Author’s note: My intent with this piece is to show the struggle that Japanese Americans had to deal with after the war. Though they were technically free, they weren’t treated as such because racism was still present after the war. I drew inspiration from the boy in the painting working for his classmates, who were all having fun. Some of them were being incredibly racist towards him (info from the description below the painting). He was working because he didn’t have much after the war and he had to deal with all of the horrible things that they threw at him because he had no other options. Now, he has to take care of his family, but bitterness is pent up inside him.
BOY: A Japanese-American high school student responsible for his two younger sisters, working as an underpaid gardener and taking jobs such as washing windows, cleaning houses, and mowing lawns to sustain his family. His father was killed in the war and his mother killed herself due to grief.
Setting: BOY’s small, dingy apartment. BOY prepares a small dinner of rice for his two sisters just after the youngest shares a nightmare about white people killing her father. The sisters are sitting at the table having their own conversation, muted to the audience.
(he’s standing at a counter making dinner for his sisters throughout the monologue.)
I had a dream that I’d finally forgiven you. It was light. Still. Quiet. I discovered something about myself, about you, about a god I don’t believe in anymore, and let me tell you, the god doesn’t love you any more than me. The god gives us terrorism to shock our countries, but yours is called “defense” and ours is “murder,” because no matter how much you pretend, thoughts are never honest. You think you’re doing the right thing. You pray to your deaf god for understanding and you find a message in a ripple of water, in a tide that’s sweeping, fading. It’s gone. At least I’m not haunted by my actions. I have no shame. No shame except in the colors of my flag, in the color of my skin, in the clothes my sisters dress in. “They need to be cultured,” you say, but what you mean is that they need to have less of mine and more of yours.
Do you think it’s acceptable to ask my eight-year-old sister to explain why Pearl Harbor was okay, only to see her confusion, and for you to hit her knuckles for not answering until they were bruised, bloody, raw, like your patriotism, like the snap of a Japanese bone, not American, because that would mean we are the same? But I am not a toy and you have not broken me, no matter how much you would like to pretend otherwise.
(He gestures to the food he’s making his sisters.)
Rice is the emperor’s food. I know that now. I’m feeding my sisters poison with every bite, it turns their blood black, their skin yellow, their minds unclean. Or so you said. But not anymore, because the war is over. You’d never think anything like that again. Except. I hear your questions constantly, “Are you loyal? Are you pure? Have you fought for this country?”
If fighting is cutting your lawn, and if fighting is not speaking unless spoken to, and if fighting is learning a language never once taught me and teaching my sisters the same, then yes, I have fought for this country, for the many wonderful opportunities that lie ahead. For Americans.
But don’t go around asking for morality. Much of what everybody perceives as thinking is empty anyway. It’s thought again and again until it comes through muddy and cluttered. Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. Of course I’ll be your footstool, your new rug, the garnish on your favorite dish. I’ll remember to soften in your mouth so pearly teeth won’t break. I’ll remember that you like grass cut meticulously, though it will only be given attention when it stains white shoes, or white pants, or white skin.
My dream had been demolished by the honking of horns, of police sirens, and the second I woke up I was grinding my teeth on the past. My jaw hurts. I will try to forgive you, again, tonight, but you still did what you did and I still can’t forget it.