June 11, 2012

Nisei Daughter

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:53 am

From Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter (1953):

“The first five years of my life I lived in amoebic bliss, not knowing whether I was plant or animal, at the old Carrollton Hotel on the waterfront of Seattle. One day when I was a happy six-year-old, I made the shocking discovery that I had Japanese blood. I was a Japanese. … ‘So, Papa and I have decided that you and Ka-chan will attend Japanese school after grammar school every day.’  She beamed at us. I choked on my rice. Terrible, terrible, terrible! So that’s what it meant to be a Japanese — to lose my afternoon play hours! I fiercely resented this sudden intrusion of my blood into my affairs. … Up to that moment, I had never thought of Father and Mother as Japanese. True, they had almond eyes and they spoke Japanese to us, but I never felt it was strange. It was like one person’s being red-haired and another black.

“Our street itself was a compact little world, teeming with the bustle of every kind of business in existence in Skidrow. Right below our living quarters was a large second-hand clothing store. It was guarded by a thin, hunchbacked, gray woolly-bearded man who sat napping on a little stool the entrance. … Oddly, the shop was very susceptible to fire, and every now and then smoke would seep up through our bedroom floor boards and we would hear fire engines thundering down our street. After such an uproar, the old man would put up huge, red-lettered signs: Mammoth Fire Sale … practically a giveaway!

“Next to the clothing store was the tavern, the forbidden hall of iniquity, around which we were not supposed to loiter. The swinging door was sawed off at the bottom, but with our heads hanging down we managed to get an upside down view of it. All we could see were feet stuck to brass rails. … Next to our hotel entrance, Mr. Wakamatsu operated the Ace Cafe. We liked him, because he was such a tall, pleasant-mannered, handsome man. He had a beautiful clear tenor voice which floated out into the alley up to our kitchen as he called out, ‘Veal, French fries on the side …!’ Mr. Wakamatsu’s window display was always a splendid sight to see. There would be neat rows of purple strawberry shortcakes, or a row of apple pies shining with the luster of shallac, or a row of rigid, blood-red gelatin puddings planted squarely in the center of thick white saucers.

“Next to the Ace Cafe was Dunk’s father’s small barbershop. Then there was the little white-painted hot-dog stand where we bought luscious hot dogs and hamburgers smothered with onions and the hottest of chili sauce which brought tears brimming to our eyes. The hot-dog man was constantly swatting flies on the meat board, and I hate to think how many smashed flies were in the red ground meat.

“Then came another forbidden place, the burlesque house. A brunet-haired woman with carefully powdered wrinkles sat in the ticket booth, chewing gum. She always winked a shiny purple eyelid at us whenever we passed, and we never knew for sure whether we should smile back at her or not.”


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