Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Asian Americans have stereotypically been labeled the “model minority.” Many Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II feel too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about that part of history. Except for books such John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957) and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar (1973), there are not many history or literary books providing honest portrayals of Japanese Americans’ experiences in the relocation camps. Hongo is a Yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American), and “Stepchild” is apparently based on his personal experience. It portrays a person’s anger at finding out about the discrimination and mistreatment his parents and grandparents have experienced.

The title of the poem has a strong bearing on Hongo’s thematic preoccupations. Following along the same line as Okada’s No-No Boy, it reveals the confusion many Japanese Americans experienced during and after the relocation camps. According to Chinese American scholar and writer Frank Chin, the experience of the narrator in No-No Boy, Ichiro, is based on that of Hajiime Akutsu, a Nisei who participated in the resistance movement in the relocation camps and who demanded constitutional and legal rights for Japanese American internees during World War II. In Japanese, both Ichiro and Hajiime mean “firstborn.” The name is appropriate for a whole generation of people who struggle with the...

(The entire section is 438 words.)