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Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  52 reviews
A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents--her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran--and her own, fraught cultural heritage.

Elizabeth's mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 23rd 2021 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Average rating 4.43  · 
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 ·  231 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
I’m on the trail ... will write a review soon...
But before I continue walking... I just want to say how timely this book is. It’s MORE than a memoir.... The history of immigrant Asians in the United States has not been examined enough - understood enough - respected enough. The Asian hate crimes we just recently witnessed-
have been on the rise. ITS ALARMING!

I started this book through the library Overdrive... in audiobook format ...
I was engaged right away but it’s as we get further and deeper
Elena L.
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Beginning with the Battle of Okinawa, this memoir tells how Brina's grandmother survived during times of war's devastation and her mother's birth after the island was wrecked.

Daughter of a Japanese woman and American soldier, Brina, as a mixed race person, was often afraid of loneliness, not belonging and disappointing. She endured racism in her early ages and wanted her mother to be like other Americans. Beyond the language barrier, the clash of culture and history lingered between mother and d
Laura Pita
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
In this book Elizabeth Miki Brina weaves her life story with the story of Okinawa. She also goes back and forth between the past (her childhood) and the present (her adulthood). She begins by writing from the point of view of her young self, a second generation American caught between two worlds. As a product of growing up in the US and she gravitated heavily towards her dad. This meant she struggled to connect with her mom, and not just because of the language barrier. As many children of immig ...more
TEELOCK Mithilesh
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
Elizabeth Miki Brina’s mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. Decades later, the author comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and she attempts a form of reconciliation, no ...more
Emi Bevacqua
I love this title, the quality writing, the parallel stories - one wartime one contemporary, the themes, the history, the upheaval and the reckoning, absolutely everything about this book except its beginning. Until I realized where it was going I was distracted by how terrible I felt for Kyoko, Elizabeth's Okinawan mom. But I realize that discomfort I went through was vital to the reading experience, which ends up being profoundly moving and rewarding.

As a half-Japanese American myself, I full
Zibby Owens
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
From the first sentence, I was immersed in the story about the author's relationship with her mom, the complications, and her family. I learned so much about Okinawa, and the way the author wove in the history was effortless, like she was teaching and sharing at the same time.

The book is essentially about a girl repairing her relationship with her mother. It delves into the repairing process and the discovery of her learning who her mother is and how she met her father, who was a soldier statio
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book about the difficulties involved with growing up as a mixed race individual. Elizabeth Miki Brina speaks elegantly about the feeling of belonging to two very distinct worlds, and how often times, this duality of belonging causes a person to feel adrift with nowhere to truly call home. Speak, Okinawa deals with themes of forgiveness, apology, guilt, language, and the importance of bearing witness to your own personal histories. She paints a unique portrait of the immigrant experie ...more
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-memoir
An immersive and painful exploration of biracial identity and family dynamics. I really felt for the author whose pain came right off the page. I heard her speak on several podcasts and she may have further memoirs exploring these issues which I would definitely read. More sorrowful than angry, but ultimately hopeful.
Mar 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: antiwar, feminism

A Q&A with Elizabeth Miki Brina, author of Speak, Okinawa
Viviane Eng. March 13, 2021

Elizabeth Miki Brina’s memoir, Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir, delves into the complicated history of her parents — an Okinawan war bride and a Manhattan-raised Vietnam War veteran. Her story explores the direct effects of U.S. imperialist ventures on her parents’ relationship, her experiences growing up pulled between two worlds and how she’s begun t
Mar 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Brina's experience growing up and into her half-Okinawan heritage may not be the same as my own, but it's still an important and welcome perspective. ...more
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing

“These are the first lessons we are taught in preschool. Which one is not like the others? We are taught to match. Colors with corresponding colors, shapes with corresponding shapes, fruits with other fruits, a tree does not belong in the group labeled ‘animal’. We are taught that sameness is correct. Sameness is desired.”

