A review by betweenbookends
Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina


Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina is a haunting, hard-hitting memoir of daughterhood, race, and belonging, of the legacy of trauma and memory, passed down through the generations. Born to an Okinawan mother and a white American father, Elizabeth is a child of two vastly different cultures, growing up, she chooses to identify as much as she can with her American self in order to assimilate with her peers and not be seen as other. Her memoir moves from her personal life growing up under the vigilant eye of her over-protective father to unpacking the turbulent and devastating history of Okinawa, a small island off the coast of Japan, of a peaceful folk who had to endure the wars and influences of Japan, USA, and China.

As a child, Elizabeth inclined her thoughts, beliefs much more in alignment with her father, largely disregarding her mother’s role or the significance of her heritage, feeling instead more embarrassed of her mother’s lack of fluency in English and her understanding of American culture. It is heartbreaking to see the alienation her mother faces within her own family. Brina’s writing is endearingly honest and vulnerable and you see her as an adult regret and reconcile with her mother’s history. The sacrifices her mother made and just her presence which had always been a constant, despite Elizabeth’s own indifferent attitude towards her growing up.

In equal parts, it is a personal reckoning and an excavation of a lesser-known part of history. There’s a kind of gorgeous agony in the author ultimately seeking the forgiveness of her mother, countering the internalized racism, and embracing her mixed heritage. Speak, Okinawa is a really good memoir to pick up and read for those looking to explore and uncover more Asian American experiences.