Dec. 7, 1941: For Kama Gusuda, the morning started like any other on his Maui pig farm. By the time the sun had set, however, Japanese planes had filled the skies over Pearl Harbor.
The attack brought conflict between neighbors and within families, troubling the hearts of many immigrants in Hawaii. Honor, loyalty, homeland, and tradition were tested as never before.
Vividly written, “Lucky Come Hawaii” skillfully interweaves many themes: lovers separated by family opposition to interethnic marriage, an elder son torn between betraying his kin and betraying his nation, and a wayward boy who comes to respect his heritage.
Ultimately, “Lucky Come Hawaii” is the moving story of an immigrant father and mother who strive to create a better future for their Hawaii-born children.
Shirota was born on Maui in 1928. His father had emigrated to Hawaii from Ginoza Village, one of the poorest districts in Okinawa, as a contract laborer for a sugar plantation, and his mother had followed later, as a picture bride.
The sixth of eight children, Shirota spent his early years in Peahi, a small rural town, and his later years in Wailuku. When he came of age in 1946, he joined the U.S. Army and was sent overseas to Japan. After his discharge, he moved to Utah, where his sister lived, and enrolled in Brigham Young University, where he earned a degree in accounting.
Since high school, Shirota had wanted to be a writer, and when he read “From Here to Eternity,” James Jones’ 1951 blockbuster about Hawaii, he was inspired to attempt a novel. Starting it while stationed in Greenland as an auditor for the Army Corps of Engineers, he completed a manuscript in California and sent it off to Lowney Handy, Jones’ mentor and founder of the Handy Writers’ Colony.
Handy and Shirota corresponded about his writing for four years, and in 1963 Shirota was invited to join the colony. Under Handy’s guidance, Shirota wrote “Lucky Come Hawaii,” finishing it in 1965, a year after Handy died.
The novel was published by Bantam Books and quickly became a national bestseller, making Shirota one of the first Asian Americans o write a popular novel. His second novel, “Pineapple White,” followed in1974.
Shirota then turned his attention to playwriting, producing works that have been performed internationally. They have received awards from the John F. Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, Rockefeller Foundation, American College Theater Festival, Los Angeles Actors Theater Festival of One-Acts, Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, and National Endowment for the Arts.
In 2009, three of Shirota’s plays were published by MANOA: A Pacific Journal of International Writing and University of Hawaii Press in “Voices from Okinawa,” edited by Frank Stewart and Katsunori Yamazato.