A JA’s story of overcoming the odds

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MY JOURNEY THROUGH FOUR WORLDS: GROWING UP IN THE JAPANESE, DEAF, HEARING, AND AMERICAN WORLDS

By Ronald M. Hirano (Savory Words Publishing: 2021, 159 pp., $19.95, paperback)

“Picture if you will, a nine-year-old Japanese American boy with downcast eyes standing beside a tall white lady at a boarding stop as hundreds of Japanese Americans were climbing into buses traveling to Tanforan Assembly Camp … bidding farewell to his family,” writes Janet Hirano Matsuoka. The description of the separation from the family is heart-wrenching. Ronald Hirano, under guardianship of Delight Rice, remains in Berkeley, Calif. during the war years. While his mother carried decades of guilt over this decision, Hirano’s story offers another view to behold — the world of the deaf.

“My Journey Through Four Worlds” is both memoir and adventure as Hirano’s tenacity, charm and forgiving heart easily connect him with others.

As boys, Ronnie and his younger brother Bobby create a language of their own to communicate, reflecting their inventiveness and special bond. Later, at the advice of Rice, the Hiranos enroll Ronnie in the California School for the Deaf. He becomes proficient in American Sign Language and immerses himself in education and deaf culture. Although the rest of his family does not learn to sign, his brother Bobby learns sign language at a school for the oral deaf. When the family is forcibly removed from the West Coast, his father James Hirano asks Rice to take over guardianship knowing that resources would be limited for a deaf child. Ronald Hirano writes, “She obliged and offers to take Bobby along with me, but James refused because of the Japanese custom of enryo (restraint).”

During the war years, when Ron is separated from his Japanese American family, he adapts to his new environment. He discovers that the Rice household actively uses sign and begins to engage in the daily conversations. At every turn, he makes the best of his situation and thrives. He easily makes friends, impresses teachers and colleagues, gains knowledge and skills, and creates enduring friendships. He participates in sports, joins the newsletter crew, and studies architecture at Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. After his drafting career, Ron and his wife Kay enjoy skiing, hiking and traveling the world. With his natural charisma, he continues to teach, provide leadership and advocate for the deaf community.

“My Journey Through Four Worlds” is the remarkable story of Ronald M. Hirano, offering a bridge between the worlds of the deaf and hearing and Nikkei and American culture. His brother Daniel Hirano reflects, “Like many in the family, I have been slow to connect these (accomplishments) in a body of life work that is amazing.

This new awareness has led to more engagement with Ronnie and my taking ASL classes.” He extends “an open apology for not paying more attention to nor communicating with my older brother who has realized more with his sheer will than many of us ever will.”

If we listen with our hearts as we read “My Journey,” we will see the mischievous grin and spirited gait of the young boy Ronnie ready to engage in life undeterred.

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