David Mura’s “An Argument: On 1942” is a relatively brief, understated poem of twenty-one lines, but it implies an extended long-standing and angry exposition on two highly charged themes significant to all Asian Americans: first, parent-child miscommunication and conflict and, second, ethnic assimilation and betrayal. The poem’s subject matter is one particular crime perpetrated against an ethnic Japanese minority in the United States and the ways in which the offended culture deals with or suppresses such violation.
The subtitle of the poem, “For My Mother,” indicates that Mura is writing a tribute, offering his mother, Teruko Mura, a gift. It more subtly suggests that he is making a statement to her with his art that would be difficult for her to process in direct conversation. In this statement he is responding in the best way that he can to a long-held position of hers, one that baffles and confuses and hurts him: He writes her a poem. She has been silent for years in the face of past adversity. He, on the other hand, is insistent that she tell the story; he is eager to listen, to know the truth and to disseminate it. The poem is, then, highly autobiographical both personally and culturally; it is a real story from Mura’s own past and a more wide-ranging statement about survivors of the Japanese internment and their descendents.
Some brief history is necessary to understand the poem. After Japanese forces attacked Pearl...
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