Friday, June 14, 2013

Cover art for Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Immigrant Workers in Hawaii

I am very honored to have my 2010 "Kasuri" painting from my Sugar series gracing the cover of this forthcoming book by Franklin Odo. Place your orders now. The book will be coming out in August 2013:

“Historian Franklin Odo has parlayed Harry Minoru Urata’s decades of song-hunting into a spectacular, engaging, and eye-opening view of a seminal Japanese American regional tradition.”—Daniel Sheehy, Curator and Director, Smithsonian Folkways

“This is an outstanding contribution to the story of pioneer Issei and their lives and labor on the plantations of Hawai’i based on the poetic lyrics of their work songs. Franklin Odo’s masterful study of the lyrics of holehole bushi songs uncovers the deepest emotions of the Issei women and men as they labored and sang about their daily life on the plantations of Hawai’i.”—Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, George & Sakaye Aratani Professor and Endowed Chair, Asian American Studies, UCLA

“Odo rescues pungent voices of nameless Japanese immigrants from historical obscurity. His analysis of emotion-filled folk songs offers a rare glimpse into the culture of Hawai`i's plantation work accentuated by the daily struggle with racism, sexism, class exploitation, homesickness, and disrupted family life. This is prodigious scholarship!”—Eiichiro Azuma, Alan Charles Kors Term Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Folk songs are short stories from the souls of common people. Some, like Mexican corridos or Scottish ballads, reworked in the Appalachias, are stories of tragic or heroic episodes. Others, like the African American blues, reach from a difficult present back into slavery and forward into a troubled future. Japanese workers in Hawaii's plantations created their own versions, in form more akin to their traditional tanka or haiku poetry. These holehole bushi describe the experiences of one particular group caught in the global movements of capital, empire, and labor during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Voices from the Canefields author Franklin Odo situates over two hundred of these songs, in translation, in a hitherto largely unexplored historical context.

Japanese laborers quickly comprised the majority of Hawaiian sugar plantation workers after their large-scale importation as contract workers in 1885. Their folk songs provide good examples of the intersection between local work/life and the global connection which the workers clearly perceived after arriving. While many are songs of lamentation, others reflect a rapid adaptation to a new society in which other ethnic groups were arranged in untidy hierarchical order - the origins of a unique multicultural social order dominated by an oligarchy of white planters. Odo also recognizes the influence of the immigrants' rapidly modernizing homeland societies through his exploration of the "cultural baggage" brought by immigrants and some of their dangerous notions of cultural superiority. Japanese immigrants were thus simultaneously the targets of intense racial and class vitriol even as they took comfort in the expanding Japanese empire.

Engagingly written and drawing on a multitude of sources including family histories, newspapers, oral histories, the expressed perspectives of women in this immigrant society, and accounts from the prolific Japanese language press into the narrative, Voices from the Canefields will speak not only to scholars of ethnomusicology, migration history, and ethnic/racial movements, but also to a general audience of Japanese Americans seeking connections to their cultural past and the experiences of their most recently past generations.

Franklin Odo was founding director of the Smithsonian Institution's Asian Pacific American Program and Acting Chief of the Asian Division at the Library of Congress. He was among the pioneering faculty involved in Asian American Studies at UCLA and taught Asian  American history at the University of Hawai`i, UPenn, Hunter, Princeton, and Columbia.

Cover art: Laura Kina

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