He was a polished jazz player, whose poverty had less to do with his musical ability and more to do with his color. Henry had liked him immediately. Not because they were both outcasts, although if he really thought about it, that might have had a ring of truth to it—no, he liked him because of his music. (3.13)
Sheldon and Henry may seem like unlikely friends, but they totally get each other. They're both considered "other" by dominant white society, and they both enjoy listening to good jazz music.
Henry wasn't sure which was worse, being picked on for being Chinese, or being accused of being a Jap. Though Tojo, the prime minister of Japan, was known as "the Razor" because of his sharp legalistic mind, Henry only wished he were sharp enough to stay home from school when his classmates were giving speeches about the Yellow Peril. (4.10)
Being Asian isn't easy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. All the kids at school either bully or ignore Henry, and they're all convinced that he's the enemy—even though he was born in the United States, just like them.
The sum total of Henry's Japanese friends happened to be a number that rhymed with hero. His father wouldn't allow it. He was a Chinese nationalist and had been quite a firebrand in his day, according to Henry's mother. (5.10)
Henry's father totally hates Japanese people and would prefer to align his interests with white people. He expects his son to have the exact same prejudices, too, even though Henry was born in the United States and is decidedly not a Chinese nationalist.
"Hah? Plenty of Chinese workers—plenty of colored workers. They so short on labor even Boeing hiring Chinese now. Todd Shipyards is hiring and paying the same wage as Caucasian," his father said, smiling. (15.21)
Henry's father is completely unconcerned by the fact that the government is forcing people out of their homes on the basis of race alone. He has a "better them than us" mentality about the whole thing.
The clerk stood there, her fist dug into her hip. "We don't serve people like you—besides, my husband is off fighting…"
"I'll buy it," Henry said, putting his "I Am Chinese" button on the counter next to Keiko's two dollars. "I said, I'll buy it please." (24.41-42)
All it takes for the clerk at the department store to serve him is Henry saying that he's Chinese and not Japanese. The clerk's making snap judgments about people like Keiko based entirely on race. Not cool, clerk.
Almost as scared as he was to tell his parents he was meeting Keiko. He'd hinted to his mother—in English no less—that he had a Japanese friend, and she had immediately shot him her stink-eye, a look of shock so profound he immediately dropped the subject. (25.12)
Henry knows his parents won't approve of Keiko no matter how kind, smart, or respectful she is. All they see when they look at her is her Japanese ancestry—and that's enough to turn them against her.
Henry looked at his son and the young woman he was obviously enchanted with. Holding their cups. Feeling the burn. How different they were. And how little it mattered. There differences were unnoticeable. So alike, and so happy. Hard to tell where one person ended and the other began. (33.9)
When Henry sees Marty and Samantha together, he realizes that the fact that they're interracial doesn't even matter. What really matters is how happy they make each other and how good they are as a team.
"I send you to school. I negotiate your way—into a special school. I do this for you. A top white school. And what happens? Instead of studying, you're making eyes with this Japanese girl. Japanese! She's a daughter of the butchers of my people. Your people. Their blood is on her! She stinks of that blood!" (35.37)
All this time, Henry's father has been convinced that he's sending his son to a white school in order to fit in better. When he finds out that Henry has been fraternizing with a Japanese girl—a.k.a. the "enemy"—he completely loses it.
As soon as he stepped out on the sidewalk, Henry immediately felt self-conscious. Like the eyes of the world were on him, and Sheldon too. There wasn't a person of color anywhere in sight. Not even an Indian, which Henry had expected to find in a town named after an Indian tribe. Instead, they were greeted with buttoned-up white folk, all of whom seemed to take notice. (39.65)
Henry's used to feeling like an outsider, but when he gets to Idaho, that feeling becomes even more acute. There sure are a lot of white people here, and he and Sheldon don't exactly fit in.
"Henry, this isn't about us. I mean, it is, but they don't define you by the button you wear. They define you by what you do, by what your actions say about you. And coming here, despite your parents, says a lot to them—and me. And they're Americans first. They don't see you as the enemy. They see you as a person." (41.9)
Unlike Henry's parents, Keiko's parents accept him and don't care that he's Chinese American. They don't judge him based on his race; instead they love him because he has shown compassion and love toward their daughter. What a concept.