The Red Kimono

IMG_0368Without giving away too much of my book, The Red Kimono, there is a part in the story where Mama hands Sachi her red kimono. It is Mama’s offering of acceptance and forgiveness. That’s how, for me, a red kimono came to symbolize acceptance and forgiveness. And so, that is what I call this blog. In so much of our past and present, the world could use more of both.

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Unhyphenated Patriots, Part 2

“All of us can’t stay in the camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated. I don’t know if I’ll make it back.”

The above is an excerpt from a letter written by Tech Sgt. Abraham Ohama of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team–Killed in Action 1/20/1944.

It could have as easily been written by Captain Humayun Khan.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family’s history as I watched his father, Khizr Khan, talk about the loss of his Muslim American son.

In 2011, I wrote a post titled “Unhyphenated Patriots” about the service of Japanese Americans during World War II, even as their families had been “relocated” to internment camps secured by barbed wire and armed soldiers. One of those patriots was my Uncle Yoshio.


The fear-mongering propagated by Donald Trump (and, being a life-long Republican, I’m ashamed to say, also others on the right) about Muslims–whether it’s denying entry, (Trump), “patroling and securing” Muslim neighborhoods, (Cruz) or testing for their loyalty (Gingrich), is, for me, all too similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

I’ve spoken around the country about The Red Kimono and the internment of Japanese Americans. In my conversations, most, if not all agreed–the internment of Japanese Americans is an ugly event in American history.

And yet, we’re on a slippery slope toward repeating that ugly time in our history.

If you don’t see the similarities, read about Executive Order 9066, which established military zones and curfews, and cleared the way for the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.


Or, read Questions 27 & 28 from the Loyalty Questionnaire, given to all Japanese American internees 17 years or older:lq

Uncle Yoshio served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. He was awarded the Bronze Medal and in 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal. Most importantly, he returned alive.

But, many Japanese Americans did not return from World War II, and many Muslim Americans like Captain Khan, did not return from wars in the Middle East.

I understand fear. I won’t deny I, too, am afraid at times. Perhaps I resist reacting to it because I’ve seen the “other side”–my family has been touched and affected by this kind of fear. Whatever the reason, as long as I can, I will resist allowing my fear to lead me to make decisions that discriminate against an entire people because of the actions of a relative few.


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Harnessing Heartbreak


I’m heartbroken about the events of the last week, at a loss for words–at least the right words. But my mind is swirling with a hundred different thoughts. So, this may be a rambling post, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Some of us may not want to admit it, but we all have prejudices. Worse, many of us, including most of our leaders, are also bigots. I don’t mean to be name calling–I’m counting myself in this, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But if you read the definitions below, I think you might agree.



It’s human nature to have prejudices–to make assumptions based on what we’ve experienced in the past. It’s safe. It’s easy. But rarely can an assumption about how a few people think or act be cast across an entire group of people.

And as far as bigotry goes, it too, feels safer–more empowering–to stick with those who think like we think. Who wants the discomfort and hassle of having to consider the “other side,” to compromise, to come to the center?

Yet, these “safe” zones of prejudice and bigotry have led us to fear, contempt and ultimately, hatred.

Where has it gotten us?

Nowhere. Except backwards and retreating deeper and deeper into our “safe” zones, which I believe is what led us to the tragic, horrible, sad, unbelievable events of the last week: police officers shooting and killing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The sniper massacre of five police officers in Dallas.

My mind so exploded with questions of why and how I can hardly organize my thoughts. But here’s my attempt:

  • Our bigotry–our refusal to consider the other side–has led us to a state of living in black and white. (Pun intended.) We’ve become divisive, as though there’s one right and one wrong. There are as many diverse opinions as there are colors, though we often refuse to consider them. A perfect example is people who get offended by #BlackLivesMatter or #CopsLivesMatter. One does not exclude the other.
  • Our leaders have set the example, and not in a good way. If the men and women we elect refuse to talk to “the other side,” and infer or outright preach that those who think differently are either stupid or evil, by definition, they’re bigots. If it’s okay for them, why not for us?
  • We don’t take the time or the risk to talk to those who are different from us. It’s “safer” to keep our mouths shut and hold on to our stereotypes. Too often, this means only those on the fringes voice their opinions, which serves to divide us more.
  • We’re too easily offended.
  • Social media has made all of the above worse.


We have a common enemy that’s on a path to destroy us. That enemy is hatred born of prejudice, and the fuel that feeds its fire is bigotry.

I wonder if, as we have in the past, we’ll unite against this common enemy?


I wish I knew the answers to all the questions in my head, but I don’t. But I do know violence is not the answer. And silence isn’t either.

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Where I’m From – A Poetic Study of Nobu

Cherry blossom

April is National Poetry Month, and perhaps purely by coincidence I was recently assigned a poem.

I’ve learned so much during my Foundation class, the pre-requisite to all other classes in the Writer’s Path series at SMU. I would like to share one of the many excellent exercises we’ve done in class. I liked this one in particular, because I think the end result of this character study captured Nobu so well.

Kay Honeyman, the instructor, and author of The Fire Horse Girl, first asked us to read the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon:

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

She then gave us the choice of re-writing this poem for ourselves or for one of our characters, taking each phrase, each word, and customizing/fitting it to ourselves or our characters.

First, I tried to personalize it to me. But I found it very difficult to spend that much time “analyzing” who I am. So, I chose one of my characters instead. Anyone who has read my book, Creative Characterization or who has taken one of my workshops knows I can spend hours and hours studying, analyzing and trying to figure out who my characters really are.

Interesting that they are actually all a part of me. But I suppose it feels more safe with fiction providing a little distance.

The character I chose was Nobu, and here is what I “customized” for him:

I am from pride and principle,
from fakery and façades.
I am from kimonos and culture
scented with mothballs
I am from the cherry blossom
whose flower is fading.

I am from sake and sin,
California teen relocated to Arkansas internment
I’m from know-it-alls yelling “Get out, Jap”
and pass-it-ons who preach gaman. Patience. Perseverance.
I’m from shikata ga nai, nothing can be done about it
yet my head pounds. “Why the hell not?”

I’m from Buddha and the Bible,
wise words and pages that held
secrets my mother kept,
while Papa shut his eyes so he wouldn’t see.

Under my bed was a diary
spilling all my secrets,
a sift of lost truths
to tease me in my dreams.
I am from all those moments–
snapped before I budded –

I should have been a different tree.

If you’ve read The Red Kimono, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on whether I captured Nobu with this poem. Or, even better, I’d love to see how you “customize” George Ella Lyon’s poem!

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Goodbye, Uncle Cold-Outside

I received an email from my cousin this morning that her father passed away. At the age of 97, he was the last living Sasaki of my mother’s generation, my Uncle Cold-Outside.


Uncle Cold Outside is second from the left.

Though I feel a huge sadness for my cousin’s loss and for the loss of a generation, I’d like to share a happy memory of my uncle–how he came to be “Uncle Cold-Outside.”

My mother was the youngest of nine Sasaki children. In fact, her next oldest brother was eight years older. From my earliest recollection, she told my four siblings and me that as the children of the youngest Sasaki child, we were not allowed to call our uncles by their Japanese names. She said it would be disrespectful. So, we called them by nicknames–like Uncle Fizzer–or “American” names, like Uncle Harvey. In fact, we called our mother’s oldest brother simply “Uncle.”

When we were young children, my uncles who were still single often helped my mother take care of us five children while my dad was overseas with the Air Force. You can imagine what a handful we must have seemed to a single man who didn’t have much experience with children, and I have great admiration that they tried to help their baby sister.

I can still remember my uncle responding to our whines of wanting to go outside saying, “No, it’s cold outside. Too cold outside.” And that’s how he got his name. Uncle Cold-Outside. I called him that even in my adult years, and though I hadn’t seen him for many years, I still addressed my Christmas cards to him that way.

My mother’s generation was a proud generation–Nisei–children born of Japanese immigrants. They were the generation that bridged our Japanese heritage with American culture.

I hope my cousins and I have learned enough from our parents to remember our heritage and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

Rest in peace, Uncle Cold Outside. And may God bless the Sasaki Nisei generation.

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Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I’d like to share a brief excerpt from my work-in-process sequel to The Red Kimono.

The following scene takes place on May 29, 1958, at the Little Rock Central High School graduation. On that day, Ernest Green, became the first black person graduate from Little Rock Central High School, after he and eight other African American teenagers (known as the Little Rock Nine,) enrolled at the school. Their enrollment was followed by the Little Rock Crisis, an event in which Governor Orval Faubus attempted to prevent the students from entering the racially segregated school, and President Eisenhower sent federal troops to protect the nine students.

NOTE: I have researched all historical events to the best of my ability to assure historical accuracy. However, if you should read and see errors, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

Ernest Green, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Daisy Bates

Ernest Green, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Daisy Bates


As the sun set behind the stadium, the warm, humid air turned damp and cool. Sachi buttoned her sweater as she watched the long procession of graduates begin to cross the stage.

Adams, Anderson, Avery…Baker, Bevins, Brown… Cheers came in waves through the audience, led by family and friends of each graduate. Carver, Cassidy, Clayton…Davis, Decker, Draper…More whistles and cheers. Eckhardt, Edwards, Evans…Fenton, Flanders, Franks…Sachi sat up straight, excited to see history made when Ernest Green crossed the stage.

Gavin, Gotwals . . . more cheering, and Sachi prepared to cheer for the only person she’d come to see.

“Ernest Green.”

She stood to clap, but Terrence grabbed her arm and pulled her down. Silence shuddered through the night and she felt a thousand eyes upon her.

But the first Negro to graduate from Little Rock Central High School walked across that stage with his head held high. And his mama watched, like they were the only two people in the world.

The cheering continued with the call of the next name, and Sachi again felt the complete loneliness of being in a group of those not wanted. The only comfort she found was in the congratulations being whispered up and down the row of colored people.

The rest of the ceremony dragged on, from H through Z. She only clapped because everyone else in her row clapped, perhaps to be polite. Or, perhaps they were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t.

When at last the graduates sang “On Tigers!” and tossed their caps into the air, Sachi had never been so happy for an event to be over.

As they turned to leave, Terrence touched her arm. “Sachi, Jubie, wait. There’s someone else I’d like you to meet before we leave.”

When Sachi turned around, she saw the man who had been sitting beside Daisy now stood next to Terrence.

“Sachi, Jubie, this is Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King, these are my friends, Sachi Clark and Jubie Franklin.”

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