Academic journal article ARIEL

"No Place in Particular": Inhabiting Postinternment America, Articulating Postinternment Anxieties in John Okada's No-No Boy

Academic journal article ARIEL

"No Place in Particular": Inhabiting Postinternment America, Articulating Postinternment Anxieties in John Okada's No-No Boy

Article excerpt

As a site of belonging forged out of various longings and affective investments, the postwar United States suburb signaled to returned internees and no-no boys an ambiguous narrative of historical amnesia and forgiveness. This article analyzes Ichiro's unresolved dilemma in No-No Boy in the context of the postinternment milieu of the 1950s. It argues that suburban fantasies reveal both the promises and limitations of Japanese Americans' surreptitious desires for belonging.

Keywords: John Okada, No-No Boy, Postwar Suburb, Japanese American Internment, Belonging

I. Leading Questions

While the telos of immigration, settlement, assimilation, and citizenship has been an enduring narrative of American history, it has not always been aligned with the reality of immigrants' experiences and interactions with American society. Such is the case with Asian American immigration given its history of exclusion. A logic of exclusion has existed in Asian American history even after the national origins quota system was abolished in 1965, not to mention the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries' legal edifices of restriction such as the Chinese exclusion law of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1917, and the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. The difficulty with which the two signifiers "Asian" and "American" coexist in the formation of Asian American identity has engendered an in/out position among Asian Americans in the United States who live as both "official nationals" and "foreigners-within." Particularly, the opposing demands of capital and the US nation-state have been resolved through the racialization of Asian immigrants. As Lisa Lowe suggests, the racialization of Asian immigrant labour has served to cover the contradiction between the demands of capital that requires an influx of cheap labour and those of the US nation-state that must unify its members to constitute itself as a homogeneous citizenry (5).

Accordingly, the liminal position of Asian Americans has not fit neatly into US nation-building prerogatives and attests to the state's power to presuppose an outside within its domestic space while illustrating the contingent consolidation of the nation against itself--a kind of "[e]xceptionalism that defines and affirms a people by negating others, who form their opposition" (Okihiro 148). (1) In other words, the United States presents itself as an inclusive entity supposedly comprised of all American citizens with the rhetoric of e pluribus unum, yet its universality is contradicted by the very presence of its constitutive outside that is placed in opposition to the particular articulation of the nation. An irony here is that the excluded, who are presumed to be outside of the nation's universal norms and its coherence, become an anomaly that is "internal to the state yet external to the national narrative" (Pease 549). It is precisely in this context that Lowe argues Asian American culture is pitted against the US national culture as "an alternative formation" while it is haunted by the memories of a US nation-state based on Asian immigrant racialization and imperialist projects in Asia: "This distance from the national culture constitutes Asian American culture as an alternative formation that produces cultural expressions materially and aesthetically at odds with the resolution of the citizen in the nation" (6). The imperative of the nation has thus defined and delimited the psychic identifications that make up Asian American identities, most visibly in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, which, as Mae Ngai writes, still "stands as the most extreme case of the construction and consequences of alien citizenship in American history" (175).

Given such historical specificities of Asian American experience and the racialization of Asian Americans, I seek to reconsider John Okada's No-No Boy (1957) in this article with an eye toward the protagonist Ichiro Yamada's plight of inhabiting postinternment America as a space of contradiction and Okada's strategy to articulate postinternment anxieties. …

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