Book & Movie Reviews

#SocialDistancing & Sinophobia: Reading #JohnOkada’s No-No Boy Through a Contemporary Lens

“I think, more than anything, people like to feel superior to others… And when people feel superior, it makes it harder for them to see the problems just beneath the surface. They don’t want to believe them, to face them, because if they did, can they really claim to be superior anymore?”― Rebecca Schaeffer

Japanese Internment Camps.

We are in the middle of a global health pandemic. It would be nice if this moment of fear made us all more empathetic & understanding of those who differ from ourselves, but to say this, would be a lie. For, there are always people that will take any excuse to succumb to fear. When this happens, xenophobia runs rampant with little prompting.

Seeing the way that Asians Americans have started to be treated after the outbreak of the Coronavirus in America, I am reminded of one of my favorite novels, which is NoNo Boy by John Okada. In John Okada’s 1957 book, “No-No Boy,” the Japanese American protagonist, Ichiro Yamada, & the Japanese community are feared & subsequently sent to internment camps under the guise of “keeping Americans safe.” The pandemonium we’re seeing now where Asian Americans are experiencing an on slaughter of racist attacks is reminiscent of the mass hysteria that took place in America after Pearl Harbor happened during World War II.

In WWII, the choice to confine Japanese citizens into internment camps came after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This Executive Order authorized the removal of all people with Japanese ancestry from designated military areas and communities within the United States. In response to this removal, the court case, Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), was filed to contest the removal of these citizens by Fred Korematsu, 23, a Japanese-American citizen that was arrested for not complying with the order. Korematsu later became a national civil rights hero appealing his case all the way to the Supreme Court where it was found that the U.S. government intelligence agencies had hid key documents from the Court causing Korematsu’s conviction to bee overturned.

Similar to Korematsu, John Okada uses his novel to tell the story of Ichiro, a nisei or second-generation Japanese American man, who gets drafted to serve in WWII. This character resist on the principle of not wanting to renounce his Japanese heritage or his American citizenship. The story progresses from here and readers are able to see WWII through the eyes of a Japanese-American.

Nisei Soldiers in WWII

The title of Okada’s book stems from Question 27 of the “loyalty questionnaire.” Okada shows how the act of “othering,” or placing a minority in a position where they feel as if they must choose between their ethnic culture & “American” culture can create a fracturing of the person’s psyche causing emotionally, mentally, & physically duress.

Okada’s novel asks readers, specifically white readers, to place themselves in the role of a minority person and to think, “how would I feel if my existence were seen as a threat?” While this book isn’t about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is about how Asian people are often perceived as a danger to America. Thanks to continued feelings of Yellow Peril, we are now seeing people shroud their fear of getting sick with racist comments & acts toward Asians.

Don’t be that person, be kind!

Purchase a copy of No-No Boy

What to read if you’ve already read No-No Boy

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
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