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.
Mö‘ili‘ili, May 26, 1924
“Quiet!” hissed one of the boys. “They’re starting to vote.”
A hush settled over the Takayama living room. Twenty-three of Taka’s fellow Nisei students from McKinley High School had gathered around the breakfast table, where a new Crosley radio was broadcasting the proceedings. They all strained to hear the voice emanating from the four-tube radio receiver that was about the size of a loaf of bread. Its companion battery cabinet was stacked underneath.
On this auspicious Monday morning, Haru and Sachi had risen at 5 o’clock to steam rice, scramble four dozen eggs with diced ham and chopped onions in a Chinese wok and slice six loaves of bread to toast in the oven. Sachi’s right hand ached from squeezing fresh oranges for juice. The large coffee urn, normally used only for mission socials, was percolating on its third refill.
KGU radio was broadcasting the coming immigration vote in the United States Senate on a short-wave relay from KHJ Los Angeles. Taka’s class was as American as any in Kansas that might also be listening to this “democracy in action” radio coverage, but with a big difference. In an hour, they would know whether or not men and women of their race would be forbidden from immigrating to America.
The announcer intoned, “The vote will commence in five minutes due to a procedural question.”
Everyone gathered around the radio began talking at once as shoulders eased and spines relaxed. “Americans complain that the Jews and Italians are diluting white America. Now Californians see the racial purity campaign as an opportunity to include us,” said one boy.
“Exclude us,” corrected Amy, who always made a point of not acting Japanese.
Koichi ignored her. “What these nativists really want is an America the way it was in 1776 — white and Protestant.”
“The whole thing with importing African slave labor turned on them after emancipation,” said Amy. “They don’t want another minority race, particularly one that is educated.”
“The immigration pushback started with the starving Irish Catholics who came to America by the boatload,” another boy said.
“In 1848,” added Amy.
“Yea, but later, there were all the Jews fleeing Russia and Poland after the Great War. And don’t forget the Italians.” Koichi pinched his fingers together, raised them to his mouth, and pretended that he was throwing a huge, juicy kiss. “Mama mia! They came to America by the tens of thousands.”
That got a good laugh from the group — everyone except Amy.
“It started with the 1922 quotas,” she intoned. “Our fair-faced congressmen came up with the plan to keep our country very, very, VERY white by restricting future immigration. From then on, country immigration quotas were based on the number of people from that country who were already citizens.”
“That system favors Northern Europeans — the British, Irish, Swedes and Germans,” said Taka, “the so-called good Americans.”
“Isn’t that half a laugh,” said another voice. “Only a few years ago, the Germans were our enemy, and a generation before that, the Irish were called drunken papists.”
“Now the Germans and the Irish want limits on the Jews and the Meds,” said Amy, pointing her nose in the air.
A girl sitting close to the Crosley waved her hands. “Alabama just voted yes.”
Thirty minutes later, Sen. David Reed of Pennsylvania, co-sponsor of the bill, was not satisfied with voicing a simple “yes” vote. The chair granted him a chance to state his views for the national radio audience.
“Let me remind you of the good words of Virgil McClatchy, president of the Oriental Exclusion League of California, who appeared before our committee. ‘I have a very high regard for the character and ability of the Japanese nation and the Japanese people. And I realize that it is their strong racial characteristics that make them so dangerous a factor if admitted to the country as permanent residents. Even U.S.-born, second-generation Japanese were not assimilatory because they were raised by Japanese parents.
“‘With great pride of race, they have no idea of assimilation. They never cease to be Japanese. They do not come to this country with any desire or any intent to lose their racial or national identity. They come here specifically and professedly for the purpose of colonizing and establishing here, permanently, the proud Yamato race.’
“I vote yes.”
When it came time for Sen. LeBaron Colt from Rhode Island, chairman of the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, the chair allowed him to speak, as well.
“Here is this great question of racial discrimination. Don’t pass a law, which Japan said to America ‘would denote our inferiority. Leave it to honor.’ That was the essence of the Gentleman’s Agreement. The Japanese kept their word. Labor immigration practically stopped. We can count on their continued restrictions without the need for this act.
“I vote no.”
To be continued . . .