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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The Crack and the Light at Highland Park High School


“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
~~Leonard Cohen

On Friday, I was honored to participate in the Highland Park Literary Festival. I was first greeted by several parents who had dedicated many long hours organizing the festival. At several points during the day, I thought about how lucky HP students were to have a group of parents and teachers work together to provide an opportunity to be introduced to a variety of arts and artists.

Next, I met a few of the teachers, including Aaron Smith, Creative Writing teacher and Faculty Advisor for HP LitFest. We had an enjoyable conversation about writing and I told him how my Creative Writing teacher in high school had been instrumental in inspiring my desire to be a writer.

I met several other authors, a songwriter and a playwright, and was even fortunate to have a few minutes to talk to one of my favorite authors, and the keynote speaker for HP LitFest, Jamie Ford. We talked about how he balances appearances with his writing, about the Japanese American internment and how his book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet inspired me to keep writing The Red Kimono. Then, he said, “If I purchase a copy of The Red Kimono, would you sign it?”

jamie-ford

It was a “James at 15” moment for me–an awkward, thrilling, calm-down-or-you’ll-look-like-an-idiot moment. (Jamie talked about his “James at 15” moments in his presentation on Friday night.) I’m not ashamed to say I was thrilled that one of my favorite authors had asked me for an autograph.

Then, because I had not yet presented my workshops, I asked how his presentations with the students had gone. He had just begun to tell me about some of the challenges he’d experienced the day before, when another woman approached him for an autograph.

I didn’t want to monopolize my time with Jamie, (oh, yes I did, but I think I subliminally knew that listening to this very experienced speaker talk about his challenges would not help the jitters I often experience before a presentation,) so I excused myself.

Fast forward to Saturday night:

A friend of mine messaged me and asked if I’d seen what Jamie had written about his experience. I hadn’t, so I went to look for it.

  • Click HERE to read on his website.
  • To read on Facebook with comments, click HERE.
  • To read the article in the Dallas Morning News, click HERE.

I was saddened, surprised and disappointed to read the details of what had happened at the Freshman/Sophomore assembly. After all, my experience had been a positive one, with only a couple of “challenging” moments.

From first walking into the school, I was pleased to see how polite and mature the students seemed as they entered and greeted the guard with a smile and “Good morning.”

In the first class where I presented my workshop, the students were engaged and attentive as I presented “Creative Characterization: Discovering Your Character’s Secrets.” Any hint of inattention was promptly “redirected” by the teacher in the class, Mrs. Campbell. The students did the exercises, and several shared what they wrote, and I was impressed by the writing quality. A few asked questions, and almost every student thanked me personally when my workshop was over.

In the second class, the students were more distracted. I asked how many were writers and nobody raised their hands. (That’s not a problem, but discussing ways to get characters to “talk” can present a challenge when presenting to non-writers, whether high school or not.) So, I noticed a couple of snickers. Also, not everyone participated in the exercises. At various times, a couple of girls talked while I was talking. Nobody wanted to share what they’d written, although after a bit of cajoling, one young man agreed to read what he wrote. Nobody had questions. As a result we finished several minutes early.

None of what happened in the second class was a big deal to me, as nobody was overtly impolite–simply not interested, which is fine. All in all, it was a very positive experience.

For me.

Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case with Jamie Ford’s treatment during his presentation, and therein lies the “crack” in HP LitFest.

There is a crack in everything…

I was not at the assembly where the problems occurred, but I did have the opportunity to interact with many students, staff and volunteers at HP LitFest.

After reading Jamie’s article, as well as the Dallas Morning News article and most of the comments on Facebook, I believe the chanting and clapping was begun by a relatively small group of students. But there were no consequences for this behavior, so apparently, peer pressure drew in other students.

Jamie received many emails from students, apologizing for the behavior of some at Highland Park High School. Several parents commented on Facebook that their children came home and expressed embarrassment for what happened. Several students made public statements of apology on Facebook.

But, why didn’t an anyone stand up and say something? Students? Staff? And most of all, the principal, who was apparently present?

My attempt to answer lies in my own reason for initially wanting to “stay out of it.” At first, I hesitated to publicly comment at all. For one, I tend to avoid conflict. Second, I have family members (by marriage) who are Highland Park alumni. Third–and perhaps where I’m most vulnerable–one of my desires as a writer is to have more opportunities to speak about writing or the history of the Japanese American internment to schools. So, I hesitated to “bite” a hand that could feed that desire.

