The Overlap of THEN and NOW: Asian American Hatred

Award-Winning Graphic Novel/HistoryDISPLACEMENT

By Kiku Hughes

Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 18th 2020 by First Second
ISBN  1250193532
Praise For DisplacementA 2020 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award Young Adult Honor Title

Listed as one of YALSA’s 2021 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

This is a compelling and highly accessible graphic blend of personal history, American history, current events with a dose of magical realism. The central premise is the time-travel-displacement experience of a contemporary Japanese-American daughter. She becomes aware of surprising and traumatic  details of her grandmother’s Japanese internment story from her own seemingly lived experience. For those familiar with Jane Yolen’s THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, (Holocaust history) it is an effective device to engage young readers with the past that is integrated through a contemporary lens.
This graphic format is highly readable and emotionally powerful. It reads as  a well-researched fictional piece, until reaching the end to discover that the author’s family story actually forms the complex foundation of the story.
Hughes includes information about her own family, and about notable resistance heroes from that illegal incarceration experience. I’ve read multiple versions of Japanese internment stories. This one does a fantastic job of tying history to present day, of exploring the reason that much of this history was silenced, even within families, and of the crisis of identity as it relates to personal past, social past, and present realities.
Highly recommended.
April. 2021
Hardcover, 400 pages
by HMH Books for
Young Readers
ISBN 035813143X
Traci Chee is an award winning author. Reading this book confirms that she is a consummate storyteller and researcher. She frames the Japanese-American incarceration during WWII (and related United States War Powers orders and consequences of that era) within a network of deep and rich friendships, neighborhood history, and the individual voices/experiences of a group of Japanese-American teens. I felt I had a decent grip on the facts of this era, which proved to be seriously lacking. This book approached as close to a lived experience of those events as someone removed from the time and place could have. I won’t forget the experiences or the characters, and neither will you.
At first I imagined I’d need a chart or notes to sustain the complexity of the individuals, their levels of connection, their personalities, and their varied experiences throughout the five years portrayed in this novel. That was far from the case, because each person’s voice and emotional journey engaged me and stayed with me. Each was so thoroughly brought to life on the page that any individual experience brought to mind its impact on the others to whom they were so intricately and brilliantly connected.
I classified this (for my own purposes) as both fiction and nonfiction because the actual experiences of Chee’s family members and others she interviewed are seamlessly woven throughout the fictional telling within actual time and places. If you have no clue about what “no-no” responses were (and their consequences), what segregation camps were, how the 442nd Regimental Combat team changed the outcome of the European front in WWII (and the cost of those successes in Japanese-American lives), or how the Revocation of the Japanese Exclusion Ban actually affected imprisoned Japanese-Americans, this is a must-read book.
And even if you DO have enough background that you feel aware of the above details (as I was), this is STILL a must-read book. What it provides is a much-needed understanding of the real-time impact of those years on those who were victimized by it, and also by the rest of American society in entrenching racism within our lives. When the phrase “systemic racism” is used (and so often denied), a book like this can help to make it real. It can (might) also open the door to honest conversations. What’s more, it is a compelling, engaging, emotional journey that every good read should be.
Both titles are classified as books for teens, yet both should be read by adults as well, and I will be encouraging that among my friends and network. The graphic DISPLACEMENT is particularly effective with middle grade readers who are in the process of learning American history.
These are  also an essential reads for those in support of current Asian-American-Pacific-Islanders who are targets of overt racism that threatens lives and security in this “free country” of ours. It is not enough to shake our heads or send “thoughts and prayers”. Voices, bodies, and activism are the responsibilities of all who believe in the core values of this country, of humanity.
Learning accurate information about generational trauma and hatred can prepare us to be more effective allies.

2 Responses to “The Overlap of THEN and NOW: Asian American Hatred”

    • Sandy

      Thank you, Joyce, and thanks for reading them! When books are amazing I feel compelled to share them!


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