In Water Thicker Than Blood, poet and professor George Uba traces his life as a Japanese American born in the late 1940s, a period of insidious anti-Japanese racism, even following the wartime incarceration of 120,000 Japanese, two-thirds of whom were American-born citizens. His beautiful, impressionistic memoir chronicles how he, like many Sansei (and Nisei) across the United States, grappled with dislocation and trauma, while seeking acceptance and belonging.
Augmented by cultural and historical research, Uba’s personal account of his family’s efforts to gain acceptance as Americans unfolds as racial demographics in America are shifting. He struggles with inherently violent midcentury educational and childrearing practices and a family health crisis. The result is a turbulent, exceptionally guilt-ridden childhood. Uba describes boy scouts and yogore (community rebels and castoffs) in vivid detail, but he also uses these vignettes to show how margins were blurred and how both sets of youth experienced injury through the same ideological pressures.
Water Thicker Than Blood is not a conventional story about community recovery, identity formation, or family repair. But it offers an intimate look at the lasting—in some ways irreversible—damage caused by postwar, Anglo-centrist ideologies of “being accepted” and “fitting in inconspicuously” and by the self-limiting behaviors requiring mimicry, quietism, and obedience. This memoir unpacks a story of compliance and outward success, whose shadow masquerades even today as a master narrative of Asian American triumph-over-adversity but whose lasting scars only begin to heal through efforts of understanding, compassion, and painstaking reinvention.