Analysis: Chapters 7–10

This section provides a broader context for the relations we observe between the Japanese-Americans and white Americans on San Piedro. We see that the Japanese have been set apart from the larger San Piedro community both before and after their wartime internment. No law forces people of Japanese descent to sit in the back of the courtroom, for instance, but their unofficial status as second-class citizens makes it socially necessary. Their place at the back of the courtroom reflects their subtle segregation from the community and the delicate nature of their claim to justice.

As Mrs. Shigemura demonstrates, however, the Japanese themselves have a hand in maintaining their separateness. Mrs. Shigemura tells Hatsue to avoid white men, claiming that they treat Japanese girls without respect, as mere exotic objects. We see that from a young age Hatsue has been indoctrinated to distrust the whites as much as the whites distrust the Japanese. The teenage Hatsue’s fear that her love affair with Ishmael will cause a controversy is due just as much to her own community’s racism as the white community’s racism. However, the Japanese community’s separation from the broader community gives it greater cohesion. The experience of internment has forced the Japanese-Americans to live together under extreme circumstances. We see the severity of the internment camp’s conditions in the fact that despite the extreme respect for privacy and propriety in Japanese culture, Hatsue and Kabuo must spend their wedding night in the same room as their entire family.

Guterson highlights the hypocrisy of the whites’ fear of the Japanese by illustrating that everyone on San Piedro is an immigrant—the only difference is that some have come from Europe while others have come from Asia. Fujiko’s life story closely parallels Etta Heine’s; both women were born outside the United States, married young, and worked along with their husbands at menial jobs in Seattle before moving to San Piedro. Both Fujiko and Etta learned to resent people different from them—Fujiko indoctrinated her daughter to cling to her Japanese heritage and to distrust whites, while Etta tried to prevent her husband from selling land to Zenhichi simply because he was Japanese. The two women are equally proud and stubborn, equally new to San Piedro, and equally unwilling to tolerate diversity. The similarity ends with the background to their respective distrust. Whereas the Japanese-Americans were forced to live in internment camps during the war, the San Piedro islanders of German ancestry—though also natives of an enemy country—were not the targets of such discrimination.