Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reading Guide to Fall of the I-Hotel: 1973 by Hasan

Reading Guide to Fall of the I-Hotel: 1973 by Hasan

1973: Int’l Hotel


This novella centers around four main characters: Ria Ishi, Wayne Takabayashi, Stony Ima, and Jack Denny. Ria Ishi is a UC Berkeley graduate and a social activist. Wayne Takabayashi is the son of Dr. Tom Takabayashi, the dean of the defunct Berkley school of Criminology. Stony Ima is an American social activist whose father is originally from Amami. Jack Denny is a Native American from Oklahoma and is also a Vietnam War veteran. The novella starts with how all of the characters first met on account of their voyage to Alcatraz, then deals with certain portions of lives of the individual characters, and again ends with the reunion of all the characters in Tule Lake.

1: Turtle Island


The chapter starts with Ria, Wayne and Stony meeting together for the first time in order to go to the Alcatraz Island. Since it was illegal to go there, they had to avoid the coast guards. They come across Jack and borrow his boat, Turtle. When a coast guard spots the group, they pretend to be Japanese fisherman and sets sail for the Alcatraz Island. On their way, the group learns from Jack about the Modoc battles with the US government in Tule Lake in vivid details. Upon reaching the island, the group learns of a myth about how the Earth was created from the Native Americans. Three animals went in search of land. The amphibian among the animals found a plug of soil, and finally the Earth was born from the tiny plug of soil from the turtle’s back. The chapter ends with a group of Native Americans leaving the island on Jack’s boat, Turtle.

Memorable quotes:

“Winning a battle could get you a peace treaty, but not necessarily the one you want and not necessarily the one they’ll keep. The price of peace, if it has one, is never cheap.” (379)

“It was another Apollo, another moonwalk. On Earth, Indians walked on Alcatraz. ‘One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’” (381)

“History tells us that the white man’s pride is located in his laws, such that he will justify his pride and his greed, his great paternity and his superiority, with the great writ of his laws. Everything must follow accordingly. The white man will only give up or lose something if forced to do so by his own laws; in this way, he cannot lose face and continues secure in his pride that this law must be just.” (381)

Discussion Questions:

We learn of a myth about Earth’s creation that that the Earth was born from a tiny plug of soil on the back of a turtle and three animals who go in the search of land. (381) What is the significance of this myth?

Why was Jack comfortable when the Indians left with his boat? (382)

2: Crane


This chapter deals with two stories. First, it shows how the viewpoints of Ria Ishi on how to change the world changed. Second, it tells us through the story of Mrs. Lee how a group of Chinese women, who were previously exploited, were empowered. Through this chapter, we also learn that the I Hotel was not just a place for old manongs to live. It was also a source of livelihood for Asian American community, because it housed many small businesses.

Ria Ishi, a UC Berkeley graduate, gets a job as an interpreter in a sewing factory. In her job, she notices how Chinese women working in the factory were exploited. The worst part is that these female workers do not even realize that their employers are taking advantage of them; they simply accept the cold harsh reality that they do not have many opportunities, simply because they cannot speak English. Later, when an order for a ‘Mao jacket’ comes their way, Ria, along with a group of her fellow students and Chinese female factory workers, starts their own factory, ‘I-Hotel Cooperative Garment Factory’ at the basement of the I Hotel. At the beginning, the Chinese women allow the students to deal with the planning, orders, and the finances. However, soon they realize that their business acumen is far more superior to that of the students and directs the students to get orders for specific tasks. They also realize how the manufacturers and the retailers are exploiting them; these middle men buy their works at a cheap price but sell them at exorbitant rates to the final consumers. They understand that have replaced the contractors in the form of students, and now need to do get rid of the manufacturers. Eventually, Mrs. Lee takes on the responsibility of organizing the weekly meetings from the students, and decides that they require lessons for English language and American history, and facilities for child care. The women workers even come to a direct confrontation with a manufacturer and call him ‘cheap.’ Through financial independence, the women realize about the rights that they are entitled to. Meanwhile, Ria Ishi also learns that she cannot just stick to socialism and needs to employ capitalistic models to run factories. This leads to a clash of ideologies with Olivia. At the end of the chapter, Mrs. Lee acquires American citizenship and goes to child care services, shutting down the factory. She tries to convince Ria to pursue her studies further.

Memorable quotes:

“This dress we make for $2! Look, selling for $30!...First, we get rid of contractor. Next we get rid of manufacturer.” (387)

“Believe me, I struggle with this every day, but it’s not like textbook Lenin.” (388)

“Listen, I tell you something. American Revolution is happening two hundred years ago. What’s two hundred years?...But,… first time is the last time. Can’t make same revolution twice. Look at me…I know what you think, but I am not the revolution.” (391)

“I know students think East is Red, but this is not the East. So you better go. Go figure out a new way.” (392)

“We say that the sun rises in the East, but now we live in the West. Now I am American. I’m not leaving. You go make a sun rise in the West.” (392)

Discussion Questions:

Mrs. Lee observes: “First, we get rid of contractor. Next we get rid of manufacturer.” Ria thinks: “But could they make 100,000 dresses for national distribution? One dress at a time.” (387) Do you think it is possible to get rid of contractors, manufacturers so that all the profits go to the working class?

After making reference to the East and the West, Mrs. Lee says: “You study, you find out.” What is Mrs. Lee asking Ria to find out?

Do you think women empowerment comes with financial independence of women?

