Friday, April 24, 2015

See why this novel is invited to Japan!

I grew up in classrooms filled with kids and teachers from all over the world. My high school, Canadian Academy, located in Kobe on top of a hill, had a view of the harbor which looked beautiful. My school also had a grassy area where we ate lunch in the warmer months. I recall looking around at my senior friends and noting the countries they represented. Malfrid from Norway, Sophie from France, Jules from Canada (the French region of Quebec), Sangeeta from India and Japan, Nada from Lebanon, Katie from California, USA. We are like a United Nations, I thought.

I know I almost failed algebra. And hated biology. But I never recalled learning anything in history about internment camps for Japanese-Americans during War World II.

I wish I had listened. One of my classmates' mom was in a camp during her youth. But that didn't register in my mind until long after I held my high school diploma.

It would be years later when I felt the need to write about this period of history. It would be when living in another country, at another setting. In North Carolina, I heard my friend Artie Kamiya talk about his mother who had been forced to spend years in a camp in Colorado after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. Shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed, those of Japanese descent on the West Coast of the U.S. were sent to various camps. Many forced to these camps were American citizens. Most had never even been to Japan.

This shows just has strong fear and prejudice go and how they eat at people's hearts and minds. Americans, born in the United States, had to leave their homes, board trains with one suitcase each, and head to bleak camps where barracks became dwelling places.

I wrote Under the Silk Hibiscus with the help of materials I received from Artie's mom. I was also able to interview Terri Takiguchi, a woman in my church who was sent from her life in California to a camp in Arizona during the war.

And this time I listened. At my computer, I heard the voices of dozens of others as I watched videos about one camp in particular---Heart Mountain in Wyoming. This camp became the setting for my fictional family, Nathan Mori, his siblings, mother, and aunt.

When I got the news that my high school wants me to come to Japan as an alumni author in residence, I couldn't believe it! Even now, most days, I think that I'm still dreaming. It's been since 1988 when I was there last as a teacher of English.

Early next year, I'll be flying to Japan, the country of my birth and childhood. In addition to going on a field trip with ninth graders to Hiroshima, I'll share about being an author and how I researched for my novel. I hear authentic food calling my name, too: Unagi, katsudon, chirashizushi, oyakodomburi, an pan, and of course, green tea ice cream (as pictured below).

I know it will be a most wonderful reunion.

You can read more about Under the Silk Hibiscus here.

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