Hesitant. Hopeless. Humiliating. Centered in Seattle, Washington, near the end of WW11 when the Japanese living in America are forced to internment camps. It follows Henry Lee through multiple storylines of him growing up in the 1940s and as a widower with a son in the 1980s, describing the pains and horrors he faced while focusing on his young love with Keiko Okabe. In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jaime Ford presents the view that identity is necessary for one’s well-being.
To achieve happiness, one must feel belonged. While serving lunch at Camp Harmony, Henry is spotted by Mrs. Okabe, Keiko’s mom. As they are talking, Henry asks her to give Keiko a birthday gift he had got for her, yet Keiko had been standing in line the entire time. Henry was instantly filled with joy once he saw Keiko. Continuing to talk with Mrs. Okabe, he further understands the horrors of their current living situation and the idea of them possibly moving to a permanent camp. Seeing the disappointment in his eyes Mrs. Okabe continues on down the line, so Keiko can talk with Henry. Keiko, electrified that Henry came back tells him, “It’s so funny. They throw us in here because we’re Japanese, but I’m niesi-second generation. I don’t even speak Japanese. At school they teased me for being a foreigner. In here, some of the other kids, the issei-the first generation-they tease me because I can’t speak the language, because I’m not Japanese enough” (191). Being told she isn’t Japanese enough while in a Japanese internment camp, Keiko was uncertain of her identity. Similar to Keiko, Henry had felt confusion about what his identity was and unsure of where he belonged. As Henry and his father are talking about how America is helping to fight off the Japanese Imperial Invaders, his father brings up the idea of Henry finishing his schooling in Canton. Knowing Hong Kong is protected from the Japanese Henry’s father is adamant that Henry goes to school in China. Being from a traditional Chinese family this is what was expected, but Henry was unsure and frightened to leave Seattle: “He envisioned staying at his uncle’s house, which was probably more of a shack, and being teased by the locals for not being Chinese enough. The opposite of here, where he wasn’t American enough” (167). Henry believes he doesn’t belong anywhere because his family is sending him away and he is continuously told he isn’t Chinese or American enough.
Jaime Ford asserts the view that identity is necessary for an individual well-being in his work Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. In Keiko’s situation she doesn’t understand what ethinic group she belongs to and Henry is unsure if he belongs to anything or anyone. Identity causes harm to one’s sense of personal value.
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