3: Cormorant


This chapter tells us about Stony Ima’s journey to discover his roots in Amami. Stony comes across an injured Jack and admits him to a hospital. Jack requests Stony to sell his station wagon and keep half of the money for himself and the other half for Jack in a bank account. When Stony visits Jack in the hospital to give Jack his cheque book, Jack confides in Stony about his dream of Stony’s visiting Japan. Accordingly, Stony goes to Japan. First, he visits the proposed site of the First Narita Airport at Sanrizuka, to help the farmers protest the construction of the airport in their farmlands, and meets Atari. He learns that Atari also hails from Amami, just like Stony’s father and learns the directions on how to get to Amami. Later, when the protests at Sanrizuka come to no avail, Stony visits various places in Japan, including Kyoto in order to see a particular Buddhist statue. While wondering the streets of Kyoto to find the hidden message from the Buddha, he buys a shakuhachi (a type of Japanese bamboo flute). After playing the flute, he is overwhelmed with emotions and decides to go to his parental house at Amami. In Amami, an old woman gets shocked to see Stony and flings herself at his feet, mistaking Stony for her long gone husband (Stony’s father). That night, Stony dreams about an old man with his exact same voice. The following morning, he spends some time in the sea beach in a contemplative mood. Finally, Stony decides to prolong his stay in Amami for a considerable period of time.

Discussion Questions:

What was the significance of the Buddhist figure to Stony Ima? (396)

“This is the real thing.” (391) Did playing the shakuhachi convince Stony, who usually plays the yokobue, to go back to Amami finally?

“That night he dreamed a dream. He saw himself staring at himself in a mirror in a future time, an older man much like his father as an older man, or was it his father? But it was his own voice, his breath pushed through his lips that formed the question in the mirror: Is that all there is?” (398) What was the meaning behind his dream? Why did this dream convince him to stay longer than he intended in Amami?

How is the journey of Stony Ima to discover his roots back in Amami related with I Hotel or the civil rights movement in the Bay Area at that time?

4: Muskrat


The main character of this chapter is Wayne Takabayashi. This chapter deals with Wayne’s encounters with three different people, his father, Roshni, and Alma, at various stages in his life.

The chapter starts with Wayne’s taking coffee to his father, Dr. Takabyashi, who is alone in a cold cramped room in a building which was previously the Berkeley School of Criminology. Here, he learns about two stories from his father. First, his father tells him about the injustices meted out to his family during their internment at Tule Lake during World War II. Wayne’ uncle, John Takabayashi, decided to defy the curfew imposed on Japanese Americans. When no police officials took any actions against him, John himself went to the police to get arrested. Eventually, Wayne’s grandparents had to leave the internment camp to testify in his trial. Shockingly, despite being innocent and witnesses in a trial, Wayne’s grandparents were kept in jails, simply because they were Japanese. Second, his father tells him about how Aiko Masaoka wanted an armed revolution and even coerced Wayne into joining her. At the end, Wayne receives from his father a golden pen.

Next, Wayne meets Roshni by accident when he collides into her. Roshni is getting signatures for petitions regarding nuclear disarmament. Wayne learns from Roshni about the hazards associated with nuclear weapons, and decides to help her with the petitions. Through discussions with Roshni, Wayne further learns about Rabindranath Tagore, India’s nuclear tests, and Asian American Political Alliance. Eventually Roshni gives him rakhi as Wayne gives her the golden pen he received from his father.

Finally, Wayne comes across Alma. He learns about how Alma taught children at the Tule Lake internment camp, and how she helped the Japanese Americans integrate in her community after they had returned from the internment camps. Finally, Alma gives Wayne her pink Ford pickup. In exchange, Wayne gives Alma the rakhi that Roshni gave him.

Memorable quotes:

“law never made anyone free. Men make the law free. So citizenship didn’t keep me out of camp, and tenure didn’t guarantee my job.” (402)

“You know, it’s not always where you were born that makes you something.” (407)

“…all wars would end when women could vote because women were the only ones who would vote war out of existence.” (410)

Discussion Questions:

How do you feel about civil disobedience? How would you compare John Takabyashi’s actions against Alma’s actions? Which one do you think is more effective?

“Most Americans are confined to this big island and don’t know where anything is in the world.” (407) Do you agree with Roshni’s observation?

5: Tule Lake


In this chapter, all the main characters of the novella, Stony Ima, Ria Ishi, Jack Denny, and Wayne Takabayashi are reunited in Tule Lake after seven years. The entire group goes to Jack’s house, which has a modified version of sauna. While taking a dip in the sauna, each character experiences a vision, which helps them better understand themselves. Each vision tells us a different story about the injustices that the Japanese American community suffered during World War II. In the first vision, Jack experiences an episode from his uncle Albert’s life. While tracking footsteps, Albert comes across a huge swath of land, surrounded by barbed wires, and guarded by tall towers with soldiers on top. Upon learning from a soldier that the land is the property of US government, he wonders which tribe occupies this reservation camp. In the second vision, Wayne sees a young Alma and his grandmother together in the Tule Lake internment camp. The children in the camp presents Alma a necklace made from white seashells they picked from the barracks. When Alma leaves the camp, Wayne’s grandmother and the children accompany her only to the gate and remain content watching Alma’s figure diminish into the distance. In the third vision, Ria sees how his mother, along with a baby Ria, boards a ship bound to America, leaving behind her father in Japan. In the fourth vision, Stony sees an event from his childhood. Mr Seiji, his father’s friend, visits his mother in the Tule Lake internment camp to offer condolences for his late father. He also presents his mother with a book on tanka poetry, and admits he only came to the camp because he could not return to Japan. At the end of the chapter, Wayne exchanges with Jack his pink Ford pickup for tule, a type of grass that grows in the Tule Lake.

Memorable quotes:

“You might go on a quest to find the answers, but sometimes those ghosts are right there next to you, following you around, holed up inside your being. Then one day, it all gets sweated out.” (419)

Discussion Questions:

“We were always American.” (417) What defines an American?

(Edited by Timothy Peng)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.