But, after reading many comments, I decided if I kept my mouth shut, I’d be as complicit in what happened as the students, the teachers and the principal. After all, they each had reasons why they didn’t speak up.

So, apologies for the long lead-up and why I finally thought it important to speak up.

Freshman and sophomore years are tough. In every presentation I’ve made to a variety of schools, this seems to be the most challenging age. However, that’s no excuse to bully–not a guest in your own school–not anybody.

I believe part of the problem with kids behaving like that–kids believing they can behave like that–has to do with the fact they believe they won’t suffer consequences, which makes me wonder about the culture of discipline/consequences at Highland Park High School. Why didn’t the principal say something?

At first, I regretted Jamie wrote the article. But, not writing it would be rather like ignoring the truth in a dysfunctional family. Ignoring the truth doesn’t make the problem non-existent and it certainly doesn’t make it go away. This ugly thing happened, and one of the consequences should be that the world knows about it.

In my opinion, what happened on Thursday is a microcosm of what has gone on and what continues to go on in the larger world–bullying and complacency.

Bullying, unfortunately, happens all around us. It’s rampant on social media. The news media in the last week has been flooded with images of adults yelling and screaming at their representatives at town hall meetings. The President of the United States is a bully. I can certainly see where kids might think, “If it’s okay for adults to act this way, why not us?”

And I’m as guilty as anyone about “wanting to stay out of it.” But complacency allowed the very history about which Jamie Ford and I have written–the Japanese American internment–as well as many dark events in history. And, there’s certainly plenty going on today about which we should speak up.

Both happened at Jamie’s assembly–bullying and complacency.

But, there will always be bullies.

Perhaps attention would be better directed toward finding ways to teach the larger population of students–those who were embarrassed and who took the time to write Jamie Ford to apologize–how to stand up against bullying, discrimination, or anything they know in their hearts and minds is wrong.

Those “messages” coming from their hearts and minds might be strengthened by finding ways to teach and develop empathy, something I believe more and more, has been lost through technology. So much of our communication occurs online, where it’s easy not to think about the person behind the “likes,” angry-faced emoticons and tweets.

I doubt the “bullies” at Highland Park gave a thought to how it would feel to be on that stage in front of, in Jamie’s words, “a thousand students, trolling me.”

Jamie’s article certainly revealed a crack. But the light shining through illuminates an opportunity to help students with one of the greatest challenges of being an adult–finding the courage to speak up.

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The Heavy Fog of Fear


A few days ago, the intensity of my drive to outwardly disagree with Trump’s hasty actions and foolhardy words went into overdrive when I heard about the Executive Order to ban immigrants.

But, it’s not wise to share opinions on social media while in high gear emotionally, so, with friends and family in town on Saturday night, I looked forward to the opportunity to let go for awhile. Over wine and cheese, we avoided all talk of politics and instead talked about kids, grandkids, weddings and childhood memories. Following a delicious Indian dinner cooked by my sisters, Kim and Cyndie, we sat down to look at a box of pictures Cyndie recently found in my mother’s garage.

Among the treasure chest of pictures–mostly of my mother’s youth–were several pictures I’d never seen before. When I came upon two of them, the 800 lb gorilla (named Donald Trump) burst free from the cage I’d placed him in earlier.

fullsizerender-80This is a photograph of my mother’s high school class. I’m not sure which year, but it looks like it may have been her freshman year, which would have made it 1949–five years after the end of World War II. During that war, she spent four years behind barbed at Tule Lake and Topaz internment camps.

Why? Because she–like approximately 120,000 other Japanese (2/3 of whom were American citizens)–looked like the enemy.

img_0757Then I found this picture, a photograph of my mother with her oldest brother, Yoshio, who 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 served while his family was interned, solely for looking like the enemy.

Here’s the Executive Order that led to the internment:

eo9066

Which led to this:

poster

Which led to internment of those perceived as possible “spies and saboteurs.”

tule-lake2 tule-lake-1

Click HERE to read the text of Trump’s Executive Order titled, “PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES.”

I couldn’t help but think about the earlier interview I’d seen with one of the detainees who had been held at JFK.

“…because I work with the U.S. government. I support the U.S. government from the other side of the world. But when I came here, they said ‘no,’ and they treat me as if I broke the rules or did something wrong.”

