Contributing Editor: Shirley Lim
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students need to learn about the internment of Japanese-American citizens
during World War II. You might consider reading historical extracts of
laws passed against Japanese-Americans during internment or passages from
books describing camp life. If possible, show students paintings and photographs
of internment experience. Students tend to resist issues of racism in mainstream
white American culture; counter this tendency by discussing the long history
of persecution of Asians on the West Coast.
Deal with the strong aural/oral quality of Mirikitani's writing--the
strong protest voice.
Students often raise questions about the poet's anger: How personally
does the reader take this? How successfully has the poet expressed her
anger and transformed it into memorable poetry? What kinds of historical
materials does the poet mine? Why are these materials useful and significant?
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Themes are the historical documentation of legislation against Asians
in the United States; internment during World War II; Mirikitani's father's
experience in Lake Tule during World War II; economic and psychological
experiences of Japanese-Americans during that period; stereotypes of Asian-American
women in U.S. popular culture.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Consider the issue of protest and oral poetry; traditions of such poetry
in black literature in the 1960s and 1970s; influence of "black is
beautiful" movement on Mirikitani.
Consider the didactic and sociopolitical nature of the writing: a divided
audience; her own people and an audience to be persuaded and accused of
past prejudices. Much of her poetry was written in the 1970s at the peak
of social protests against white hegemony.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Compare her poems with Sonia
Sanchez and Don L. Lee, for example, on sociopolitical and minority
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. Personal accounts or observations of racism at work in their own
2. How they themselves perceive Asian-Americans; their stereotypes of
Refer to Mini Okubo's books on camp life, the movie of the Houstons'
book on Manzanar, and newspaper accounts of the recent debate and settlement
of repayments to Japanese-Americans for injustice done to them by the U.S.
government during their internment period. See also Deirdre Lashgan's "Disrupting
the Deadly Stillness: Janice Mirikitani's Poetics of Violence" in
Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women's Writing as Transgression
(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995); and Stan Yogi's
Yearning for the Past: The Dynamics of Memory in Sansei Internment
Poetry" in Approaches to American Ethnic Literatures (Boston:
Northeastern University Press, 1996).