One day in spring 1941, not long after Frankie turned eight, he came home to find that neither of his parents was in or around the house. That was not an uncommon occurrence, but after a while of waiting and wondering, he began to worry. After a couple hours, a patrol car drove up to the house and his mother climbed out, covering her face. When she entered the house, Frankie could see that she had been crying. She walked straight back to the master bedroom. He came to her and asked her what had happened. She didn’t respond.
Late that evening, Frankie’s mother told him that his father had been in an auto accident. He had been in a collision with a produce truck at a rural crossroads, and he had not survived.
Frankie and his mother had to leave their farm and move to San Francisco, where she had family. They couldn’t take the water lanterns with them, so Frankie released them into a nearby canal.
Soon after Frankie and his mother arrived in the city, his mother found that she couldn’t support him any more than she could support her koi, so she was forced to put him in an orphanage. He was placed in the Salvation Army Children’s Home, a Japanese orphanage in the city.
Though Frankie remembered being called a Jap once or twice, he had never really thought of himself as a boy of any particular race. This changed at the orphanage, but the identity he acquired was something of an anti-identity. He’d never thought of himself as particularly Japanese, so he saw the other Japanese-American kids at the orphanage as foreigners, and they in turn saw him as a hapa—a half-breed—when they didn’t see him as a Hakujin—a Caucasian. On any given occasion, the term that applied to him was generally the term that happened to do the most harm.
Frankie would soon come to realize that the world at large saw him as a Jap. He would live as an alien among aliens.