by Storyteller Alton Chung
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 5 minutes, 30 seconds.
Discovering what we have in common, across the races, even in times of conflict.
During World War II, the government of the United States authorized the arrest and relocation of every Japanese American on the West Coast. 120,000 Japanese Americans, the majority of whom were citizens, were forced into concentration camps for the duration of the war. During this time, Japanese-American men still served in the U. S. military even as their families were held prisoner at home. The government did not apologize or make reparation for this shameful episode until nearly 50 years later. This is the background for the following story.
Storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung tells “Onara,” written by Mako Nakagawa, who spent part of her childhood incarcerated in some of the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. The unjust internment of Japanese Americans is the backdrop of this story, which focuses on the children in the camps as they try to figure out the difference between themselves—the Nipponjin—and the white people—the Hakujin—who are the guards and school teachers in the internment camps. By the end of the story, the author realizes that, at the end of the day, no matter what our race or background, we have more in common than not. This story uses humor and the perspective of childhood to convey that message..
- Video of Onara (MP4 format)
- Download Audio of Onara (MP3 format)
- Transcription Text of Onara (PDF format)
REFLECTIONS & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ABOUT
1. The author of the story, Mako Nakagawa, says she knew even as a little girl that white people—Hakujin—were different and more powerful than Japanese—Nipponjin. Why does she have this view of white people?
2. How long did it take you to figure out what “onara” means in English? How did the storyteller help you to understand this in another language? The children wonder if Hakujin onara. Why would they wonder that? Why wouldn’t they assume that all people have the same bodily functions?
3. Have you ever wondered if you have something in common with people different from yourself? Tell that story. What do you think causes us to focus on our differences?
4. During World War II Japanese Americans were treated with suspicion. What group(s) is(are) suspect in the U. S. today?
The next time you have an interaction with someone who differs from you in some way, such as race, gender, and culture, focus on what you have in common with that person.
STORY TRANSCRIPT of
by Storyteller Alton Chung
Note : The transcript below of the video and audio story is not in correct text book English. It is a transcription of the spoken story. There are also a few variations from the spoken word. This text is for your guidance and reference as you start to study and think about this story.
Hello. My name is Alton Takiyama-Chung, the story I have for you is called “Onara.” It was written by a woman named Mako Nakagawa; it is with her permission that I can tell it. It’s in a collection of stories that I call Kodomo No Tame Ni—For the Sake of the Children.
Now, Onara. For the first five years of my life, I grew up in Seattle and I was surrounded by friends and family, mostly Japanese people. See, we were Nipponjin, Japanese people, and I didn’t know much about white people or not very many of them. We called them Hakujin. And I knew there were differences between Nipponjin and the Hakujin. I mean, they were foreign, “strange,” and very large!
Most of what I knew about Hakujins came from magazines or movies—I mean, they were filled with Hakujin people—but even as a child I knew that the Hakujins were the ones with the power. That became very evident when they came and took my dad and threw him in jail, after Pearl Harbor, and again when they took me and the rest of my family and put us in Camp Harmony in Puyallup, Washington in 1942. Later in Minidoka, Idaho and Crystal City, Texas. All the teachers and all the guards were all Hakujins. We learned to be wary of them.
One day about a dozen of us second graders were all gathered together making a sound of onara. Oh, we were having a wonderful time, making all these wonderful sounds using our hands and our fingers and our lips. We knew if the adults caught us we would be in big trouble, but it was so much fun being naughty.
Each kid had a different sound and we critiqued each sound; we tried to imagine what kind of person could make that kind of sound. And then, Akira made what we considered to be, hands down, the best onara sound ever. We fell on the ground laughing, our sides were hurting.
You know, “onara”? “Phffffffttt! Onara!” And then one kid said, “How come the Hakujin don’t onara?” Huh? Hmm. Half of us thought they did; half of us thought they didn’t. I always wondered what it would be like, not to onara. One person said, “No no, no, they have to, they are human beings!” “Oh yeah, if they did, wouldn’t they have an English word for it?” “Yeah . .
Hmm.” Since none of us could come up with an English word for onara, we concluded the Hakujins didn’t do it. Then my friend Janet said she thought she heard one coming from her teacher, but she wasn’t sure because her teacher moved her chair at the same time. Hmm, inconclusive. I mean, who could we ask? The only Hakujins we knew were our teachers and the guards, and we didn’t think it was a really good idea to ask them anything.
It seemed strange to me that they wouldn’t have an English word for onara. I knew there were differences between us, but we’re not that different. I decided to ask my mom, see what she thought. My mom, she looked at me, and then she smiled and said she had no idea. I don’t think she wanted to know the hakujins that well.
Anyway, one day again I was playing with my best friend Janet, and the whole idea came up again. We finally concluded that onara was the result of what you ate—logical. And we knew that the hakujins ate differently than us. Therefore, the hakujin food must not produce onara.
But when I was in camp, I ate a lot of hakujin food and I still onara. I never discovered the non-onara-producing hakujin diet, but I did discover the meanings for certain key phrases, such as “angel whispers,” “breaking wind,” and “cutting the cheese”! Hakujins did do it! That’s when I realized, maybe we’re not so different after all.
©2011 RaceBridges For Schools. This lesson plan is part of an initiative for educators called RaceBridges For Schools. It is a project that seeks to provide free tools for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities. This guide may be freely used, reproduced and distributed for educational purposes as long as this copyright information is displayed intact. The video and audio excerpts and transcript included in this unit is copyrighted by Alton Chung. Used with permission: www.altonchung.com