Remembering Our Grandfathers’ Exile: US Imprisonment of Hawai‘i’s Japanese in World War II

Hardback: $75.00
ISBN-13: 9780824881207
Published: August 2020
Paperback: $26.00
ISBN-13: 9780824881191
Published: August 2020

Additional Information

272 pages | 40 b&w illustrations, 4 maps
  • About the Book
  • When author Gail Okawa was in high school in Honolulu, a neighbor mentioned that her maternal grandfather had been imprisoned in a World War II concentration camp on the US mainland. Questioning her parents, she learned only that “he came back a changed man.” Years later, as an adult salvaging that grandfather’s memorabilia, she found a mysterious photo of a group of Japanese men standing in front of an adobe building, compelling her eventually to embark on a project to learn what happened to him.

    Remembering Our Grandfathers’ Exile is a composite chronicling of the Hawai‘i Japanese immigrant experience in mainland exile and internment during World War II, from pre-war climate to arrest to exile to return. Told through the eyes of a granddaughter and researcher born during the war, it is also a research narrative that reveals parallels between pre-WWII conditions and current twenty-first century anti-immigrant attitudes and heightened racism. The book introduces Okawa’s grandfather, Reverend Tamasaku Watanabe, a Protestant minister, and other Issei prisoners—all legal immigrants excluded by law from citizenship—in a collective biographical narrative that depicts their suffering, challenges, and survival as highly literate men faced with captivity in the little-known prison camps run by the U.S. Justice and War Departments.

    Okawa interweaves documents, personal and official, and internees’ firsthand accounts, letters, and poetry to create a narrative that not only conveys their experience but, equally important, exemplifies their literacy as ironic and deliberate acts of resistance to oppressive conditions. Her research revealed that the Hawai‘i Issei/immigrants who had sons in military service were eventually distinguished from the main group; the narrative relates visits of some of those sons to their imprisoned fathers in New Mexico and elsewhere, as well as the deaths of sons killed in action in Europe and the Pacific. Documents demonstrate the high degree of literacy and advocacy among the internees, as well as the inherent injustice of the government’s policies. Okawa’s project later expanded to include New Mexico residents having memories of the Santa Fe Internment Camp—witnesses who provide rare views of the wartime reality.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Gail Y. Okawa, Author

      Gail Y. Okawa is professor emerita of English at Youngstown State University, Ohio, and a visiting scholar at the Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • History deeply buried is dug up slowly, but now Remembering Our Grandfathers’ Exile casts new light on the first-generation internment of Japanese aliens in Hawai‘i. The result is less a book of history and more a multi-layered narrative. We look over [the author’s] shoulder, studying her numerous discoveries, unlocking their previously undisclosed messages. . . . Told from the through-line of Okawa researching her grandfather, the book becomes a study, the likes of which will probably never be matched. It is truly about remembering not only her grandfather but ‘Our Grandfathers.’ . . . It is good work, and it is hard work.
      —Tom Coffman, The Hawai‘i Herald
    • Beautifully written . . . One of the many laudable achievements Okawa scores with her bountiful volume, richly enhanced by a plenitude of illuminating illustrations and maps, is to make clear that those Hawai‘i Issei men that the U.S. government rounded up, arrested, and imprisoned in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941—Japanese language teachers; Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian clergy; journalists; and businessmen—were not only leaders of Japanese‐ancestry communities in Hawai‘i, but they were also 'educated and highly literate and understood the significance of the written and spoken word.'
      —Art Hansen, Nichi Bei Weekly
    • Author Gail Y. Okawa demonstrates the power of personal stories in her book, Remembering Our Grandfathers’ Exile. Okawa’s ability to integrate personal history with scholarly research has resulted in a compelling story about her interned grandfather, Rev. Tamasaku Watanabe, that illuminates not only her own family’s past during this dark period in Hawai‘i’s and the nation’s history but also addresses broader social, psychological and political issues that transcend family lines and even generations. Okawa eloquently weaves her personal journey of discovery with an academician’s passion for historical research. . . The result is a multi-layered narrative that has the intimacy of a memoir—it is written in the first person—with the intellectual heft of a well-researched history book.
      —Kevin Y. Kawamoto, The Rafu Shimpo
    • Meticulous in his documentation, Watanabe Tamasaku left photographs and a carefully bundled collection of letters from Santa Fe Detention Station to his daughter, Sumi, mother of the author of this remarkable and moving history, Remembering Our Grandfathers’ Exile. This memory narrative, a personal journey of coming into consciousness, is filled with names and lives of integrity and dignity, comprising a community of remembrance and commemoration.
      —Gary Y. Okihiro, author of The Boundless Sea: Self and History
  • Supporting Resources