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In the literary works of Yoshiko Uchida, the Bible plays an illustrative but not necessarily a normative role in shaping the distinct cosmology for the Japanese American nisei (the second-generation) Christian community. This article examines how the Bible is treated in the literary works of a representative Japanese American writer and explores the ways the identity of Christian faith community is shaped when the foundationally normative authority of the Bible is not assumed.
INTRODUCTION: AMERICA'S INVISIBLE LITERATURE
Mary climbed into the back seat of their car and looked back at the somber gathering. The chill of winter was already in the air, and the men and women looked cold in their thin black coats, like a cluster of drab birds in a field that offered no nourishment or joy. Mary did not relate their being here to either life or death. It just seemed another function of the church, as though these few had come to sing hymns and read the Bible to old friends who could no longer come to church on Sundays. (Uchida, 1987:125)
The scene at the cemetery on the Sunday before Armistice Day was distressing to Mary in Yoshiko Uchida's novel Picture Bride. The memorial service was unbearably long and boring for the precocious and fun-loving child. "Mary knew about Reverend Okada's 'short' services" (123). For Mary the service was for the church folks to "sing hymns and read the Bible to old friends who could no longer come to church on Sundays." Uchida's depiction of this seemingly ordinary event is illustrative of the way the Bible serves within the context of a Japanese American Christian community. The Bible for them is literature that helps enrich both the joy and the sorrow of an everyday life. It reminds them of the web of relationships that goes beyond the realm of the living to include their communion with the deceased family members, friends, and ancestors. At the same time, it is also a reminder of the "drab" religious rituals the children are forced to endure on Sundays. The Bible is significant to the extent that it enhances the ritualistic understanding and practice of Christian faith for the Japanese American Christian community. Its claim to authority is somewhat foreign, if not irrelevant, in such a setting.
ASIAN AMERICAN LITERATURE: TRANSLOCAL READING OF AMERICA
Werner Sollors of Afro-American Studies at Harvard asks this question about the outlines of American literature: "Is there something in the transnational character of the works [of non-English language literature] that may make their authors bolder than those situated firmly in culture and language?" (B5). There has been a relative neglect of the intersection between ethnicity and language among scholars of American studies and comparative literature in the past twenty years. Those scholars who have come to pay attention to race, gender, and ethnicity in American literary works have tended to ignore language as a defining part of American culture. Works by American writers who introduce non-English linguistic traditions have the potential to challenge the predominance of Anglocentric English, its underlying worldviews, and their undeclared assumptions about American society within which the literature is often studied.
Yoshiko Uchida introduces into the American literary scene Japanese language, the cultural traits of Americans of Japanese descent, and their corresponding cosmological worldviews even though she writes in the medium of English language. Uchida's English is not the English that predominates in mainstream American literature. It is an unconventional English. It bears simplicity, subtlety, and the flavor of the Japanese language spoken at her home. Along with this linguistic difference, the readers are introduced to a world that is culturally hybrid and fluid with its own distinct perspective of life and values. This distinctness of Uchida's writings frames our discussion on the role the Bible plays in her writings.
Yoshiko Uchida's prolific writings encompass autobiographical memoirs, numerous children's books, and novels, totaling some thirty volumes. She was born to Christian parents who were both graduates of Doshisha University, a Christian school, in Kyoto, Japan. Uchida grew up in the Japanese American community in Berkeley, California, in the 1920s and '30s and attended Independent Congregational Church in Oakland (currently Sycamore Congregational Church, United Church of Christ). Her parents assumed leadership roles in the church. Her home was frequented by many visitors, mostly from lap an, some of them ministers and students studying at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Uchida and her sister nicknamed some of them "gray-blob mushroom" for their sometimes balding and gray looks and their usual silence like a mushroom.
The outbreak of World War II and the subsequent …