Friday, February 4, 2011

1975: Internationale Hotel

1975: Internationale Hotel

Guide by Sarah Neville
Edited by Bhushan


1: Arthur Hama—Liberty

Coit Mural

The events of the novella open at the Coit Tower, originally painted with murals in the 1930s, but defamed in the 1950s by Communist paintings. Now, in 1974, Estelle takes her sons Sen and Harry to the Coit Tower and tells them stories of how she met their father, Art. The murals in the Tower lead to flashbacks of Estelle and Art’s story.

Art and Estelle were both Communists, artists, and protesters in 1950s San Francisco. Estelle often bailed protesters out of jail, including Art. They worked together painting in the Coit Tower and got married. Although Estelle was white, she joined Art, who was Japanese, when he was sent to an internment camp.

(More images of the Coit Tower murals here and here.)

2: Estelle Hama—Equality

Estelle is having an art exhibition of all her wartime work, especially paintings and drawings she created in the internment camp. Sen and Harry were mainly responsible for putting the exhibit together.

During the chapter, flashbacks come through the paintings,. These include Sen’s birth and an incident where Estelle feared an American guard was going to shoot her and the infant Sen.

At the end of the chapter, her friend Tom comes up to her and asks her to help bail a young sansei out of jail; Estelle says she will help. Harry meets a girl and takes her out on a date.

3: Sen Hama—Fraternity

Harry and Estelle are arguing about Stalin and the role of fiction as they work on a mural on the outside of the I-Hotel.

Previously, Harry dated a girl he had met at Estelle’s exhibit. She was a reporter and wrote fiction; Estelle disapproves of all types of fiction, and this tension led to she and Harry’s breakup.

Sen reminisces about his childhood; between the fact that he was shy and his mother was a communist, he had a hard time making friends when he was young. He also thinks about a communist ex-girlfriend, and a run-in with a cop when he had a new motorcycle.

4: Harry Hama—Humanity

Harry is leading a protest at the San Francisco office for the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, trying to get the Rehabilitation Act passed. They have a sit-in which goes on for 28 days. He befriends a blind girl named Clara and they quickly fall in love.

In between these main events are flashbacks to when Harry visited the site of the internment camp Tule Lake. Sen comes and they go on a motorcycle ride, but they crash and Sen dies. Later, Harry tries to kill himself.

In the end of the novella, after the success of the San Francisco sit-in, Harry is now working for handicap accessibility in San Diego.


  • 1930s: Estelle meets Art in New York; she follows him to San Francisco
  • She bails him out of jail
  • They get married
  • Japanese internment camps
  • Sen is born
  • They are released from camp; Art goes to war until the atomic bombs are dropped on Japan
  • 1949: Harry has just been born; Art visits Hiroshima and sees the devastation
  • 1951: Art leaves the family for Japan
  • He meets another woman and does not return; Estelle tells everyone he has died
  • 1974: Art dies; main events of the novella begin


  • Estelle Hama: Daughter of Russian emigres, wife of Art Hama. Artist, Stalinist.
  • Arthur “Art” Hama: Nisei (second-generation Japanese American). Martial artist, Communist, anti-imperialist. After he witnesses the Hiroshima devastation, he starts fighting against nuclear weapon use. Goes to Japan in 1951, dies in 1975.
  • Sen Hama: Estelle and Art’s oldest son. He is introspective and shy, and as an artist especially likes working with silkscreens.
  • Harry Hama: Sen's brother. He uses a wheelchair, is 25 years old, and much more extroverted than his brother. He stages protests for rights for people with physical disabilities.


  • How do the titles of the four chapters (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Humanity) relate to their contents?
  • What is the cover page of the novella (page 491) illustrating and why?
  • Why was this novella named Internationale Hotel?
  • Each chapter opens with a different historical situation that often seems disconnected with the events in the chapter. What is the significance of each?
    • Chapter 1: Vladivostok
    • Chapter 2: House Un-American Activities Committee
    • Chapter 3: Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence
    • Chapter 4: Fidel Castro's 1977 visit to Moscow
  • Each chapter uses flashbacks to tell the story's main content. Discuss the different ways each chapter has of triggering the flashbacks. (The murals, Estelle's paintings...)
  • Discuss the symbolism of colors, especially white, in chapter 2. (Estelle's hair, the color of her hair going into her art, the word "hakujin.")

Language Notes

Rodo Shimbun

労働新聞 (roudou shinbun): This was a real Japanese communist newspaper in San Francisco. The name translates to "Labor Newspaper."

Interestingly, the Korean translation of 勞動新聞 is what today’s official newspaper of North Korea is named: 로동신문 (Rodong Sinmun).


白人: White person.

Keto baba

Probably 毛唐 (ketou) and 婆 (baba): dirty foreigner and old woman.

Nisei, sansei

二世: Nisei refers to a second-generation Japanese American, the child of Japanese immigrants.

三世: Sansei is third-generation, the grandchild of immigrants.