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, Georgia and Japan.
“Lies! Lies! Lies!” Grace Fortescue screamed, slamming the Hawaii Hochi down on the sofa.
“Mama, what is it?” Thalia cried, running into the living room from the kitchen. Her mother was visiting that afternoon. Neither woman could stand the other, which was why Grace had rented her own cottage after spending just two nights with her daughter and son-in-law.
“Another newspaper story from those . . . those colored people, making a hero out of the rapist, who got off with just a beating.”
“Let me see.” Thalia picked up the paper and read Taka’s article.” She wrung her hands. This boy reporter is such a source of trouble, she thought.
“Mama, I don’t think I can stand going through this again.”
“Of course, you can,” snapped Grace. “Our family honor demands it. You back out and everyone will think you made up the whole thing.” Her piercing eyes beat Thalia into submission.
“Yes, Mama . . .”
* * *
While Grace fumed, Governor Judd slapped his own copy of the Hochi down on his desk. Taka’s “Ida is a Hero” column stared back at him. Pafko’s “Ida was Lucky” editorial lay aside.
That reporter and Admiral Stirling, he thought, are as much to blame for this boy’s beating as if they had been on the Pali, flaying Ida with their own belt buckles. There are always violent-natured men, eager to break the chains of civilization if authority and society sanction their primeval urges. And, in this case, encouraged it. What’s next? he asked himself. A murder? But first things first. In the matter of police corruption and incompetence, he knew Stirling was right.
The cops — his cops — were rotten to the core. If the Massie complaint had been handled professionally, the case would never have seen the light of day. That Navy wife got her tit in a dalliance wringer and blamed it on the boys when the police served them up on a marriage-saving platter. How did it come to this? The question was self-incrimination rather than a search for a Paul-to-Damascus revelation. He knew the answer. Hell, everyone knew: The good ’ol boy system that had evolved since the early territorial days — all the top police jobs were political payoff appointees. He winced internally thinking of the incompetents granted his patronage. But the bungling of this alleged rape was the last straw.
He caught himself. Did he just say “alleged?” He knew the almost-certain truth. Dillingham knew it. But he had stuffed the truth in his back pocket in favor of the “bigger issue” — our right to rule must not be undermined, even if a few of society’s lower class must be sacrificed. He now knew what had to be done, what was right and what immediate action he must initiate to head off the Navy’s grab for control of Hawai‘i.
He walked over to the legislative offices and entered the door marked “President of the Territorial Legislature.” After the two men exchanged their dismay at the disastrous consequences of the police incompetence, Judd stated the obvious.
“We need to fix the police department, clean it up. Bring that bill on establishing a police commission out of committee. You get it passed; I’ll sign it.”
Judd turned and strode out of the room without waiting for an answer. He knew what he would have seen on the man’s face — initial shock that would surely evolve into a gloating smirk that said, “Exactly what I have been telling you for years.”
The next day, the Legislature passed the law separating the police from the Office of the Governor and placing it under a commission. It was understood that Walter Dillingham would head the commission and quietly “suggest” whom the other four members would be. Hawai‘i would act. Quickly. On its own. It was fighting to retain its sovereignty.
Back at his office, Judd ended his day by writing his boss — the president of the United States — a letter refuting Stirling’s charges. He then had his secretary send it over the teleprinter.
* * *
“Okäsan, why do they hate us?” asked young Hiromi, holding a spoon over the ice cream Haru had just served her family for dessert.
Taka had brought home the Hochi and Advertiser extras and had just finished telling his family everything he knew about Ida’s beating. He was relieved that Hiromi had directed her question to their mother. He worried about his younger sister. If she, raised in a Buddhist priest’s family where tolerance was fostered, harbored these dark convictions . . . He left the thought dangling.
Taka wasn’t the only person at the table who was relieved. Kenji knew his wife was better than he at admonishing his quick-to-anger daughter.
“Why do we hate the Koreans?” Haru asked. She, too, was worried about Hiromi’s racist tendencies. She remembered her daughter’s remark the moment she had heard that the five young men had been arrested. “It’s crazy to think Japanese boys would rape a white lady. But it doesn’t matter if they did it or not — the haoles will send them to jail, anyway.”
“I don’t hate the Koreans or even the Chinese. You taught me better, Okäsan.”
Haru did not reply. Her widened eyes and folded hands demanded a more forthcoming response.
“OK,” Hiromi conceded. “Many of us Japanese do hate the Koreans and Chinese — but not because they are a different race. We have been at war with them for centuries.”
Her mother arched her eyebrows another notch.
“Japan is modern; Korea and China are backward.” Hiromi wrinkled her nose and smiled. “We bathe more often. But the whites hate us just because we look different.”
Haru’s eyes moved to the small Buddhist altar.
“. . . And pray to Buddha,” Hiromi added, dismissively, “which wouldn’t matter if we looked like haoles.”
Haru refused to become sidetracked over the relative weight of race and religion. “There are always prejudices,” said Haru, thinking about how a veil of normalcy had cloaked relations between Japanese and haoles since the immigration and language-school turbulence of the early 1920s. She shook her head slowly. “Now this white woman’s claim of having been raped has rekindled all the fears, distrust . . .” She was about to add “and hate,” but caught herself, “and hostility. This will pass,” said Haru, sipping her tea. “How we respond will determine how soon it will pass.”
“I hate them! I wish they were all dead!” Hiromi blurted out. Seeing the look of shock and dismay on Haru’s face, Hiromi said contritely, “I wish I could be like you and Daddy. But I can’t. If someone hates you, you should hate them back . . . double!”
“Wakarimashita,” said Haru, knowing that an “I understand” rather than more pushback at this emotional moment would be the wiser response. Resistance only created entrenched attitudes. How many more innocents, she thought, will we lose to hatred if this crisis doesn’t end soon?
* * *
A few hours later and 5,000 miles away, President Herbert Hoover, responding to the media and congressional uproar to “do something” about the breakdown of law and order in Hawai‘i, convened a sunrise cabinet meeting to review the conflicting Stirling and Judd reports.
“I need to find out what’s happening before suspending the government of Hawai‘i and handing over its administration to the Navy.” He sent assistant attorney general Seth Robertson to Hawai‘i to assess the situation and make his recommendations.
To be continued . . .