Citizenship in the Racial Break: Japanese Incarceration and Racial Subjectivity in Mine Okubo's Citizen 13660.

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Date: Sept. 2021
From: Twentieth Century Literature(Vol. 67, Issue 3)
Publisher: Hofstra University
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,847 words
Lexile Measure: 1520L

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There were untold hardships, sadness, and misery. --Mine Okubo

[Okubo] tells her story not with rancor but with quiet eloquence. The book is a reproof to those who would malign any racial minority, and it should help to forestall any future mass movements of the type she portrays. --Dillon Myer

Yet we are also defining a social experience which is still in process, often indeed not yet recognized as social but taken to be private, idiosyncratic, and even isolating, but which in analysis (though rarely otherwise) has its emergent, connecting, and dominant characteristics, indeed its specific hierarchies. --Raymond Williams

It is tempting to read Mine Okubo's Citizen 13660 (1946) as a covertly subversive text, ahead of its time. As a text now firmly established within the Asian American literary canon, it is often read as overtly offering a narrative of understanding and acceptance of evacuation and incarceration, even as, more covertly, it mounts a subversive challenge to the racializing harm wrought by the incarceration it illustrates. (1) Indeed, Okubo (1983: xxvi) herself invites such a reading, noting the "untold hardship, sadness, and misery" of Japanese incarceration and thus implying that her book tells what has been left "untold." (2) Yet, when Citizen was first published in 1946, it was highly praised by the very people of whom it is now thought to be critical. (3) Dillon Myer's (1946) blurb for the first edition, for example, lauded it not only as a great literary feat but also as an important accomplishment in "forestall[ing| any future mass movements."

Though these readings reflect very different ideological standpoints, they both draw on an understanding of Citizen as a quiet, understated text, reflecting the way midcentury Nisei women's autobiographies are "frustratingly unautobiographical," as Traise Yamamoto (1999: 103) sees it, "not given to personal disclosure or passages of intimate self-reflection." For Myer (1946), such understatement, Okubo's "quiet eloquence," marks the absence of Japanese resentment and thus proof of Japanese Americans' capacity to assimilate and their patriotic commitment. For later academic readers, it evinces a postwar social and political climate in which criticism was displaced from overt registers to a more covert one; for them, Citizen thus necessitates a "recondite subtextual reading" (Robinson 2008: 159) practice, one up to the task of sussing out Citizen's submerged critical social and political commentary. Instead of adjudicating the merits of these contrasting responses to Citizen, in this essay I'll take them together as prompting a different but related historical inquiry on Citizen. That is, how does Citizen's very status as what I'll call an "unautobiographical narrative" index a historical conjuncture that can prompt such ideologically opposed readings? (4)

Examining Citizen's "economy of sight" (Song 2007: 115), I argue that Okubo's unautobiographical narrative is symptomatic of a "structure of feeling" concerning racialized citizenship in the midst of what Howard Winant (2002: 141) calls the "racial break." (3) Marking a transition between global racial orders, the racial break names a crisis in the social forms that define experiences of race, racism, and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A678425547