HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED
by Bernard Seiso Akamine
HUOA President Albert Miyasato’s mention of an editorial in The Hawaii Herald in his November President’s Message prompted Haebaru Club member Bernard Akamine to share this essay with Uchinanchu.
Recently I overheard an elderly nisei Yamatunchu lady telling another Yamatunchu lady, “Come to my house this weekend; I’m going to make pig’s feet soup. I learned how to make it from my daughter-in-law.”
How times have changed, I thought to myself. When I was growing up, we were ridiculed by our peers because we were Okinawan. We were teased, “Okinawa ken ken buta kau kau.” Although I did not understand the meaning behind it, the sing-song derogatory intonation provoked feelings of hurt and anger.
Near most kitchen doors was hung a square five-gallon can with a lid into which our mothers dropped kitchen scraps and leftovers for the hog farmers to feed to their pigs. These cans were called buta kau kau (pig food) cans. Were we Okinawans being reduced to pig slop?
In my adult years I learned that the early Yamatunchu in Hawaii never ate pork, while pork was and still is an Okinawan delicacy. Another translation for “buta kau kau” is “eat pork.” So, while it was true that we Okinawans ate pork, the teasing became malicious because of the double meaning of buta kau kau. Thus the seeds of cultural shame were planted for those of us of Okinawan descent.
One incident that I will never forget occurred when I was leaving Oahu for basic training in 1944. Twenty-five to 30 of us inductees were standing in box cars without roofs or seats as the train slowly made its way to the harbor. I was standing in the second row and had a good view of the passing scenery. The train made a stop in Pearl City. There was a crowd of people — mostly mothers looking for their sons. A woman carrying a furoshiki approached our box car. I knew right away she was Okinawan because of the tattoos on her fingers. My mouth watered as I imagined the delicious contents of the furoshiki and looked around me for the lucky fellow. The woman spotted her son who was standing next to me. He saw her, too, and as she called his name, instead of returning her greeting, he turned away and worked himself into the middle of the car. Suddenly, the train started to move. The woman ran after the train, yelling, “Akishamiyoo! (Oh my gosh!) Akishamiyoo!” I, being Okinawan, knew how her son felt. The nisei were already facing discrimination because they were Japanese. As Okinawans, our troubles were multiplied.
Fifty-six years later, I am proud to be Okinawan. But I often wonder if that mother and her son ever got together after the war.
Bernard Seiso Akamine is a member of Haebaru Club. He served with the 100th Infantry Battalion in Europe during World War II.