Category Archives: Book Excerpt

The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir

In The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir (published Fall 2016), Tlingit elder Ernestine Hayes explores the challenges facing Alaska Natives in their own land and recounts her own story of becoming a professor and a writer. This powerful follow-up to her previous memoir Blonde Indian asks: what happens once the exile returns home? The 2016-2018 Alaska State Writer Laureate will soon visit Washington State for a series of book events.

The following excerpt from the book’s prologue tells the story of Raven and the Box of Daylight:

At a time so long ago it can be measured neither by following the moon’s slow dance nor by tracing the sun’s brightened path, had moon and sun then been part of life, darkness was upon the face of the world. This circumstance made it difficult for human beings to conduct their ordinary lives. For example, how much more difficult to impress one another when decisions are made in the dark. How much more difficult to recognize an ally, how much more difficult to praise another’s significance, thereby increasing one’s own importance. How much more difficult to confront a shadow, to challenge the gloom. In an unbrightened world, light does not reveal itself. It must be stolen.

Please join us for these events:

Saturday, February 25, 5 – 7 p.m. // Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, “Sacred Breath: Writing & Storytelling” featuring Ernestine Hayes, Raven Heavy Runner, and Elissa Washuta, Seattle, WA, RSVP required

Sunday, February 26 at 4 p.m. // Village Books, Bellingham, WA

Monday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. // Third Place Books, Seward Park, Seattle, WA

Liberated. Reclaimed, some might say.

Raven has always and not always been around to be amused at the pitiful antics of self-important human beings, and no doubt he found amusement in the ill-composed conditions of a darkened world. But, although he may have discerned intrigue and opportunity, although he may have sensed illicit adventure, although he could well have been distracted by wonders that he alone could see, nevertheless Raven decided to do something about the darkness.

Raven knew about an old man who lived with his daughter in a well-fortified house in an isolated place at the top of a river far away. This old man, it was said, kept in his house precious bentwood boxes in which could be found answers to the darkness. It was said that this old man guarded these boxes even more carefully than he guarded his daughter. He allowed his daughter to venture outside the house for such purposes as gathering roots and collecting water, but never did he allow his precious boxes to be removed from his house or even to be opened, or even to be looked upon, or even to be named.

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Remembering Pearl Harbor 75 years later: Excerpt from “Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War” by Noriko Kawamura

Wedemperorhirohito-kawamuranesday, December 7, 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that thrust the United States into World War II. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will visit Pearl Harbor with US president Barack Obama later this month, making Abe the first Japanese leader to visit the site of the attack since 1941 (Washington Post). This excerpt from Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War by Noriko Kawamura explores the decision by Japan to go to war with the United States.

The final decision to commence war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands was made at the imperial conference on December 1. The nearly two-hour-long meeting simply formalized the decision for war that had already been made a month earlier, and “His Majesty, ever the silent spectator of the scene,” as Robert Butow puts it, “left the chamber.”  It is not too difficult to document the emperor’s personal agony and hesitation to sanction the final decision for war. Deputy Grand Chamberlain Kanroji Osanaga recalled in his memoir,

The anguish he [the emperor] suffered on the eve of war with America was extreme. . . . At such times the emperor would be in his room alone. . . . But we could hear him pacing the floor, sometimes muttering to himself, and we knew that something had happened again, and was worrying him, but it was not our place to ask what. The pacing would continue for a long time, each step resounding painfully in our minds, so that we wished to stop up our ears.

On November 26, the emperor suggested to Tojo that the jushin attend the imperial conference to deliberate the war question, but the prime minister did not accept that idea.  Instead, the emperor invited eight jushin to a luncheon on November 29 and listened to their opinions for about an hour afterward. Although recognizing the grave situation Japan was facing in the wake of the failed negotiations with the United States, most of the jushin expressed doubts or hesitation about making a hasty decision for war, but without directly saying that it was not the right time to go to war.  If the emperor was looking for a strong voice against war from the jushin, he must have been disappointed. Later he recalled, “The opinions of those who were against war were abstract, but the cabinet argued for war by providing numbers to back up its case, and therefore, to my regret, I did not have power to curb the argument in favor of war.”