Here’s a statistic you might find interesting. Between 1975 and 2015, foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen killed exactly zero Americans on U.S. soil, according to an analysis of terror attacks by the Cato Institute.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Approximately 85% of all suspects who took steps toward terrorist-related violence inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks were U.S. citizens or legal residents and about half were born U.S. citizens, New America Foundation officials calculated. 

The following chart from the Wall Street Journal shows the nationalities of people who committed terrorist acts in the U.S. since 9/11:

wsj-chart

So here are a couple of questions I have:

  1. How does this Executive Order address what appears to be our greatest security threat with regard to terrorism – home-grown terrorists?
  2. Why weren’t Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt included?

To me, most disturbing of all is the indefinite suspension of the admission of all refugees into the United States. Trump stated:

I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry.

Detrimental? According to CNN and the Cato Institute:

No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States, according to an analysis of terrorism immigration risks by the Cato Institute.

Here’s a more accurate representation of why Syrians seek refuge.

syrian-boy-1If Trump is a master of anything, it’s playing to our fears.

  • Today, we react to our fears that any Muslim might be a terrorist.
  • In 1939, 900 Jews arrived on the MS St. Louis and were denied access to the United States due to strict immigration quotas. According The Atlantic, 254 of those people died in the Holocaust.
  • In 1942, we ordered 120,000 people of Japanese descent to live in barracks behind barbed wire for four years–my mother and her family included–because, solely based on race, it was feared they would commit acts of espionage or sabotage.

We must remember our history so that we may find our conscience through the heavy fog of fear.

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Christmas Excerpt from The Red Kimono


My historical fiction, The Red Kimono, opens with eight-year old Sachi searching for a Christmas present on December 7, 1941.

mom girlThough Sachi was loosely based on the life of my mother, this scene was based on memories of my own childhood–sneaking around, trying to find Christmas presents my parents might have hidden.

Now, as an adult, I must admit, I’d rather be surprised.

What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

 

EXCERPT:

Like a broken record, Papa’s words played over and over in Sachi’s mind.
Remember gaman, Sachi-chan. You must learn to be patient.
But Christmas was still eighteen days away. Be patient? It was like asking a bird not to fly. She tiptoed into her parents’ room and opened the closet door, hoping the squeaking hinges wouldn’t tattle on her. Pushing her mother’s dresses apart, she searched for presents that might be hidden in the darkness. Anticipation tingled in her hands. Finally, Papa had convinced Mama it would be okay to celebrate Christmas. Sachi giggled to herself, imagining how he must have convinced her.
“Sumiko, I doubt Buddha would have a concern with our family celebrating Christmas the way most Americans do.”
Pearl Harbor . . . surprise attack . . . sinking ships . . .
Sachi jolted at the words that came from a scratchy voice that drifted in from the living room radio and grabbed at Mama’s dresses to regain her balance. Several fell from their hangers.
Taro is in Pearl Harbor!
Images of her oldest brother, surrounded by explosions, flashed in front of her eyes as she ran downstairs. “Papa! Mama!”
Her parents sat across from each other in front of the radio, so still they reminded Sachi of mannequins she’d seen in department store windows. All that moved was the steam rising from the hot tea on the table next to Papa. His eyes looked strange as he stared at it.

The first person to share a Christmas memory in the comments will receive one of my original collage or painted cards, similar to the one below. If you’re the first person to comment, be sure to click HERE to send me your mailing address.

card

Click HERE to return to Home Page

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Our Cracked Nation


There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~~Leonard Cohen

Yes, it’s been over a week ten days since Leonard Cohen passed away, which will give you a clue about how long I’ve been working on this blog post, which should give you a hint about how scattered my thoughts have been since the election.

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, wrote in her column, “Leonard Cohen on Democracy and Redemption”:

One of [Cohen’s] most beloved lyric lines, from the song “Anthem” — a song that took Cohen a decade to write — remains what is perhaps the most meaningful message for our troubled and troubling times: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

In the last week, my feelings have ricocheted between anger and shikata ga nai (Japanese for “it cannot be helped) as I’ve searched for “the light trying to get in.”

After five seven eight nine days of reading hundreds of people’s comments on Facebook/Twitter and watching the news media’s struggle to figure out what happened and what is yet to happen, I can’t tell if I’m coming out of my election-induced fog or going deeper into it.

That’s probably why I’ve been working on this post for three nine days now, not only trying to figure it out for myself, but debating what should and shouldn’t be said.

