Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Laura Kina's Blue Hawai'i & Wesley Uenten's "Okinawan Diasporan Blues"

"Graves By the Sea" by Laura Kina

In this excerpt from "Okinawan Disaporan Blues," included in Laura Kina's Blue Hawaii exhibition catalogue, Wesley Uenten describes the Japanese colonial rule's erasure of traditional Okinawan culture and ongoing resistance by a group of grandmothers and grandfathers, child survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, to the US plan to turn the habitat of the Okinawan dugong, a sacred cultural icon, into another military base:
...At least on the level of cultural genocide, what happened to Okinawans was similar to what happened to Native Americans. It seems so familiar when I read about the...philosophy of the “Indian Schools” that prohibited Native American school children from speaking their own language or practicing their culture.... By the time that my grandmother was born in 1893, most Okinawan children were in schools, where they would be punished for speaking the Okinawan language and expected to worship the Japanese emperor. A large wooden tag with the words 方言札 (hōgen fuda), or “dialect tag,” was place around the neck of school children who spoke in the Okinawan “dialect.” The tag symbolically relegated the Okinawan language to the inferior status as a backward “dialect” of Japanese, while corporeally ingraining a sense of shame and fear in generations of Okinawans for speaking their own language and being their own selves...

Physical genocide did take place on Okinawa. Japan’s leaders knowingly caused about a fourth to a third of Okinawa’s population to perish in less than 3 months during the Battle of Okinawa when they used Okinawa as a buffer to hold off American troops heading toward Naichi (mainland Japan) 1945...

I stare at "Graves by the Sea." ...Departed souls encased in concrete tombs pushed up against each other. They are testament of the reverence for ancestors and tradition in Okinawa that contradicts the reality of the lack of space on Okinawa...There is a strong and powerful message that the ancestors and land is telling us through Laura’s work.

I end this essay at a time when I have just returned from a trip to Washington D.C. with an Okinawan delegation that was making a direct appeal against plans by the U.S. and Japanese governments to push ahead with construction of a new U.S. Marine Air Station on the clear blue waters of Henoko...At this time, both the Jp and U.S. governments are stepping up their attempts to push past unyielding local Okinawan opposition... Henoko is the site of a large thriving coral reef, turtle spawning grounds, seaweed beds, and an already endangered species of dugong. The blue ocean of Henoko will be no more if this plan goes through.

Most of the officials, politicians, and researchers we met in Washington D.C. [during the Jan. 2014 Okinawan Delegation] had made up their mind about new base construction at Henoko saying that it is the best plan... However, what the delegation was trying to get across to deaf ears was that Okinawans have stopped the construction for 18 years by placing their bodies in front of ships and equipment coming to start construction. Old people, as old and tiny as my Baban in my memories of her, have come to sit on the beach everyday in quiet but unrelenting resistance to American Manifest Destiny and Japanese fatalistic dependency on that destiny...
Wesley Ueunten is an associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. A third generation Okinawan, he was born and raised in Hawaiʻi and received his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley.

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