Excerpt from Honolulu by Alan Brennert, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Alan Brennert

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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 368 pages
    Feb 2010, 464 pages

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Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

To lend credibility to the sham, I had Mr. Yun send Blossom fifty dollars in “earnest money,” which we provided.

My brother reported no trouble obtaining a passport for Blossom. I then had him apply for a visa on her behalf as the fiancée of an American-born man named Ronald Yun in Honolulu. Hundreds of women still entered the country this way, and I believed it would be only a question of how long we had to wait for the American embassy in Seoul to approve Blossom’s visa.

But though my timing had been right in approaching Father, in another respect it could not have been worse.

Koreans were not alone, it seemed, in their antipathy toward the Japanese. Apparently many on the American mainland, including prominent members of Congress, were looking at the number of Japanese immigrants in Hawai'i—and other parts of the western United States—with mounting alarm about something they called “Oriental colonization.” It was not a matter of race, they claimed, but of culture: Orientals, they said, were too alien in their values, and simply would not assimilate into American society. America’s culture and values had to be preserved against this invasion from outside its borders.

The 1920 Japanese labor action against O'ahu plantations only fueled Americans’ suspicions that the Japanese were out to undermine their economy and way of life. Immigration from China had been restricted before the turn of the century, and a so-called Gentleman’s Agreement between the United States and Japan in 1907 stopped any further immigration from the Japanese Empire, including Korea. The only exceptions to this had been for students studying abroad and for “picture brides” like myself. But now, it appeared, we had committed an unpardonable crime: We were reproducing.

Birth rates among Japanese and Koreans in the United States had soared in recent years as laborers married, settled down, and raised families. We were apparently doing it too well relative to the birth rate of Americans in general, and white Americans in particular.

I was pathetically ignorant of all this as I began excitedly preparing for Blossom’s arrival. We had purchased a two-tiered “bunk bed” for Harold and Charlie to sleep in, thus freeing up valuable floor space in our one-room apartment, in which we put the daybed that was to belong to my sister-inlaw. Even though Blossom’s arrival was still months away, I began excitedly cleaning house, making room in the closet, and clearing space for another family member.

But then, in December 1924, word came from my brother that Blossom’s visa to the United States had been denied.

At first I thought it was some sort of mistake, but a visit to the passport office here in Honolulu revealed the appalling truth.

That summer, the United States Congress had passed—and President Coolidge signed into law—the Immigration Act of 1924, or as it was sometimes called, the Oriental Exclusion Act. Against the fear of a “Japanese conspiracy,” it closed the door on any further Japanese immigration— including and especially the importation of picture brides.

It closed the door on Blossom.

The only exceptions now were temporary visas for students entering “an accredited school, college, academy, seminary, or university . . . and who shall voluntarily depart from the United States upon the completion of such course of study.” Desperately I attempted to enroll Blossom in the Korean Girls’ Seminary in Honolulu, but as she had never received a formal education of any kind in Korea, she was judged by the American Embassy not a “qualified” applicant and a student visa was also denied her.

Excerpted from Honolulu by Alan Brennert, Copyright © 2009 by Alan Brennert. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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