By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Monica Sone
University of Washington Press, 2014
Growing up in Seattle in the 1920s and 1930s, Monica Sone constantly battled with her Japanese heritage and her American home. From the time she was 5 and told by her parents that she and her older brother Henry would be going to Japanese school during weekday evenings, she always felt that she was from two worlds.
Whether she is being humiliated at a parent-teacher meeting due to her mother’s ignorance regarding Western expressions and idioms or trying to contain her emotions and personality while visiting relatives in Japan, “Nisei Daughter” is the story of how Sone grows up feeling both not enough and too much for both cultures.
And then the United States enters World War II after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. All of Sone’s inner-cultural clashing is magnified as she, her family, and their fellow Japanese Americans are evacuated to the internment camps.
Throughout her life, Sone faces racism as a Nisei – second-generation – daughter in the United States. And while she expresses her anger and bitterness at the time, she moves on from these incidents and focuses on what is important to her – the relationships she has with her family and friends.
Despite sometimes clashing with her family, her love for them shines through as they face the ups and downs every family faces – the petty arguments with her siblings, hiding potential love interests from her parents, figuring out post high school plans, and more. But through all of this, Sone reminds us that the anti-Japanese sentiment and threat of war has been looming over them all this time. But it doesn’t stop the family members from going forward with their lives – showing the kind of strength we all wish we had.
And despite these challenges they faced, Sone also highlights some of the non-Japanese friends they made along the way – those who stuck by her and her family’s side when things were particularly low.
A Free Man
By Aman Sethi
W.W. Norton & Company, 2012
Meet Mohammad Ashraf – middle-aged man living in the heart of old Delhi. Before he came to live his life as a poor and homeless day laborer, he was a biology student at college, and worked as a butcher, tailor, and an electrician’s assistant.
Having worn so many hats throughout his life, it is hard to see how Ashraf ended up where he did.
This was something journalist Aman Sethi wanted to know, so he spent five years with Ashraf – whom he first met in 2005 while writing an article about a proposed government bill that would provide construction workers with health insurance – trying to find out and learn the other man’s story.
During those five years, Sethi chronicles Ashraf’s adventures and misadventures. Sethi follows Ashraf and his friends all over town, from the Old Delhi Railway Station, to a tuberculosis hospital, to an illegal bar in Beggars Court. Along the way, Ashraf shares stories from his life, constantly baffled yet amused by Sethi’s interest.
“A Free Man” is the story of a man, who, despite often falling on hard times, does not let his circumstances bring him down. Ashraf maintains his good humor, dry wit, and positive outlook in life.
While Ashraf could be seen as just another homeless person on the streets of Delhi, it is clear that he is not. He has very specific opinions about things such as friendship. Ashraf has dreams of owning his own business and is a hard worker doing what he can to get by.
By delving into the other man’s life, Sethi will have readers thinking twice whenever they come across a homeless person. He will have readers wondering how these individuals ended up where they have, because as Ashraf’s story shows, there are many factors that could have landed them on the streets.
My Fight for a New Taiwan: One Woman’s Journey from Prison to Power
By Lu Hsiu-Lien and Ashley Esarey
Washington Press, 2014
Growing up, Lu Hsiu-lien was never content with how she was expected to live her life as a girl in Taiwan.
From a very young age, she bucked the expectations of marrying and living her life for a husband. Instead, she went to college and soon became an activist. Her causes included gender equality, human rights, political reform, and Taiwanese independence.
While fighting for her various causes, Hsiu-lien took on Taiwan’s Nationalist Party, which made her an enemy of the state in the party’s eyes. Eventually, Hsiu-lien’s efforts landed her in prison, where she stayed for five years.
But once she was released, Hsiu-lien never lost sight of her goals and dreams for Taiwan. She eventually became the country’s vice president.
The struggles and battles Hsiu-lien endures throughout her life as she fights for women’s rights and Taiwanese independence are extraordinary. But those accomplishments are magnified when you take into account her being female in a society that expected women to marry and have children as soon as they completed school. Hsiu-lien rejected these stereotypes and carved out a path that is nothing short of inspiring.
One of the most admirable things about Hsiu-lien was how determined she was to achieve her goals. Despite the potential danger she faced opposing the Nationalist Party and the ridicule she faced for voicing her thoughts, she remains laser-focused on her goals.
Hsiu-lien’s life story mirrors the story of Taiwan as a country. Both are trying to find their way in the world and break free — one from limiting gender expectations, the other from mainland China. Prior to this, I did not know much about Taiwan and its struggles, but “My Fight for a New Taiwan” had me cheering on Hsiu-lien and her compatriots as they fought for the country they loved so much. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.