On November 30, the day before an imperial conference was to be convened to endorse a final war decision, the emperor briefly withheld his order to convene the meeting, after being told by his brother, Prince Takamatsu, that the navy still had lingering doubts about going to war with the United States. Neither the emperor nor his brother was able to get rid of worries that Japan might not be able to win the war. The emperor consulted with Kido, who in turn advised him to summon Navy Minister Shimada and Chief of the Naval General Staff Nagano and ask for their candid opinions.

According to Navy Minister Shimada’s November 30 diary entry, the two admirals had an audience with the emperor for twenty-five minutes in the evening. The emperor asked them, “The time is getting pressed: an arrow is about to leave a bow. Once an arrow is fired, it will become a long-drawnout war, but are you ready to carry it out as planned?” Admiral Nagano expressed the navy’s firm resolve to carry out an attack, upon receiving an imperial mandate (taimei ), and told the emperor, “The task force will arrive 1,800 ri  [4,392 miles] west of Oahu by tomorrow.” The emperor turned to Admiral Shimada and asked, “As navy minister, are you prepared in every aspect?” Shimada replied, “Both men and supplies are fully prepared and we are waiting for an imperial mandate.” The emperor continued, “What would happen if Germany stopped fighting in Europe?” The navy minister replied, “I do not think Germany is a truly reliable country. Even if Germany withdrew, we would not be affected.” At the end of the audience, “in order to make the emperor feel at ease,” in Shimada’s words, the navy chief and the navy minister guaranteed a successful attack on Pearl Harbor and the navy’s resolve to win the war at all cost. The navy minister observed that “the emperor appeared to be satisfied.”  After the audience, the emperor told Kido that Shimada and Nagano were “reasonably confident” about the war, and consequently he approved of holding an imperial conference the next day, as originally scheduled. This was the point of no return.

Thus, the role that Emperor Showa played in Japan’s decision to go to war with the United States could be compared to Max Weber’s discussion of the absolute monarch who is “impotent in face of the superior specialized knowledge of the bureaucracy.” The emperor was personally against war with the United States and exerted his influence to delay the war decision for one and a half months; but his influence was circumscribed within the nebulous triangular power relationship among court, government, and military. Emperor Hirohito eventually succumbed to the persistent pressure of the military bureaucracy and accepted the argument that war was inevitable and possibly winnable. But though Hirohito eventually sanctioned the government’s war decision, he was never free from the fear that his country might lose the war.

December 1 is World AIDS Day

December 1 is World AIDS Day. This excerpt of Indian Blood: HIV and Colonial Trauma in San Francisco’s Two-Spirit Community, by Andrew J. Jolivette, looks closely at the ways in which the Two-Spirit community has been impacted by HIV/AIDS and offers a path toward a better understanding of and by the Indigenous world.

Burning sage fills the room at the Native American AIDS Project in San Francisco with pungent smoke. It’s a cold winter day when I begin my first focus group with gay, Two-Spirit, and transgender American Indians who also identify as mixed-race. As each participant enters the room, I introduce myself and explain that the goal of this project is to understand how we can reduce rates of HIV/AIDS infection in American Indian and Indigenous communities. I also suggest that this is a story about healing, not about sickness. This is, I tell them, a story that will produce meaningful interventions for other American Indian people in San Francisco and across the United States.

As prayers are offered for the office space to become ceremonial and safe, I can see the members of the group begin to stand closer together. One participant, an older man in his fifties, speaks first. His tone, as he tells of his transition from the reservation in Nevada to urban life in San Francisco, is one of authority. He describes unbelievable trauma and yet there is hope in his message. He recalls a time when San Francisco was a beacon for gay, Two-Spirit, and transgender Natives, but explains that there has since been a decline in leadership within the community. Other participants are nodding in agreement. A transgender participant in her early forties suggests that the only way a community can heal is if it remains a community. I hear the relevance of this insight to HIV prevention efforts: focusing on behavioral change at the individual level causes a greater degree of stigmatization and isolation, which in turn increase harmful behaviors and lead to higher HIV transmission risk. Continue reading

Excerpt: Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West

This National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we wanted to share a selection from Erasmo Gamboa’s book Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West, for a close-up look at the contributions of Hispanic and Latina/o Americans to the United States. The bracero program is better known for its contributions to agriculture, but there was another industry that benefited from bracero labor—the railroad. Over three hundred thousand Mexican laborers did unskilled “pick and shovel” work in isolated places to maintain the railroad tracks during World War II. While the men, who came to the United States as braceros, dealt with onerous regulations, indifferent or racist supervisors, unsuitable living conditions, and an unfamiliar culture and environment, the women they left behind also had their share of struggles. These women—wives, mothers, and sisters—had to navigate bureaucracies in the railroad companies and in both the Mexican and U.S. governments to advocate for themselves and the braceros.

Most historians have overlooked the manner in which women in México acted on behalf of their loved ones working temporarily in the United States. Unlike the case of Bahamian and Newfoundlander women and children who were permitted to accompany contracted workers to the U.S., the War Manpower Commission (WMC) never considered allowing Mexican spouses or female members to accompany the braceros.[1] Brothers and sons, however, did serve as braceros, and in some instances they were assigned to work together.[2] The role of women in México in support of the braceros and the war deserves to be highlighted.

From the start of the bracero railroad program in México City, the WMC made note of the scores of women eagerly volunteering with the hope of joining the labor force soon leaving for the United States.[3] They were not attempting to take advantage of the opportunity for employment, as that opportunity rested with men, but they stepped forward wanting to do their part in the war effort. This level of gender consciousness prevailed in México stretching back before the Revolution of 1910, the Cristero Wars, and through the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the Depression, women organized the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer to represent the economic and political concerns of working-, middle-, and upper-class women in México. With the outbreak of World War II, the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer became the Coordinating Committee of Women in Defense of the Fatherland (Comité Coordinador Femenino para la Defensa de la Patria).[4] The role of women in national defense stretched far beyond this one organization. The Central Committee for the Civil Defense of México City and the Defense League of Women organized women to come to the defense of the city during the war. Nurses volunteered to act as first responders in case of Japanese or German attacks, while other women trained to enforce emergency blackouts, manning search lights in case of aerial attacks. Women, as they did in the United States during the way, prepared to respond to any wartime emergency and do their part in the overall national war effort.[5] Continue reading

Excerpt: Onnagata: A Labyrinth of Gendering in Kabuki Theater

For a close-up look at transgender expression in another time and place, this Pride Month we wanted to share a selection from Maki Isaka’s book Onnagata: A Labyrinth of Gendering in Kabuki Theater. Onnagata, usually male actors who perform the roles of women, have been an important aspect of kabuki since its beginnings in 17th-century Japan. Isaka examines how the onnagata‘s theatrical gender “impersonation” has shaped the concept and mechanisms of femininity and gender construction in Japan. The implications of this study go well beyond the realm of theater and East Asia, informing theory about gender more broadly.

—Lorri Hagman, Executive Editor

Quatercentenary kabuki theater in Japan is a “queer” theater. That is not so much to say that kabuki is an all-male theater, in which male actors play women’s roles, as to note how radically this art form has altered the connotations of the word “kabuki.” Just as with the word “queer,” the implication of which has changed fundamentally over the years, the meanings of the word “kabuki”—nominalized from a verb, kabuku (to lean; to act and/or dress in a peculiar and queer manner)—have transformed dramatically. Not only did it shift from a generic word (that which is eccentric, deviant, queer, and the like) to a proper noun (this theater), but its connotations also altered tremendously from something negative to something positive. That is, kabuki theater was born as a kabuki thing—merely another stray entertainment among many, which was considered akin to prostitution—and ended up proudly styling itself the kabuki theater. With a checkered past marked by bans, shutdowns, exile, and even capital punishment for the parties concerned, kabuki—once a theater of rebellion for the common people—is now one of four classical genres of Japanese theater that the nation proudly presents to the world, along with noh (a medieval Buddhist theater a few centuries older than kabuki), kyōgen (a theater of mime and speech that accompanies noh), and bunraku (a puppet theater), all of which are all-male theater.

