In my Multicultural American Literature course this semester, I am teaching Kiku Hughes’ Displacement alongside John Okada’s No-No Boy and George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy. Each of these texts focuses on the incarceration of thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II, and each of these focuses on the intergenerational trauma of incarceration. The generational effects of trauma run through multiple texts we read this semester from Art Spiegleman’s Maus to Ernest Gaines’ Of Love and Dust.
During our conversation, Hughes and I spoke about a myriad of topics. We discussed the power of graphic novels in conveying information, specifically with the references to the Native Daughters of the Golden West and to her inclusion of Kiku’s lesbian relationship with May. The latter, as most of the book works to do, serves to set the record straight about history, to correct the narrative that has been lost or altered. Hughes mentioned that she received pushback about Kiku and May’s relationship because they said that the couple could not have existed or at least not been public with their relationship. However, Hughes talks about Jiro Onuma and his partner, even putting Jiro in some of the panels throughout the text. These types of moments stand out for me from my conversation with Hughes about Displacement.
Following the recording, Hughes and I realized we misspoke a couple of times. I misspoke about Takao Ozawa’s case. The case I was remembering was Chae Ching Ping v. United States . As well,I misspoke when discussing the citizenship of Niesi (second generation Japanese Americans). They could vote and were considered citizens even when attempts to remove their names from voting registers occurred. See Reagan v. King.
Below, you will see the questions that asked Hughes during our discussion.
- In the “Foreward” to John Okada’s No-No Boy, Ruth Ozeki writes, “Reading No-No Boy reminded me that history—and in this case, a history I thought I knew—is so much more than just facts.” As I reread Displacement for this semester, I kept thinking about this. Why is it important for us to have “more than just facts” when we study and learn about history?
- One of the key themes throughout Displacement is the power of memory. Perhaps the most powerful is when the community makes a memorial to James Hatsaki Wakasa and the camp director has it removed. In that sequence, which closes chapter 7, we the landscapers erecting the memorial next to a flower. The final panel, though, shows the memorial removed and the flower remaining. The narration reads, “A memory is too powerful a weapon.” Can you talk some about the power of memory and the ways that it is a weapon?
- When we think about the past, we think, “It’s done. It’s over.” However, what Displacement points out, as well as No-No Boy and Maus, the trauma of the past remains, both on an individual and a generational level. At one point, Kiku’s mother tells her, “I think sometimes a community’s experience is so traumatic, it stays rooted in us even generations later. And the later generations continue to rediscover that experience, since it’s still shaping us in ways we might not realize.” Can you talk some about the ways that the past continues to affect the present?
- One thing that I love about graphic novels is the way that the medium provides readers with information. It doesn’t occur in lengthy prose with pages of description. It occurs in brief moments here and there, sometimes not even through the text. Early in Displacement, when Kiku experiences her first displacement, she walks down the street and past a Native Daughters of the Golden West building that has a sign on it reading, “No Japs in Our Schools!” Kiku looks at the sign in anger, and she says that that sign shocked her the most during that first displacement. When she returns to the present, her mom and her drive by the same building Native Daughters of the Golden West building. This moment is quick, and I didn’t know anything about the Native Daughters of the Golden West until I did a Google search and looked at the information on the Denhso.org site. Can you speak some on the Native Daughters and also on the ways that sequential art allows for these types of moments that engage readers without overtly engaging them?
- Kiku realizes that, with the more people she meets, that patriotism has many different meanings. Ichiro in No-No Boy and George Takei in They Called Us Enemy come to the same conclusion when they talk about individuals’ decisions to answer yes-yes or no-no on the loyalty form. Can you talk some about how this discussion of patriotism, or more specifically the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs and principles?
- At its core, Displacement focuses on Kiku, her mother and her grandmother. There is not much historical discussion, apart from the camps where they were incarcerated and the loyalty oath. However, history informed this book. Students for this week read Ozawa v. United States (1922) along with Displacement, and can you speak some how that case, Korematsu v. United States, or other historical events influenced Displacement?
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham