by Cynthia Kadohata
I know that as I go through life, I will not understand all that happens in the world or even in my own life. The evaucation and interment of Japanese Americans fits this case of not understanding. However, after thinking about this a little while, I believe that I can relate this to a certain situation of today. Instead of the issue being Pearl Harbor and the Japanese, it is the case of September 11 and Muslims. I know many Americans who looked at Muslims in America with skepticism and a hate to some degree. I do not think that any people group should be judged in this way. Thank goodness America has not treated the Muslims the way that Japanese Americans were treated in 1944. I was suprised as I read these internment camps were called America's concretation camps, and the U.S. did not realize they were doing the exact same thing as the Nazis! This broke and angered my heart as I realized the extravagent injustice the 120,00 Japanese Americans faced as they were placed in these internment camps.
Something else I had troube understanding was that even though America was in war with Germany and Italy at the time, this order of relocation did not apply to German Americans and Italian Americans. Why is this?
As I have read Weedflower, I have tried to place myself in Sumiko and her family's situation. However, I do not think that I can even begin to feel the sorrow and loss that they faced.
Sumiko reminds me of many twelve year old girls as she dreams, imagines, and longs to be accepted by other girls her age. I believe that we all can connect with Sumiko when her grandfather says that her head is divided in half: the half that likes to work and the half that likes to daydream. As Sumiko daydreams and anticipates Marsha's upcoming party, I was excited for her. When she was told to leave by Marsha's mother, I wanted to scream "NO! NO!"
My heart broke for Sumiko. I can only imagine the hurt that she must have felt. Students can connect with Sumiko here, for surely they have looked foward to an event, maybe a party or dance. They can then imagine what Sumiko must have felt as she was told to leave and embarrassed in front of her classmates! This is also a great way for students to understand that all peoples desire friendship and realize that what happened to Sumiko is a great example of social injustice. She was not allowed into the party because she was Japanese. Is this fair?
Students can also learn about Japanese traditions, customs, and religion through Sumiko's family. I found the bath ritual very interesting! Sumiko starts a fire under the bathtub to get the water warm. The order of the family bathing is in order of age, which starts with the men. Before anyone can take a bath, they must wash themselves off with a sponge, soap, and a bucket of water. Sumiko and her auntie are the last two to get a bath and in order to save water, the bath water is not changed every time! The bathtub water is Sumiko's job as well as grading flowers, which her uncle says that only she can do because of her gentle and quick hands. Sumiko is a very hard worker and seems to enjoy what she does. She loves being on the flower farm. She knows that her family are very dependent on the flowers and she seems to cherish them. When Sumiko is in the internment camp, her demeanor greatly changes. She often speaks of the "ultimate boredom" and how lazy she has become because there is no work to do. I can only imagine how much she misses her home and life on the beautiful flower farm. In fact, in the relocation camp, Mrs. Ono receives a letter from the new owner of her house telling her that she will take care of her dog until her release. Sumiko says that reading a letter seeing the sky. "It gave her so much hope , it seemed like a miracle." I also can not imagine selling all my possessions...what about setting afire all that may "look" American? Sumiko and her family had to burn anything that was Japanese including the picture of Sumiko's parents. I wanted to cry when Baba was sold because Tak-Tak's heart was broken. Tak-Tak loved Baba. Sumiko sat with him in the hay for an hour, until his sobs turned to whimpers. When they went inside they found their beds had been sold. Is there any possible way that we can begin to imagine what they are facing? I do not think so.
Students can learn a bit about the Buddhist religion through Sumiko's family. For example, Buddhists believe that you suffer in this life so you can learn and be a better person in the next life. Also, even though Buddhists do not believe in Jesus Christ, they celebrate Christmas by getting a tree and giving gifts.
Tak-Tak carrying pet crickets for good luck introduces an interesting concept in Japanese culture.
The Japanes Americans must have felt much like the Aleutians in that they felt unwanted wherever they were taken. On the way from the racetrack to Poston, they had to ride on a train in almost complete darkness because the Japanese were told to pull down the blinds. When Sumiko drew one up, she found people throwing rocks at the train and she did not understand what they did wrong. Sumiko realizes that they are not wanted in California, the racetrack, and now they are not wanted even at Poston because the internment camp is on an Indian reservation.
I would also challenge students to place themselves in the poistion of Sumiko and Tak-Tak as they step off the train in a whole new area, not knowing what to expect. They must have been very fearful in the dust storm, when the bus had to stop and was surrounded by brown dust. When they arrive in Poston, Tak-Tak says, "What's that? It feels weird in the air." He did not understand what hot was because they had never experienced a hotness like this. Sumiko says that it was like the heat from the fire was always blowing around instead of staying in one spot. Poston is the Colorado Relocation Center which contains 3 camps and will hold more that 17,000 Japanese Americans. There was 14 barracks to a block and each barrack was 20 feet by 100 feet. This area would hold four families. They Japanese tried to make the best of their life here, making clubs such as the sewing clubs, starting recreation groups and tournaments and planting gardens. This also reminds me of how the Aleutians made the best of their situation in the camps by storytelling, worshiping, and dancing.
The ending of Chapter 15 gives us a glimpse into Sumiko's character; "For Sumiko, her whole life, from the day she was born, had been a lesson in how to change your lot by accepting it and learning from it." Sumiko has had a trying life-her parents dying when she was young, doing her best to be a hard worker on the farm, trying to take care of her younger brother Tak-Tak, and now being torn away from her beautiful flower farm. Sumiko has dreams, much like all of us, and her dream is to go to college and get her business degree so she could run her flower shop. However, now she feels as if her dream is gone. Her dreams have been crushed because she has been torn away the farm she loves, from the life she shared with her family in California. In the middle of the desert, it is hard for Sumiko to imagine her dream ever coming true.
How would we feel if our dreams were made to dissapear due to circumstances beyond our control?
Sumiko learned how to make the best of her life in camp. She found joy in gardening, and this gave her something to look foward to each day. She tried her best to help Mr. Moto grow flowers and beans. She made shade for the flowers with cheesecloth and put organic matter around the flowers, just like Bull told her to. When her flowers blossemed, they were the colors of the rainbow! I can only imagine the joy that Sumiko felt as she was able to experience a little bit of home in the middle of the desert. When Sumiko and Mr. Moto won third place in the competition, I was very excited for them! Sumiko had even prepared a speech in case they won first place.
Sumiko's friendship with Frank reminded me of the friendship with Vera and Alfred in Aleutian Sparrow. Both pairs have feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. Both have to comfort each other and encourage each other through difficuilt times. However, while Vera and Alfred are both Aleutians, Sumiko and Frank are not of the same ethnic group. While Sumiko is Japanese, Frank is a Mohave Indian. Sumiko is even a bit afraid for other Japanese to know about her friendship. When Frank does come to camp, Sumiko fights for him, hitting a boy in the face with a piece of wood when he was trying to beat Frank. She believes that because she had protected Frank, she felt like he was now officially and defintley her friend. Students can be asked about their friendhships. Do they have friends who are willing to do what Sumiko did for Frank? Will their friends defend them and sacrifice for them? Why is this such an important part of being a good friend? Friendship can also be related to India in Winn Dixie. She became friends with those who were not just like her didn't she? She befriended Otis, Miss Fannie, Gloria Dump, Amanda, and the Dunlap boys. While they were not all exactly like, they develped trughful friendships. Students should understand that it is wonderful and rewarding to make friends with those who are not exactly like they are!
Students can also be asked to write about whether they think that Sumiko and Frank will continue to be friends. Even though Sumiko is leaving, will they write each other? Will Sumiko wear the bracelet Frank gave her every day? Where will Frank put the samuri that Frank gave her. The teacher may even want to ask the students to make pretend letters that Sumiko and Frank may have written to each other.
Weedflower is truly a wonderful historical fiction book. Students are able to place themselves in this time period through the eyes of Sumiko. They can realize the sorrow that the Japanese faced. The facts from the past become living, breathing drama, significant beyond thier own time. Students are able to perceive past events and issues as they were experienced by the people at the time. Therefore, this is a great historical fiction novel, which should be read by all elementary school students during the teaching of WWII.