Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
Diamond Head, Easter Sunday, 1923
“What’s at stake is what type of Nisei citizens will be voting — those molded in the American tradition in public schools, or those indoctrinated by the Buddhist-run, so-called language schools?”
Square-jawed Walter Dillingham was holding court with Hawai‘i’s power elite this Easter Sunday afternoon in his library. His fawning audience ignored the clacks of mallets striking a wooden ball followed by a whistling swish across the perfectly manicured pitch. The sprinkle of raindrops pinging open bay windows drew no notice. Still wearing his riding boots and form-fitting polo shirt, Dillingham paused to let his words sink in as his commanding eyes snuck a glimpse at the continuing polo exhibition. Outside, women adorned in their Easter finery held dainty umbrellas over fancy bonnets and cheered the Farrington and Dillingham polo team riders competing in an exhibition match. A rainbow stretched from the tip of Diamond Head into the far end of Dillingham’s pot of gold, called La Pietra — a half-million-dollar Italian Renaissance villa inspired by the fabled Medici family’s 16th century Florence residence.
While Walter Dillingham believed in the Bible and in the prerogative of the white race to rule the planet, including the lesser races in America, he was a practical man who accomplished big tasks — erecting the dry-docks at Pearl Harbor, draining the wetlands of Waikïkï to create the Ala Wai Canal, building hotels, and clearing land for O‘ahu’s largest ranches and sugar plantations. Dillingham believed that any problem simply required study — picking the best solution and making it happen, like closing these un-American schools and bringing the Japanese labor force to its heels.
His father was not a missionary descendant like most of Hawai‘i’s elite, so he married one. Seaman Benjamin Franklin Dillingham landed in Hawai‘i in 1864 and fell ill, so his ship sailed on without him. He procured work at a hardware store, soon bought it and wooed his missionary mate. In debt most of his early life from land purchases, he made his big score founding the Oahu Railway that created the foundation of the Dillinghams’ wealth and power.
Young Walter dropped out of Harvard to help run the family business when his father fell ill in 1904. While second-generation sons often dissipated the family fortune, Walter Dillingham multiplied his manifold. Now approaching 50, he kept fit by playing polo and moderating his eating and drinking. His still-mostly blond hair, neatly trimmed and with only a hint of thinning, gave him the youthful look of a man closer to 40.
Gov. Wallace Farrington and a half-dozen key legislators hung on every word Dillingham uttered. Governors were appointed; legislators bought and sold. Walter Dillingham, beholden to no one, was a constant. His penetrating eyes now locked on Joshua Bilkerton, a man he had dismissed as a buffoon during the strike, but who had somehow righted himself. Next to him sat Andy Pafko with his bulbous-nose, his pen hovering over a pocket-sized spiral notepad. It amused Dillingham that this useful scribe considered himself an investigative reporter, rather than a puppet.
“That Makino is tying us up in court appeals,” said Bilkerton, trimming the cap of his Havana cigar with a stainless steel cutter. “Judge Banks’ injunction staying the implementation of the Foreign Language School Bill still stands. The schools remain active.” He brought the flame of his Ronson lighter to the tip of his cigar and took a slow, steady draw.
“Let Wallace fight the court cases, Joshua,” said Dillingham, drawing on a Vuelta Abajo cigar he allowed himself at these functions. “Let’s stay on the offensive. And no more press control bills that flag themselves so obviously and make us look like King George’s tea-tax parliament. Stick to the objective: It’s the schools.”
“What about a head tax?” said a tentative voice from several seats back. “Six bits or a dollar for each student.”
“Now that’s the spirit,” said Dillingham, giving a warm smile to the man, who beamed at the approbation. “Yes, a tax.”
“A head tax for each student to pay for the government’s oversight of the schools,” said Bilkerton, eager to take charge.
“A dollar a head should do it,” said Dillingham.
“It’s April,” said Bilkerton. “We’ll be in session next week. I can whip this through committee and on to the floor before the end of the month.”
Dillingham took another deep draw on his cigar. “I haven’t given up on my petition to Congress to let us immigrate 30,000 Chinese laborers. As you know, last year I gave the immigration committee an earful on the military danger of all these Japs in Hawai‘i. They cheered me and then they kowtowed to the State Department and refused to move the bill out of committee. Now this Tea Pot Dome scandal over oil concessions has brought Washington to a standstill. Harding’s not about to push on anything big like immigration.”
A skeptical-sounding voice challenged, “Congress letting in more Asians from anywhere, Walter? There’s a groundswell for an immigration bill banning all Asians excepting the Flips.”
“We have a friend with Harding,” Dillingham pontificated. “Not like that sanctimonious, save-the-world Wilson. Last year, Harding sent his own commission to investigate those language schools. He sent me a letter expressing his concern about the future loyalty of the Nisei.”
Dillingham flicked ashes over a crystal ashtray. “I think the Republican Congress will do what needs to be done to bring permanent labor peace to Hawai‘i. Even if they pass a bill banning future Asian immigration, they can grant a one-time exception for Hawai‘i to reduce our dependency on Jap laborers.” He took a quick puff and pointed the cigar at Bilkerton. “Let ’em know there is a consequence to striking.”
Pafko looked up at the sound of the word “striking.”
“Use my words on permanent peace, Andy, but skip the part about breaking or punishing strikers.”
“I know better,” said Pafko.
Dillingham turned and looked out the window, watching the riders dismount and walk their horses to the stable. “It’s time to get the servants cracking to set up our lü‘au.”
To be continued . . .