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Tom Coffman

Tom Coffman is a political reporter who evolved into writing books and directing historical documentaries. He is a three-time recipient of the Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association’s award for nonfiction writing, and for his cumulative work he received the Hawai‘i Award for Literature.
Tom Coffman is an independent researcher, writer, and producer. He graduated from the William Allen White School, Kansas University, with a Bachelor in Journalism. The managing editor of the Honolulu Advertiser loaned Coffman plane fare to come to Hawaii, where he became state government reporter for the Advertiser. He moved to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin two years later and became political reporter and bureau chief. In 1972, he wrote Catch a Wave, a widely read account of Hawaii politics and the turmoil of that period. A year later, he left newspaper reporting to work as an independent writer and media producer.

His productions increasingly incorporated historic themes. Under the guidance of the legendary Hawaiian writer John Dominis Holt, he began to integrate a chronology of the development of Hawaii, which led to the television documentaries O Hawaii: From Settlement to Kingdom and Nation Within.

Tom Coffman's work has won national awards for production of video, film, interactive media, and multi-image. Ganbaré, about the early wartime experiences of Japanese Americans, was selected Best Film by a Hawaii Filmmaker at the 1995 Hawaii International Film Festival. Three of his books, Nation Within, The Island Edge of America, and I Respectfully Dissent, received Ka Palapala Pookela Awards for Excellence in Nonfiction from the Hawaii Book Publishers Association. Coffman also received the Hawaii Award for Literature, the highest recognition given by the state of Hawaii for outstanding literary achievement. Other PBS films dealt with America's annexation of Hawaii, the onset of World War II, and the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino.

Tadaima! I Am Home unearths the five-generation history of a family that migrated from Hiroshima to Honolulu but never settled. In the telling, the common Japanese greeting “tadaima!” takes on a perplexing meaning. What is home? Where most immigrants either establish roots in a new place or return to their place of origin, the Miwa family became transnational. With one foot in Japan, the other in America, they attempted to build lives in both countries. In the process, they faced the challenges of internment, a civilian prisoner exchange, the atomic bomb, and the loss of their holdings on both sides of the Pacific.
The story begins and ends with the fifth-generation figure, Stephen Miwa of Honolulu, who is trying to get to the bottom of a shadowed reference to his family name: “The Miwas are unlucky.” Tom Coffman’s research tracks back to the founding sojourner, Marujiro, a fallen samurai, and to the sons of subsequent generations—Senkichi, a field laborer turned storekeeper; James Seigo, a merchant prince; Lawrence Fumio, a heroically struggling “foreign” student; and, finally, the contemporary Stephen, whose nagging questions drive him to excavate his enigmatic past. Among the book’s unusual finds, the most extraordinary is the fourteen-year-old Fumio’s student diary, which he maintained in Hiroshima from July 4, 1945, through his survival of atomic bombing and into the following autumn.

The Miwas climbed from poverty to wealth, and then fell precipitously from wealth into poverty. The most recent generations have regrouped by dint of intense determination and devotion to education, exercised against the strange transformation of Japanese Americans from despised “other” to model minority. Throughout, this resilient family has kept an outwardly facing cheerfulness, giving no clues as to what they have been through.

Tadaima! I Am Home confronts history from a largely unexplored transnational viewpoint, suggesting new ways of looking and seeing. Although it does not explicitly beg the question of internal security in the present, it poses new perspectives on immigration, acculturation, commitment to nation, and the marginalization of distrusted minorities.