FROM OKINAWA TO THE AMERICAS: Hana Yamagawa and Her Reminiscences of a Century
Edited by Akiko Yamagawa Hibbett
(Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011, 210 pp., $25, paperback)
This is a wonderful first-person story of Hana Yamagawa as complied and edited by her daughter Akiko Yamagawa Hibbett. The memoir provides a rare glimpse into the life of an immigrant Okinawan woman from childhood, her marriage in Okinawa, to contract laborer to Peru, crossing Mexico and finally settling in Los Angeles.
By the time “Kana” (Beloved in Okinawan) arrives in Peru under contract with her husband from Okinawa, she has changed her name to “Hana” (Flower in Japanese). Her story, like that of many other Issei women, is filled with dreams of riches, adventure, hope, and extreme hardship she and others had to endure in a foreign land. But in Hana’s story, one detects a certain boldness to go against the conventions of her times and blaze her own path in Peru, Imperial Valley and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this potentially wonderful and insightful story is marred by poor editing or perhaps Hibbett’s poor interview questioning. One is left wondering who the editor is really giving voice to.
The major shortcoming and frustrating aspect of this work is the constant interruptions of Hana’s story in first person with the editor’s added — in many cases irrelevant — commentary that interrupts the telling and the flow of the story. For example, when Hana gives an account of arriving in Peru, the editor feels compelled to add: “Mama says nothing about viewing Peru from the sea, but a journalist described it in 1919, as a desolate land in which ‘a few scantily green valleys struggle down to the sea between barren mountains … high barren coast ranges near at hand and the tremendous snow-capped Andes still further back glistening in the sun.’ These snowcapped Andes send rivers plunging down into the dry coastal valleys, some to disappear into the dessert sand, others forming the occasional ribbon oasis or green delta fan.” If the description of the Peruvian coast was so important to her story, why not ask her in a follow-up interview? These irrelevant, interruptive, and quite frankly, irritating “commentaries” can be found almost on every page of “Hana’s story,” making one wonder why the editor’s work was not edited for flow, coherence, and to actually give voice to Hana’s story.