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Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West

In Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West, historian Erasmo Gamboa shows us just how important Mexican workers were to the U.S. war effort during World War II. While most people associate braceros with farm work, Gamboa reveals a parallel story of Mexican workers being lured to grueling railroad work by major railroad companies and both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

With the majority of the U.S. labor force off fighting the war, Mexican workers were needed to quickly build railroad lines so that key supplies could be transported across the country for shipping to the frontlines. Though the bracero railroad program was sold to these workers as a noble cause—and they were promised suitable housing and fair pay—it quickly became clear that they were being exploited by all sides. If it wasn’t the railroad companies cheating them out of pay or making them live in inhumane conditions, it was the Mexican banks denying them access to the accounts that held their earnings; and of course there were always corrupt government officials on both sides who turned a blind eye to the workers’ complaints.

This particular excerpt details the squalor many braceros railroaders were forced to live in: pest-ridden boxcars in the middle of nowhere often without running water or electricity. The work was grueling and thankless but nonetheless crucial. This Cinco de Mayo, as we sip margaritas and eat endless baskets of chips and salsa, let us also not forget how Mexican workers helped us during one of our nation’s darkest hours, and how their hard work not only aided that war effort but also left us with an infrastructure that enabled our nation to develop as rapidly as it did throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

—Ranjit Arab, Senior Acquisitions Editor

Box cars represented the most degraded type of housing. Originally constructed to haul freight or passengers, but now well beyond their useful life, these wooden cars were converted by the railroads into makeshift living quarters. During the summer, when temperatures reached 90 degrees or more in many areas of the West, the old steel freight cars became unbearably hot. In the winter, when temperatures plummeted, the cars were excruciatingly cold. Being mobile, however, the box cars were practical. Companies could easily move the laborers from work site to work site or situate the cars somewhere as semipermanent quarters. Inside, a single wooden partition often divided the interior to lodge separate groups of workers or two or more nonbracero families per unit. Continue reading

The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl

In 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day in the United States—a celebration of the life and legacy of the important Chicano civil rights and labor leader. With the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) and Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conferences also in full swing this Cesar Chavez Day, it’s only fitting that we are sharing a preview of Sarah D. Wald‘s forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl (May 2016). Analyzing fiction, nonfiction, news coverage, activist literature, memoirs, and more from the Great Depression through the present, Wald’s book looks at how California farmlands have served as a popular symbol of American opportunity and natural abundance, and addresses what such cultural works tell us about who belongs in America, and in what ways they are allowed to belong. By bringing together ecocriticism and critical race theory, the book addresses an important gap in how we understand questions of citizenship, immigration, and environmental justice.

The excerpt below focuses on what Wald calls “the often-overlooked points of intersection between the UFW [United Farm Workers] and environmentalism.”

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl, by Sarah D. Wald:

Most environmental historians cite Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) as the modern environmental movement’s birth announcement. They distinguish mid-twentieth-century environmentalism from the conservationism and preservationism of the Progressive Era in large part through its concern for toxins and other forms of pollution. Many participants in the environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s expressed concern that human use of technology fundamentally threatened the circle of ecological life and imperiled humanity’s ability to sustain itself. Carson echoed these themes, linking the death of songbirds to the potential loss of human life. The popular concern for such issues congealed with the first Earth Day in April 1970. Organizers billed Earth Day as a national teach-in that included events at fifteen hundred colleges and ten thousand schools. As historian Adam Rome wrote, “The teach-ins collectively involved more people than the biggest civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s.” Millions participated.

Join for the launch event in Portland, Oregon hosted by Bark:

Sunday, May 15, 5:00-9:00 p.m. //
Bark, 351 NE 18th Ave., Portland, OR 97232

Pre-order books at 30% off using discount code WSH2275

The history of modern environmentalism is entangled with the remarkable story of the United Farm Workers, the first successful unionization effort for farmworkers. In 1962, the same year Carson published Silent Spring, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta resigned from the Community Service Organization to focus on organizing farmworkers, and Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). In 1965, the largely Filipino farmworkers union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), began the famous grape strike, with Chavez’s organization voting to strike in solidarity. In 1966, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and AWOC merged into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). On July 29, 1970, just three months after the first Earth Day, the United Farm Workers (UFW) achieved a major victory, signing 150 contracts with the major Delano grape growers, covering thirty thousand workers. The success was short-lived, as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters began undermining the UFW by signing “sweetheart” deals with the growers. This controversy led to a renewal of the strike and boycott throughout the 1970s. The UFW never again had as many unionized workers. Continue reading