There are perhaps many paths one can choose when writing a memoir.
The majority of memoirs offer glimpses into the writer without ever really exposing the parts of themselves
Sachi Argabright
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
SPEAK, OKINAWA by Elizabeth Miki Brina is a memoir from a biracial woman whose American father met her Okinawan mother while he was stationed on the island. The book discusses details of Brina’s life including her experience as a biracial Asian American living in a predominantly white community, and the dynamics of being in a family who must lean very heavily on patriarch due to language barriers between the 3 members of the household. In contrast, the book also reflects on the history of Okinaw ...more Biography & Memoir
“It took too long for me to admire my mother’s common sense and practical knowledge…to accept and appreciate my mother’s English. Her simplicity and directness.”

These words set the stage for Elizabeth Miki Brina’s SPEAK, OKINAWA, the memoir of the daughter of an Okinawan woman and a Vietnam War veteran. Brina’s parents met while her father was stationed in Okinawa. Neither of them spoke the other’s language; when they wrote each other letters, they had to find translators for them. The language
Mar 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
“Half of me uses the other half to maintain innocence” is the beginning of the end of a bubble. The bubble is a historical construct of identity, consciousness, and ideology whose inhabitants are trained to see separateness only, without being aware of the construct. Connectivity across boundaries is deemed transgression and transgression means bad, ugly, inferior, impure, punishable…to be redeemed by cleansing the non-civil (read: non-white) half. But being biracial is to live that transgressio ...more
Apr 10, 2021 rated it really liked it

4.5 stars

"Sometimes, in real life, change can happen in an instant. This change, this epiphany of connection, that her trauma is my trauma, that our pain comes from the same source--this change is permanent. But sometimes, at first, it doesn't last. It goes away and comes back. Then goes away and comes back

Brina is the only child of an American soldier who "believes in the code of heroes, of men" & an Okinawan woman "born into poverty and chaos." Raised in the U.S. in white majority cities, s
Apr 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
This memoir was not quite what I thought it would be. I picked it up because we are currently living in Okinawa and have lived here before. I loved how the author pieced parts of Okinawan history into her story. Her life has taken many dark and graphic turns with abuse both from herself and others. Some of the parts of her story were difficult to sit with.

I will say, which will likely be an unpopular opinion but it is mine, that her chapter on the American military presence in Okinawa is a litt
christine liu
Sometimes you read a book at the exact right time in your life, when the experiences you've had allow you to really absorb the words that someone else has assembled in perfect order, that's it's like the book has managed to illuminate some fundamental truth that you always knew but could never articulate. This is one of those books for me. I don't read memoirs often, but I devoured this gorgeously written book in one night, stopping only to mark the passages I wanted to reread and getting tissue ...more
Mar 04, 2021 rated it it was ok
Was intrigued by the memoir of this woman who has had to struggle with having a Vietnam war vet father and a Japanese mother. A mother of whom the author is ashamed of growing up. It's difficult for Brina as she feels no connection to her mother's heritage but also does not pass in upstate New York, where her parents settle. She tries to navigate life, growing up, her identity, her relationship with her parents, and more.

The book interested me partially because I know someone who is not unlike t
Mar 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
I wanted to read Speak, Okinawa for two main reasons. First, I was intrigued by the mother-daughter relationship, particularly where the author’s mother is not very comfortable with English as was the case with my mother and step-mother. The second was from my own experience of living in Okinawa as a part-Japanese person and a military dependent.

