEEEEE!

We found San Francisco published the first Chinaman work A CHINESE-ENGLISH PHRASE BOOK, by Wong Sam & Associates in 1882 aimed 225 Chinatowns with Wells Fargo Express offices in the Western Territories, in a cardboard box, under a coffee table, in David Ishii’s used bookshop in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.

The Japanese American owner stood half in the dark wearing a canvas fishing hat with little ears over the vents, and round glasses with thick round frames. The light through the window and silvered up she shine of his teeth and turned his glasses into mirrors on dimpled his round face. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt, khaki pants and hiking boots.

“The Chinese stored and shipped their gold and portable wealth with Wells Fargo Express Co, where they had bulletproof safes, and valiant horses.” He turned a page in the book.


He pointed. “This publisher is a job printer.”

“Job printer?” He closed the book and handed it to me.

“They did this as a printing job for Wells Fargo.”

Wong Sam and Associates’ A CHINESE ENGLISH PHRASE BOOK is physical proof that we Chinese were in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico before they graduated from savages and gun law to civilized States one at a time, they drove the Old West west and out and were admitted as members of the United States of America with their own star on the flag. The dates of the western Territory’s Admission to Statehood are holidays, a birthdays across the map. We were here when the West was admitted into the Union. Five years after the publication of BIG AIIIEEEEE! with the excerpt from Wong Sam’s PHRASE-BOOK the PHRASE BOOK was mentioned as carrying a curiously revealing way of seeing America through the Chinese mind with phrases in Chinese and English about the arrest of a brother, testifying in court about being attacked with a gun, a knife, a knife and more than one gun, being pressed about Christianity, in an airlines magazine. The airlines mag didn’t have a word about Christianity but knowledgeably described an interesting point and identified Wong Sam as the source from 1872, San Francisco. How Chinaman is that? Proof! that once you’re a book, the book will live forever, and you won’t.

Why is it a throwaway airlines magazine readable Muzak, was out with thoughts on Wong Sam before an AA mag? There was and is no AA mag. We have never been able to achieve a real, respected, real magazine. The Japanese Americans had CURRENT LIFE the magazine for the American born Japanese, then the JACL shut James Omura down.


to be continued


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