In the story “The Eskimo Connection,” Emiko is a Nisei poet and a widow living in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Emiko remembers living in one of the internment/relocation camps for Japanese Americans during World War II.
Emiko receives a letter from a young Eskimo prisoner, Alden, asking her to critique his essay. Emiko is self-deprecating and wonders what Alden and she could have in common. She is hesitant about making a connection with Alden but eventually decides to make a few suggestions and return the essay to him. This begins their two-year correspondence.
The entire story, while not written in a first-person point of view, is told through Emiko. She has a sense of humor but can sometimes appear to be a bit naive. She does not want to know why Alden is in jail, preferring instead to create an image of his crime based solely on a neighbor of hers who was twice sent to prison for forgery. When Alden mails her a short story he has written about a young man who murders his uncle and rapes and murders a female relative, she is shocked and horrified and wonders if this is Alden’s life.
Emiko has a number of children, three of whom are still living at home, and grandchildren as well. She is the head of her household and is trying to make ends meet after the death of her husband, Mits. Mils left her some money but not a huge amount, and Emiko works hard at managing both the money and the minor family disasters that erupt from time to time.
Walunga Alden is a prisoner at a federal penitentiary in the Midwest. He initiates correspondence with Emiko after reading one of her poems in an Asian-American publication. He is a Yupik Eskimo in his early twenties and is interested in writing. In his first letter to Emiko, he encloses his essay on how his native land has been “despoiled” and asks Emiko for a critique. She is hesitant for a number of reasons, including the fact that the essay eventually degenerates into a “sermon” on the biblical prophecy that the ruination of his land was part of what was supposed to happen before Christ’s return. “The article was brief but remarkably confused,” notes Emiko. But this eventually does begin their correspondence.
Alden never reveals to Emiko why he is in prison, and Emiko never asks. But Alden does tell her about his family, his Thorazine treatment for depression, and his membership in Alcoholics Anonymous. He is also a voracious reader and spends a lot of time studying the Bible. Many of his letters to Emiko include religious sayings. Emiko sends him Asian-American literary magazines, but he is allowed only a limited number of pieces of mail and borrowed library books, frustrating his desire for more material to read and study.
Eventually, he is transferred to a jail near Seattle, where he is able to attend community college classes. Finally, he is transferred to Alaska, where he will be closer to his family. Before his transfer, he sends Emiko a short story he has written about a young man who kills his uncle and rapes and kills a female relative.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Hisaye Yamamoto – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.