The memoir component hits deep on various emotional levels. It was interesting to see how the story developed through childhood, teenage years, and int
Mar 26, 2021 rated it did not like it
A memoir of the daughter of an American father and an Okinawan mother sounded interesting, but, man, is the author spoiled. She blames everything on racism, yet takes no responsibility for her decades of poor choices. For example, as a twelve-year-old she is furious that she has to spend the summer with her mother in Okinawa. Hello? She's twelve, so of course she has to go with her mother. Still, she sulks and resents this for years to come. Later, she aimlessly takes over 7 years to get her bac ...more
Karla Bays
Apr 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so honest, so painful, so beautiful. Brina very bravely explores her relationships with her Okinawan mother and her American father - each complex and fraught and defining. It really feels as though she holds nothing back, which is rare. Chapter 8 is particularly affecting in its raw portrayal of her adolescence and her teenage lack of self-worth. Brina's retrospective self-awareness and shrewd understanding of how she developed into the woman she is today really moved me. As did h ...more
Mar 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An all around great read for me. I think what was particularly impressive was the way the author wove the story of Okinawa into her own family story and the parallels that appear. And it is hard to tell which story is more shocking than the other. The author's family could be labeled as dysfunctional simply by virtue of the obvious communication issues and the environment that the author grew up in. Yet, family love shines through and it is clear that the author and other family members had very ...more
Mar 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is the first memoir I’ve read so far this year and I absolutely loved it! This story is a tear jerker in some parts and funny in other parts and overall just a wonderful story about a wonderful family. The book is filled with lots of facts about Okinawa which I found very interesting. I am a military wife who had the honor of living in Okinawa for 6 years. All 3 of my sons were born in Okinawa so Okinawa will always and forever hold a special place in my heart. I worked side by side with th ...more
Marilyn Kriete
Apr 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this five stars, even though I occasionally got annoyed with Brina's choppy style of writing--lots of short sentences, and serial sentences all starting with the same words. But this memoir really made me think about how it might feel to grow up mixed-race and ashamed of the fact, how it might feel to have a mother so isolated by language and culture, how it might feel to be the intense focus of two parents whose own relationship is so precarious and imbalanced, yet enduring. I loved ...more
Apr 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-unread
This was a hard memoir to read. Probably because I sit here in Okinawa on a base that is loathed, and I know why it’s loathed, and still I love this island and the people here.
Elizabeth’s memoir is really interesting - combining stories from her parent’s marriage before she was born, her trips to Okinawa, and feeling like an outsider in the United States because she was the only Asian kid in her town in New York.

There is so much history in Okinawa that clearly pervades Elizabeth’s being, and I
Dara (Dara Reads OK)
I picked out Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina from a long list of spring memoirs. I was completely riveted by the story of Elizabeth, who grew up pushing away her immigrant Okinawan mother and immersing herself in the world of her white American father. As she becomes an adult she begins to realize how lonely her mother must have been in this foreign country where she sometimes has difficulty being understood by her own child. I was particularly moved by the author’s realization that she h ...more
Apr 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sherry Schafer
Apr 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I am mixed-race Ryukyuan (Okinawan)- American like the author. As a mixed Ryukyuan-White person, I could relate to much of Elizabeth's identity issues. I could also relate to her journey of trying to understand her mother, and connect with her Ryukyuan roots. Before reading this book, I had already known about the history of Ryukyu, and its painful history of both Japanese and American occupation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans that I have talked to in my life know very little abo ...more
Mar 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“During proceedings leading to that day, the day we were annexed, Ulysses S. Grant, as a citizen, as a consultant, mediated between representatives from Japan and China. He determined that we, the Lew Chewans, soon to become Okinawans, exhibited more “ethnic affinity” with the Japanese, therefore should belong to Japan.
We were not invited to attend these proceedings. We were not asked for our opinion.
Since 1609, we had already been a colony of Japan, in practice, in secret. We bowed to the Emper
Mar 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This memoir tells about the author’s life and how she struggled to find herself. It also tells some of the history of Okinawa and that country’s relationship to other countries (China, Japan, the US) that have occupied it throughout its history. This memoir holds a light up to several issues including white privilege, US foreign relations, and basic overall respect (for others as well as for self). I listened to the audiobook version of this book and liked it so much that I may have to read the ...more
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