A very smart friend of mine says that you need two sticks to start a fire, and two ideas to form a story. One idea tends to float around for a while, waiting for another to compliment it—the second stick—and when this happens, look out. You’ve got yourself a spark.
With Pacifica, the idea had been brewing a long time, long before I was even born. It began with a story passed down from my great-grandmother, Haru Tanaka, who was a school teacher in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
On December 7th, 1941, she watched the planes painted with the Rising Sun fly overhead, thinking they were part of the American military’s training exercises (she quickly realized they were not when one crashed into a nearby house). In the hysteria that followed, she was escorted, at gunpoint, to an immigration station in Honolulu, where she would stay for two months for her own “safety,” without even a change of clothes. After that, she would bounce around various detention centers, pleading for someone to believe that she was innocent, until finally being moved to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. There, she ate meager rations, bathed under supervision, was subjected to American loyalty tests, and waited for infrequent, screened letters from her children, until the end of WWII.
She returned home to Hawaii to find her house and job gone, and her children the subjects of a racism that would scar my family for generations.
This is my history—who I am. And since I process the world through a lens of fiction, I knew writing my story would look very different. When I closed my eyes to imagine her life, I saw a survivor—a bright light in a world in ruins, the ground quaking beneath her feet, the sky filled with lightning. I saw her friends being ripped from their homes and their families, with no indication of where they were going.
But that was only my first stick. It wasn’t until I read an article on “trash islands” forming in the Pacific gyre that I knew I was on to something. What happens to those society banishes? Where do they go when they are feared, and treated with contempt—when no one wants to look at their faces? After I read that article, I closed my eyes and saw a very different world than my great-grandmother lived in. I saw drowned cities, and islands made of trash, ruled by those who could survive their banishment. I saw her pain turn to hope through the eyes of a young pirate.
I saw Pacifica.