Speak, Okinawa

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Religion, United States, Women on 2021-11-13 01:09Z by Steven

Speak, Okinawa

The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
Volume 19, Issue 8, Number 4 (2021-04-15)
Article ID: 5590

Elizabeth Miki Brina

Wedding of Arthur and Kyoko Brina, Elizabeth’s parents, in Okinawa, 1974

Speak, Okinawa is a book I needed to write for a long time, long before I knew I needed to write it. The book is essentially about healing the relationship between me and my mother, me and my heritage. Both felt very strange and foreign to me, distant from me, for most of my life.

My mother was born and raised in Okinawa. She was born in 1948, three years after the Battle of Okinawa, which destroyed and devastated the entire island, killing one third of the population and leaving those who survived to wander and scavenge amidst the ash and wreckage. My mother was born into poverty and chaos and grief. As she grew up, she witnessed the militarization of the island, the countless crimes that were committed, the injustice. She became a waitress at a nightclub where soldiers, marines, and sailors came from nearby bases to drink, flirt, and forget about the war. She met and married my father, who was a U.S. soldier stationed on the island after fighting in Vietnam.

I had not learned this history, my mother’s history, my history, until I was thirty-four years old.

Perhaps the most direct impetus for writing my book was attending my mother’s baptism. She had recently joined the Rochester Japanese Christian Congregation. The forty or so members were all Japanese, almost all women, almost all middle-aged or older, almost all married to white American men who had served in the military. Seeing all these women together was a revelation. That was when I realized that my family was not utterly unique, not an isolated incident. I began asking questions. I began searching for answers. I wanted to capture this revelation, but in order to render the full impact I had to explain the history that brought these women together, brought my mother and father together. I had to explain my experience of growing up as the only child of two people from such vastly different cultural backgrounds.

Speak, Okinawa is my attempt to explain myself. Not just my own shame and internalized racism, but the long-standing systems and imperialistic origins that caused me to reject my mother and deny my heritage. Speak, Okinawa is my attempt at reconciliation…

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Elizabeth Miki Brina: “The historical and the personal are intertwined.”

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2021-07-17 00:10Z by Steven

Elizabeth Miki Brina: “The historical and the personal are intertwined.”


Elizabeth Lothian, Digital Director

Photo credit: Thad Lee

The author of Speak, Okinawa talks about learning her family history, writing from guilt, and questioning her father’s values.

Elizabeth Miki Brina’s debut memoir Speak, Okinawa is a nuanced investigation of self, lineage, and inheritance. Born in the 1980s to an Okinawan mother and a white, American, ex-military father, Brina struggled with the duality of her identity. She connected more with her father—the dominant force in her family triad—often in an attempt to fit in with the 99 percent white suburb in which she grew up, and this made her feel distant from her already isolated mother.

It is only years later, after moving out of her parents’ enveloping orbit, that Brina comes to question why she feels so disconnected from her mother and Okinawan ancestry. She then sets out to explore her heritage—half that of the colonized and half that of the colonizer. We take this journey with her as she recounts the history of Okinawa. These chapters, voiced brilliantly in the first person plural “we,” tells the reader of Okinawa’s conquest by China and Japan, the horrors it faced in World War II—nearly a third of its population was killed in one battle alone—and the subsequent US military occupation of the island, which continues to this day.

As Brina learns the history of her maternal lineage, she comes to better understand not just her mother but herself. She is then forced to reckon with the role her father played in dictating her worldview and to try and unknot how America, as both a political entity and a cluster of ideals, has marginalized other ways of being…

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Speak, Okinawa: A Memior

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Books, Monographs, United States on 2021-07-13 21:18Z by Steven

Speak, Okinawa: A Memior

Knopf (an imprint of Penguin Randomhouse)
304 Pages
5-5/8 x 8-1/4
Hardcover ISBN: 9780525657347
Paperback ISBN: 9781984898463
Ebook ISBN: 9780525657354
Audiobook ISBN: 9780593348925

Elizabeth Miki Brina

A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman’s journey to understanding her complicated parents—her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran—and her own, fraught cultural heritage.

Elizabeth’s mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. There, Elizabeth grew up with the trappings of a typical American childhood and adolescence. Yet even though she felt almost no connection to her mother’s distant home, she also felt out of place among her peers.

Decades later, Elizabeth comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people. Clear-eyed and profoundly humane, Speak, Okinawa is a startling accomplishment—a heartfelt exploration of identity, inheritance, forgiveness, and what it means to be an American.

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