Roy Sato, New Neighbor (book)


Title Roy Sato, New Neighbor
Author Vanya Oakes
Illustrator Isami Kashiwagi
Publisher Julian Messner
Publication Date 1955
Pages 157

Children's book published in 1955 centering on Roy Sato, a ten-year-old Sansei, in the months after his move from Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to a nearby suburban area. Despite its descriptions of racism and its publication just ten years after the end of World War II, the book makes no mention of the wartime exclusion and confinement of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, presumably including the Sato family.

As the novel begins, Roy, his little sister, and his Issei grandmother go a festival (presumably Nisei Week) in Little Tokyo just prior to the family's move. We learn that Roy is somewhat hostile to Japanese culture and ashamed of his ancestry, embodied by his grandmother, who speaks in broken English. The story follows his adventures in his new neighborhood, as he quickly makes friends (one of whom is African American), though one of his new friends has parents that are prejudiced against Japanese Americans. Over the course of the book, a series of episodes take place with his friends that cause him to become more accepting of his ancestry: he finds that his friends enjoy his grandmother's stories of coming to American and farming in Central California; that they enjoy learning judo from his Uncle Mas; and that they all enjoy going his father's lab (Mr. Sato is a chemist for the local health department), where they learn about prominent Japanese American scientists and architects. When Roy uses judo to subdue a burglar, he becomes a hero. The book climaxes with a clothing drive for Japanese families in his grandmother's village displaced by a hurricane; at the celebratory dinner afterwards, his friend's formerly racist parents attend and enjoy the Japanese food.

Author Vanya Oakes (1909–83) was a prolific author of children's books—many of them set in Asia or having Asian or Asian American characters—and a librarian. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley in 1932, she hopped a freighter for China and spent the next decade there as a journalist, returning to Los Angeles where she wrote and taught journalism and world affairs part time at Los Angeles City College. Her first book, White Man's Folly (1943) was an account of her years in China, while her first children's book, By Sun and Star, was published in 1948. Among her other titles was Willy Wong: American, billed as a companion volume to this one. Opting for a career change, she went to library school, obtaining her M.L.S. in 1959 from USC and worked as a librarian in the Los Angeles Public Library system for the next two decades, while also writing children's books.[1]

Isami Kashiwagi, a Nisei from the Big Island of Hawai'i, illustrated the book.

The book's avoidance of the wartime incarceration story is notable. The book is otherwise well-versed in the history of Japanese Americans and includes a full chapter devoted to Roy's grandmother's stories of immigration and farming in Livingston, California. When Roy and his friends visit the family farm that is now run by Uncle Mas, Mas mentions the anti-Japanese harassers they faced when they were teenagers (and whom they dispatched with judo). There is also a hint of neighborly disapproval when the family moves to their new home, reflecting the housing discrimination and racial covenants Japanese Americans faced after the war. Nonetheless, one gets the impression of the Satos' continual residence in California, which of course would have been impossible. Historian Greg Robinson refers to the book as "a climax of willed concealment."[2]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information[edit]

Oakes, Vanya. Roy Sato: New Neighbor. Illustrated by Isami Kashiwagi. New York: Julian Messner, 1955.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. See "Oakes, Vanya, 1909-" in Something About the Author: Facts and Pictures about Contemporary Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young People, Vol. 6, edited by Anne Commire (Detroit: Gale Research, 1974), 175–76.
  2. Greg Robinson, A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 290.