A Memoir of a Post-Internment ChildhoodGeorge Uba
“I thought my life began in Chicago. I was mistaken. That is where my body first made its appearance, but the contours of my life…had their start much sooner.”
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.
“Through George Uba’s deft storytelling, I relived our growing years from a boy’s point of view—the bittersweet details, the smallest hurts, and collective grievances. Our Sansei generation was raised with repurposed cultural messages and within repressed histories. You
might say it couldn’t be helped; the teachings Nisei passed on to us could be nuanced and cruel, gifted with love and hope but also conditions, a complex blessing. I warmly recommend this book, unflinching and honest, which tells our story, the way we were, growing up on the L.A. Westside.”
—Karen Tei Yamashita, Professor Emerita of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of I-Hotel and Letters to Memory
"George Uba’s memoir Water Thicker Than Blood reflects upon the personal and cultural intricacies of Japanese American life, before and after World War II…. Uba came of age at the onset of a time of social upheaval, challenging conformity and cohesive immigrant identities…. With resonant finesse, Water Thicker Than Blood is a memoir about a family, a community, and the individuality of experiences."
“George Uba has written a trenchant story about his tragic and heroic parents, and by extension, thousands of the tragic and heroic parents who came out of the camps. There are many tense and uncomfortable moments in Water Thicker Than Blood , but much of the tension and discomfort is released in a beautiful section that had me in tears—where he suddenly gets his mother. This is a lovely addition to the rich literature somehow created out of a moment in history where an entire generation of Japanese Americans had every dream they’d ever had taken from them, all at once. "
—Cynthia Kadohata, Newbery Medal– and National Book Award–winning author of Kira-Kira and The Thing about Luck
“Water Thicker Than Blood is the most compelling chronicle since Obasan of one of the darkest chapters in North American history. Joining art, memoir, and social history, Uba illumines the experiences of generations of Japanese in America by focusing on one fractured family, while steadily linking that saga to the unseen and incalculable postwar injuries caused by incarceration and ideologies of acceptance. Most haunting is the author’s own psychological journey, interspersing unblinking descriptions of personal indignities and social affronts with reflective lyrical vignettes. A breathtaking book."—King-Kok Cheung, Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles
Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong and Linda Trinh Võ, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.