Joyce Sachiko Tsunoda, Ph.D.
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
I am a sansei by age and generation on my mother’s side of the family. However, I think I am more of a Sengo Issei — a post-World War II Issei — than a Sansei. This is because my nisei mother brought my three sisters and me back to her home in Hawai‘i in 1948. Her Japanese husband — our father — was drafted into the Japanese army while our family was living in the then-Japanese territory of Manchuria. He was sent to the battlefront in the Philippines and was reported missing in action there just four months before the war ended.
I knew no English when I arrived in Hawai‘i. Neither did I know that English was the “mother language” of my mother. At Hale‘iwa Elementary School, I was placed in the third grade because I was too big to be in the first grade. It was the start of my Americanization, and it began with a lot of snickering looks and teasing by my classmates, calling me “Japan bobura! (bumpkin) Japan bobura!”
I was fortunate to have Miss Fannie Howe, a Chinese American, as my teacher. She ignored those children, sat me in the back of the classroom and handed me a book. Between teaching the rest of the class, she would sit with me, point to the pictures on the pages and pronounce the words: “Dog.” “Cat.” “Boy.” “Girl.” I was to repeat those words. When she returned, she would point at each picture. “Doggu,” I would say. “Katto.” Miss Howe shook her head, “No, not doggu . . . dog. Not katto . . . cat.” When the children started to laugh, Miss Howe would shoot them a harsh look and everyone became quiet.
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