by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
April 19, 2001
SEATTLE, Wash. -- The Mariners baseball team boasts not one but two openly Japanese players, both of whom have captured the hearts of all fans, including this one, and compensated to a degree for the defection of A-Rod (Mr. Alex Rodriguez to his household staff), who has elected, on his agent's advice, to join some team in Arlington, Texas, wherever that is.
Judging by the litter-strewn field on which they disgrace the national pastime, it would seem to be in some rundown part of the country that is either ignorant of the traditional tidiness of baseball or simply indifferent to it. The waste paper that distracts everyone by blowingacross the infield, the outfield, and one's field of vision, feeds the already serious doubts about the cultural background of their former owner, the current "president."
But I am not a sports writer, I am a gardener, and there will now be the sort of interlude to which my readers have become accustomed. I have just made the momentous move of transplanting my sunflower seedlings from the greenhouse to the north border. They resisted me all the way:
What on earth do you think you're doing?
You'll like it, be patient.
Not in that stuff. It looks unclean. It looks ... dirty. Is it from Arlington, Texas?
It is dirt. It's your destiny. Why do you think I ...?
Wait until our father hears about this, you'll see. And not next to those radishes!!!
They aren't radishes, they're sweet peas, dwarf sweet peas. Gays! And handicapped gays! Sunflowers have rights, too! We don't have to live next to [deleted]. Okay, I'm a sports writer. Who knew that gardening was so fraught with social unease?
The newest Japanese member of the Mariners is Ichiro, who has another name but, on the advice of his PR people, chooses to ignore it. In silhouette, Ichiro looks like a museum version of the earliest players of the American game. Add a handlebar mustache, and he might be a period figure on a Currier & Ives calendar.
But a recent photograph of his grinning face sent sudden shivers through me. I was 12 in 1941. On December 8, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a gas station attendant said to my father: Wouldn't you know, Mr. Brown, that they'd pick the Sabbath day?
In Ichiro's grinning face, I suddenly saw the iconic image of the fiendish foe of the Pacific. When I was a few years younger than 12, I used to buy bubble-gum wrapped in tiny comic strips depicting the atrocities of the Manchurian war: Japanese soldiers pitching Chinese babies into the air and catching them on bayonets; Japanese soldiers beheading Chinese peasants in front of their children.
Nice pictures to show to kids, right? (And I'd be grateful to any reader who could put me on the track of those little comic strip candywrappers. I did not imagine them.)
There followed the war movies of the Forties, the ultimate demonization of the Japanese as a people. Until the Forties, the only people whom I'd been taught to hate werethe Union soldiers, the Yankees, the monsters in the atrocity stories routinely recited to us school children in South Carolina by old people who had been alive during the Civil War.
I detest the ideas of racial hatred systematically implanted in my young skull, but not even years of amical relations with many Japanese people, not even a semester of studying their language, have wiped outthe memories.
May Ichiro, the right fielder, and Kazu, the closer, grow ever larger in my estimation and crowd from my mind the traces of juvenile terror that neither they nor I conspired to plant there.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.