Ethics of Engagement
Buddha in the Attic written by Julie Otuska unearths an in-depth collective compilation of many picture brides’ peregrinations from their homeland being Japan, to a foreign land of romanticized expectations hailed America. Written in the first person-plural, the story of the picture brides is clearly potent and compelling. Identity of one’s self is extremely difficult for these Japanese immigrants to preserve, religion per se becomes clandestine.
The picture brides try extremely hard to assimilate and blend in. Regardless of how strong they felt in regards to their identity, their strive to be liked if not welcomed was stronger-willed. ”We hated them. We loved them. We wanted to be them”. (Otuska, 39) Due to being repelled all around, they felt as though if they became more like the white women then they would be accepted and liked, they contradicted themselves because they loved them because of the fact that they were liked, accepted and even respected. But, they hated them because they were the epitome of what they needed to be so desperately if they were to receive any sort of acquiescence from the community.
“They did not want us as friends”. (Otuska, 35) The picture brides were well aware that they were not liked, that they were not wanted. The way that they were perceived by whites as outsiders no matter how much the Japanese wanted to disappear and blend in they were plucked like a fly out of a glass all their efforts being disregarded. Because of the fact that their identity was not appreciated, the Japanese tried to become something else to attain what their employers had or at the very least an easier life that did not consist of fingers being pointed at them. “…did not speak any English and in America we knew we had no choice but to scrub sinks and wash floor.” (Otuska, 44) They had to work as servants because of the fact that they were not educated, because they did not know how to speak English, because they were immigrants.
Buddha is a term that means “one who is awake”, regardless of being poor physically yet being rich spiritually and being content. Buddhism was a very prominent religion in Japan and most of the immigrants practiced it. Yet they started to forget it and abandon it more and more as they realized how Americans saw them. “We forgot about Buddha. We forgot about God. We developed a coldness inside us that still has not thawed. I fear my soul has died.” (Otuska, 37) The circumstances and the position they were in trying to reinvent themselves hardened them against their old ways, religion being a strong part of that.
As the Japanese leave for internment camps towards the end, “Haruko left a tiny laughing brass Buddha up high, in a corner of the attic, where he is still laughing till this day”. (Otuska, 109). The Buddha symbolizes the old ways, the homeland and the culture that the Japanese immigrants have been forced to renounce due to the pressure of assimilation. It depicts their true identity…