Reassessing Japanese American Collective Memory Through Gene Oishi’s Internment Narratives
Seven decades after Japanese Americans were interned during the Second World War, former journalist and internment survivor Gene Oishi published Fox Drum Bebop (2014). The protagonist, Hiroshi, had been introduced in Oishi’s previous memoir, In Search of Hiroshi (1988), as “quasi-fictional” and “neither American nor Japanese, but simply me”. Yet, in the same memoir, Oishi had also described his inability to write about ‘Hiroshi’, thus settling on ‘Gene’ as a main character and waiting 28 more years before publishing a book about his true self. A comparison between the two books highlights that In Search of Hiroshi was written as an attempt at telling a story that would implicitly support the ‘model minority’ myth by offering an account of the internment experience as a direct response to the sociopolitical constraints related to the request by Japanese Americans for redress from the U.S. government. On the other hand, the more recent Fox Drum Bebop represents a fictional retelling of Oishi’s memoir which reveals the limits of the collective memory of the internment as developed during the redress years by openly defying the ‘model minority’ stereotype while at the same time once more denouncing the injustices suffered by the Japanese American community during the war. This essay focuses on Oishi’s double narrative as a reassessment of the collective memory of the internment experience and of its lasting effects on Japanese Americans.