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Velina Houston


A Review of Velina Hasu Houston’s Asa Ga Kimshita

Velina Hasu Houston’s Asa Ga Kimashita is one of four plays that appears in The Politics of Life: Four Play by Asian American Women, published by Temple University Press. The play collection has a highly transnational focus, with three of the four really investigating the politics of migration (Genny Lim’s Bitter Cane, Velina’s aforementioned play, and Wakako Yamauchi’s The Chairman’s Wife). I am reviewing in particular Asa Ga Kimashita, otherwise translated as “morning has broken,” because it was my favorite, although I taught all three plays. Asa Ga Kimashita takes place directly after World War 2 has ended and the Japanese are looking to restructure their country after U.S. war concessions force them to redistribute land. Caught in this milieu is one particular family, headed by conservative and stubborn-headed Kiheida, a oft-times drunk father who sticks to the belief that Japan will return to its former glory. Kiheida hopes to retain the vast rural/agricultural landholdings of his family despite the U.S. proclamation to reapportion all land. This jingoistic Japanese fanaticism is not unlike many characters I have read within the Japanese American literary tradition, including but not limited to Ichiro Yamada’s mother in No-No Boy as well as a host of characters from Karen Tei Yamashita’s Brazil-Maru. Kiheida’s wife, Fusae, plays the bridge occurring between generations, attempting to secure an open minded attitude toward Japan’s altered course as well as placating her militant husband’s attitudes. Kiheida’s elder daughter, Haruko, operates with a similarly traditional politic in mind, waiting patiently to be betrothed to the family friend, Hajime. In contrast to Haruko is Setsuko, the younger daughter, who considers traveling to the United States with an African American serviceman, Creed, that she has fallen in love with; supporting Setsuko is her cousin, Fumiko, a free-spirited and very American influenced woman. The conflict that the play clearly sets up is the transnationally configured desires of Setsuko against the traditional beliefs of Kiheida. All told, Asa Ga Kimashita clearly does reference some autobiographical elements of Houston’s life and she reveals in the introduction to the collection that this play is the first of a trilogy (one in the series is her acclaimed Tea). Houston employs important prop items and nature imagery throughout the play such as persimmons and orchards. The play is interesting to talk about with my students because it forces them to consider an Asian American literary center not located within the domestic space and how that complicates the cultural nationalist foundations of the field.

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