Mrs. Yamada Quotes in No-No Boy
“I am proud that you are back,” she said. “I am proud to call you my son.”
It was her way of saying that she had made him what he was and that the thing in him which made him say no to the judge and go to prison for two years was the growth of a seed planted by the mother tree and that she was the mother who had put this thing in her son and that everything that had been done and said was exactly as it should have been and that that was what made him her son because no other would have made her feel the pride that was in her breast.
He looked at his mother and swallowed with difficulty the bitterness that threatened to destroy the last fragment of understanding for the woman who was his mother and still a stranger because, in truth, he could not know what it was to be a Japanese who breathed the air of America and yet had never lifted a foot from the land that was Japan.
“Why don’t you do something about it?”
“I tell [Taro]. Mama tells him. Makes no difference. It is the war that has made them that way. All the people say the same thing. The war and the camp life. Made them wild like cats and dogs. It is hard to understand.”
“Sure,” he said, but he told himself that he understood, that the reason why Taro was not a son and not a brother was because he was young and American and alien to his parents, who had lived in America for thirty-five years without becoming less Japanese and could speak only a few broken words of English and write it not at all, and because Taro hated the thing in his elder brother which had prevented him from thinking for himself. And in this hate for that thing, he hated his brother and also his parents because they had created the thing in their eyes and hands and minds which had seen and felt and thought as Japanese for thirty-five years in an America which they rejected as thoroughly as if they had never been a day away from Japan.
“Oh, yes, the picture of Japan.” She snickered. “He is such a serious boy. He showed me all the pictures he had taken in Japan. He had many of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and I told him that he must be mistaken because Japan did not lose the war as he seems to believe and that he could not have been in Japan to take pictures because, if he was in Japan, he would not have been permitted to remain alive… I told him that what must really have happened was that the army only told him he was in Japan when he was someplace else, and that it was too bad he believed the propaganda. Then he got so mad his face went white… It is not enough that they must willingly take up arms against their uncles and cousins and even brothers and sisters, but they no longer have respect for the old ones. If I had a son and he had gone in the American army to fight Japan, I would have killed myself with shame.”
“They know not what they do and it is not their fault. It is the fault of the parents…” Ichiro’s mother looked at him with a look which said I am a Japanese and you are my son and have conducted yourself as a Japanese and I know no shame such as other parents do because their sons were not really their sons or they would not have fought against their own people.
The mother was crying now, without shame and alone in her grief that knew no end. And in her bottomless grief that made no distinction as to what was wrong and what was right and who was Japanese and who was not, there was no awareness of the other mother with a living son who had come to say to her you are with shame and grief because you were not Japanese and thereby killed your son but mine is big and strong and full of life because I did not weaken and would not let my son destroy himself uselessly and treacherously.
…he was thinking about the Kumasakas and his mother and kids like Bob who died brave deaths fighting for something which was bigger than Japan or America or the selfish bond that strapped a son to his mother. Bob, and a lot of others with no more to lose or gain then he, had not found it necessary to think about whether or not to go into the army. When the time came, they knew what was right for them and they went.
What happened to him and the others who faced the judge and said: You can’t make me go in the army because I’m not an American or you wouldn’t have plucked me and mine from a life that was good and real and meaningful and fenced me in the desert like they do the Jews in Germany…
And some said: You, Mr. Judge, who supposedly represent justice, was it a just thing to ruin a hundred thousand lives and homes and farms and businesses and dreams and hopes because the hundred thousand were a hundred thousand Japanese and you couldn’t have loyal Japanese when Japan is the country you’re fighting and, if so, how about the Germans and Italians that must be just as questionable as the Japanese or we wouldn’t be fighting Germany and Italy? Round them up. Take away their homes and cars and beer and spaghetti and throw them in a camp and what do you think they’ll say when you try to draft them into your army out of the country that is for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? …
And then another one got up and faced the judge and said meekly: I can’t go because my brother is in the Japanese army and if I go in your army and have to shoot at them because they’re shooting at me, how do I know that maybe I won’t kill my own brother? I’m a good American and I like it here but you can see that it wouldn’t do for me to be shooting at my own brother; even if he want back to Japan when I was two years old and I couldn’t know him if I saw him, it’s the feeling that counts, and what can a fellow do? Besides, my mom and dad said I shouldn’t and they ought to know.
“I came to America to become a rich man so that I could go back to the village in Japan and be somebody. I was greedy and ambitious and proud. I was not a good man or an intelligent one, but a young fool. And you have paid for it.”
“What kind of talk is that?” replied Kenji, genuinely grieved. “That’s not true at all.”
“I will go with you.”
“No.” He looked straight at his father.
In answer, the father merely nodded, acceding to his son’s wish because his son was a man who had gone to war to fight for the abundance and happiness that pervaded a Japanese household in America and that was a thing he himself could never fully comprehend except to know that it was very dear. He had long forgotten when it was that he had discarded the notion of a return to Japan but remembered only that it was the time when this country which he had no intention of loving had suddenly begun to become a part of him because it was a part of his children and he saw and felt in their speech and joys and sorrows and hopes that he was a part of them. And in the dying of the foolish dreams which he had brought to America, the richness of the life that was possible in this foreign country destroyed the longing for a past that really must not have been as precious as he imagined or else he would surely not have left it. Where else could a man, left alone with six small children, have found it possible to have had so much with so little?
It had mattered. It was because he was Japanese that the son had to come to his Japanese father and simply state that he had decided to volunteer for the army instead of being able to wait until such time as the army called him. It was because he was Japanese and, at the same time, had to prove to the world that he was not Japanese that the turmoil was in his soul and urged him to enlist. There was confusion, but, underneath it, a conviction that he loved America and would fight and die for it because he did not wish to live anyplace else. And the father, also confused, understood what the son had not said and gave his consent. It was not a time for clear thinking because the sense of loyalty had become dispersed and the shaken faith of an American interned in an American concentration camp was indeed a flimsy thing. So, on this steadfast bit of conviction that remained, and knowing not what the future held, this son had gone to war to prove that he deserved to enjoy those rights which should rightfully have been his.
As he shouted, Ichiro listened and, it was as if he were hearing about a stranger as the man spoke of the girl baby born in the thirty-first year of the Meiji era to a peasant family, of her growing and playing and going to school and receiving honors for scholastic excellence and of her becoming a pretty young thing who forsook a teaching career to marry a bright, ambitious young man of the same village. And as the large man transported the young couple across the vast ocean to the fortune awaiting them in America, Ichiro no longer listened, for he was seeing the face of his dead mother jutting out of the casket, and he could not believe that she had ever been any of the things the man was saying about her.
He was enjoying it and he felt that Emi was too. This is the way it ought to be, he thought to himself, to be able to dance with a girl you like and really get a kick out of it because everything is on an even keel and one’s worries are only the usual ones of unpaid bills and sickness in the family and being late to work too often. Why can’t it be that way for me? Nobody’s looking twice at us… Everything’s the same, just as it used to be. No bad feelings except for those that have always existed and probably always will. It’s a matter of attitude. Mine needs changing. I’ve got to love the world the way I used to. I’ve got to love it and the people so I’ll feel good, and feeling good will make life worth while. There’s no point in crying about what’s done. There’s a place for me and Emi and Freddie here on the dance floor and out there in the hustle of things if we’ll let it be that way. I’ve been fighting it and hating it and letting my bitterness against myself and Ma and Pa and even Taro throw the whole universe out of perspective. I want only to go on living and be happy. I’ve only to let myself do so.