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.
Sunday brunch at the Takayama home that February was a dismal affair, with no one more disappointed than Haru. She believed in the promise of America, and now this.
“What did I tell you about the whites?” said Hiromi. “The killing of a nonwhite by four whites is called an ‘honor killing.’ They are demanding that the murderers go unpunished.”
Haru sighed, her eyes roaming over all six children. In a voice sounding more defeatist than her family was used to, she said, “I confess that I never suspected the degree of loathing haoles feel toward us, seeing us only as their racial inferiors. Buddha knows how hard I’ve worked to raise you all as good Americans.”
“Sorry, Mommy,” blurted Hiromi, “but our citizenship has only made the whites hate us even worse. We will vote, and then, good-bye, Big Five.”
Suddenly, she flared, “Haha, they will never let that happen. You just wait and see. You don’t see any colored governors in Mississippi or Alabama, do you? Well, they will make sure that no Japanese will ever govern them. She waved her chopsticks in the air. “Just like a few years after I was born, they passed an immigration law. NO MORE JAPS!” Hiromi’s shrill voice silenced the table.
Haru was at a loss for words. For the first time, she harbored doubts. Have our children’s scholarship, our politeness and our reputation for hard work and fair business practices been for naught? she wondered. One unproven rape charge undermines all the good that we do and brings to the surface the haoles’ worst fears. She knew that the low crime rate among the Japanese was far less than those white Navy boys, but it had made no difference.
So engrossed in her thoughts was Haru that she hardly heard Kenji’s rebuke directed at Taka. Hiromi’s outburst was getting another pass, she thought, as her attention snapped to the present.
“You have disappointed many people, Taka,” said Kenji. “Your words spoke your readers’ thoughts. You undermined that Pafko fellow, but now . . .”
“Otösan, my words are like the trade winds. They blow over. They are read by the powerless. They might make people feel good or righteously angry, but in the end, they have no impact. Pafko’s words are like a banyan tree. They take root because his voice represents the people who control Hawai‘i, control our lives, those who decide what scraps off their table we can fight over.”
Kenji raised his fork and let it hover over his scrambled eggs. “And giving voice to the voiceless is bad?”
“It’s just . . .” Taka shook his head like a beleaguered quarterback after throwing his fourth interception. “It’s just so pointless. I write the words. I feel I have expressed the truth, but so what?”
“I don’t think that Benny confessed,” said Hiromi with bitterness in her voice. “Those Navy guys lied. If he had confessed, they would have taken him to the police.”
“They aren’t even in jail,” said 13-year-old Kenta, Haru’s youngest son. “Get this, that mother’s prison,” he hammered at the word, “is the captain’s quarters on the ship.”
Resigned, Taka looked at Kenta and Hiromi, and then focused on Tommy, now a high school sophomore. “It’s about to get worse. The Advertiser is setting up a fund to hire an attorney for the murderers. And not just any lawyer . . . Clarence Darrow.”
“What?!” exclaimed Haru. “The monkey-trial lawyer?” She was referring to “the trial of the century,” the 1925 Scopes trial in which Darrow represented a teacher who taught the theory of evolution in violation of Tennessee law. Darrow lost the case, but Scopes was fined only $100. The year before, Darrow had represented Leopold and Loeb, two teenage boys from wealthy families who confessed to kidnapping and murdering a 14-year-old boy. Darrow’s eleventh-hour plea kept the boys from the electric chair.
“If this famous monkey lawyer is coming to Hawai‘i,” said 10-year-old Sachiko, “doesn’t that mean those people are going to trial?”
“That’s right! Good point,” said a chorus of murmurs, encouraging the youngest to speak up.
“So again, it comes down to 12 people,” said Tommy, looking at Hiromi. “The last time, you said they would find the five boys guilty, but they didn’t.”
For the first time that day, Haru’s face brightened. “You are both right,” she said, looking at her two youngest children. “Even the Navy and the Advertiser can’t fix a jury trial.”
To be continued . . .