Islands | A multihued archipelago, tuned to soccer’s harmonics

According to an assessment by the Library of Congress, the Japanese from their majority position built institutions and communities that outshone similar expatriate creations in the mainland United States. “The newspapers, schools, stores, temples, churches, and baseball teams that they founded,” reads the LOC review, “were the legacy of a community secure of its place in Hawaii, and they became a birthright that was handed down to the generations that followed.”

On one Thursday evening in Jan 1944, table football at the Young Kansas Citians’ Club in Missouri offered a recreational outlet for resettled Japanese Americans. (War Relocation Authority, Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

I lived part of my childhood on the Islands’ largest Army post, Schofield Barracks, established in 1909 between the Koolau and Waianae mountain ranges. Here I gained preternatural awareness of the importance of sport—baseball and gridiron games between teams on post were around-the-clock fixtures—and of the Islands’ connection to Japan. My father took me regularly to a Japanese barber and to one of the first showings of Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). With my interest thus peaked, we took the obligatory boat excursion to the USS Arizona Memorial. Any time I wished I could put my fingers through bullet holes in the barracks’ thick stucco façades—evidence of the 7 Dec 1941 strafings. I even recall feeling wary when exploring zones of lush vegetation on the 18,000-acre post, fearing that disaffected Japanese soldiers might be in wait.

The Pearl Harbor attack transformed long-standing xenophobia to the Japanese presence in the United States—they were barred until 1952 from becoming naturalized citizens—to one of the 20th century’s great infringements on civil liberties. Executive Order 9066, which Franklin Roosevelt signed in Feb 1942, authorized evacuation of Japanese Americans from “military areas,” ultimately to include most of the mainland West Coast. More than 100,000 Japanese Americans were herded to relocation camps on moonscape terrains in the Far West and Deep South. Another 30,000—Japanese, Germans and Italians from the mainland, the Hawaiian territory and Latin America—spent time in a larger number of internment camps. These individuals were arrested and held without trial, even after World War II had concluded (see Craig Gima, “In a Small Town in Texas …,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 8 Nov 02, for a personal account of an internment facility in Crystal City, Texas).

Not far south of my childhood of paradisiacal bliss, overgrown with haole koa, monkeypod trees and grass, rest the foundations of Honouliuli Internment Camp. The 160-acre facility of barracks, tents and mess hall—surveyed by a National Park Service archaeologist shortly before President Bush signed a bill authorizing $38 million for preservation of such sites—survives as a hodgepodge of concrete slabs and barbed wire on leased farmland. (Preservation funds have yet to be appropriated for any of the internment sites.)

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