With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he's sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII.
Japanese-American Koji Miyamoto is celebrating his 13th birthday in San Francisco, California on December 7, 1941. That same day, Japanese pilots flew over Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, dropping bombs on an American Naval Station, immediately and forever changing the life of Koji and all Japanese-Americans across the US. Almost overnight, it seems as if everyone Koji formerly interacted with suddenly turns vehemently racist, hating anyone with even the smallest amount of Japanese blood. Koji finds himself enduring slurs from classmates, being blocked from riding trolleys home, even being pulled aside and interrogated by police. San Francisco also starts a city-wide curfew, but it's only applicable to Japanese-American citizens, requiring them to be inside their homes by 6 pm every night. Also, all radios are confiscated from Japanese homes.
Koji and his Caucasian mother have to endure all this alone, as Koji's father months before was called back home to Japan to attend to a family matter and has yet to return. At least that's what he told his wife, but now she is being cornered by police with heated remarks about them suspecting her husband of spy activity. Just when Koji feels it can't get any worse, Koji's mother gets a letter calling for Koji to be sent to a nearby internment camp for all Japanese-American citizens. Relocation required, length of stay indefinite. Koji's mother, though not Japanese herself, cannot allow her son to be sent off by himself so decides to be boarded with him. They are shocked to find that their new "home" is situated on Alameda Downs, a former horse racing track. Each family got one barely cleaned stall, often still reeking of horse urine or excrement. Yes, they were made to bunk in the actual stalls the horses were kept in -- whole families!
Though this was a painful read, in that it is a reminder that this was an actual event in U.S. history, I still immensely enjoyed it. First off, the artwork is stunning. While the majority of Faulkner's illustrations here are scenes of sadness and enraged characters, he does powerfully and successfully portray movement and emotions within the thrown-together community at Alameda Downs. Some examples of the illustrations below:
I think it's also successful in introducing the topic to younger readers who have not learned of this time in history yet, or have maybe found that their particular school system has white-washed the history a bit. While this graphic novel in no way serves as a complete history on the subject, it gives a realness to it, helps readers imagine what the reality might have felt like from the perspective of one specific individual. Faulkner also works in some facts & figures to teach readers, but does it in a natural way that doesn't interfere with the pace of the story itself. For instance, he mentions that more than 8,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps, 2/3 of them being American citizens by birth. Of those, more than half were children!!
At the end, Faulkner reveals that the inspiration for this work comes from a story within his own family tree of an Irish woman who fell in love with and married a Japanese man and later had experiences similar to that illustrated in Gaijin. I highly recommend this one to all history buffs or maybe parents looking to boost their child's interest in history. It's an important bit of history that needs to be remembered so that we never become stupid enough to try it again.