My hesitance in posting this blog has a lot to do with the criticism I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter toward those who do not appear to be angry enough or reactionary enough. I do understand this. As with every other election in which I’ve participated during my lifetime, everyone is dealing with the results of the election in his/her own way. But this cycle, the divisiveness of our opinions has led people to talk about “unfriending,” or even leaving Facebook all together–myself included.

Then, a few days ago, a friend (my cousin’s cousin) and I, while discussing the election, began talking about gaman.

gaman

I had to laugh when I read one of his posts in reference to a documentary on the Japanese actor, Toshiro Mifune:

gaman

Oddly enough, this Facebook conversation gave me focus on the underlying feeling I’ve had as I’ve seen the interactions of friends and family on social media and listened to news stories full of nothing more than opinions on what’s going to happen next.

We need more gaman, “enduring with patience and dignity”–maybe even more quiet, (or as Ron learned, “shutting up”), at least for now.

I mean no offense to anyone, so let me explain. Here’s where I think we need a little “quiet”:

Social Media
Each person has his/her own ideas of . . . well, everything. And although part of the “light” I’ve seen is a need for open, honest, respectful, conversation, unfortunately, that’s very difficult at this moment in time when emotions still run high, especially on social media.

Maybe it’s our inability to hear voice inflections, or to see the expression on each other’s faces. Or, perhaps it’s that social media often serves as a bullying safety zone. Regardless of the reason, there’s no doubt, the opportunity for misunderstanding/defensiveness/anger/hurt is great.

Staying “quiet” on Facebook has not been an easy thing to do, and I have slipped a few times. We all want to express our opinions, but problems arise when we don’t want to hear anybody else’s opinion, and this seems to be happening more and more on social media.

Besides:

facebook-change-mind

So, for now anyway, this is one area I think we may need a little more gaman, even if it means being quiet on social media.

Our Inner Voice
I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes I am easily offended. Though I have no problem at all with an opinion different from mine, those differing opinions are sometimes expressed in less than respectful ways, especially at a time like now, when emotions run high. I sometimes take that personally.

One of the agreements in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements is:

four-agreements

Quiet your inner voice. As this agreement says, what others say is a projection of their own reality and has nothing to do with you.

News Media
Lots to talk about here:

  • Speculations and Crystal Balls
  • Fake News
  • Confirmation Bias

Speculations and Crystal Balls: If you’ve followed my blog, you probably already know I’m a news junkie addict. I want to know what’s going on, and in the past, I’ve believed the pundits knew what they were talking about, which gave me a feeling of security control.

For over a year, I watched the news daily, sometimes hourly, to see what was going on–what Trump said, what Hillary said about what Trump said, vice versa and blah, blah, blah.

Tuesday night, November 8, almost every news media organization predicted Hillary Clinton would be our next president. Even by President Elect Trump’s own admission, neither he nor his team believed he would win.

In the end, what a waste of time to have watched so closely.

And it continues, even after the election–the sensationalizing of stories that drum up fear and the doling out of mega-doses of guesswork by “experts” about what a Trump presidency will be like.

At this point, it’s almost ALL speculation, and I’m doing my best to quiet my fears about speculation. What I verify has actually happened, (which leads me to the next topic!) I will take action upon, but it probably won’t be via social media.

Fake News
Another reason I’ve been tempted to get off of Facebook is all the fake news I see being shared–as serious news. The problem has become so rampant that both Google and Facebook are taking aim at fake news sites.

For obvious reasons, fake news is something about which we all need to SHUT-UP. In nicer words, please verify news before sharing it.

confirmation-bias

Click HERE for excellent information on websites known for fake/misleading/unreliable/slanted/satirical news.

Confirmation Bias
I used to watch Fox News all…the…time. As a result, I could hardly stand the thought of watching MSNBC or reading the New York Times. One day, I’d had enough of their FOX NEWS ALERTS (everything was an ALERT!) so I started watching CNN.

Now, although I primarily watch CNN, I occasionally switch over to Fox or MSNBC, just for the sake of seeing the difference in how the news is being reported. If you’ve never tried this, take it from me. There’s a huge difference in either how news is being reported, or what news is being reported.

Seeing this difference, it’s no surprise to me that people saw Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton so differently during the campaign.

If you’ve never compared how news is being reported on different venues, click HERE to take a look at this Wall Street Journal graphic titled “Red Feed, Blue Feed.” This graphic publishes liberal and conservative Facebook posts side by side in close-to real time.

red-blue

We need to challenge our confirmation bias. Read or listen to sources that are outside of your comfort zone, with as open a mind as possible.

_______________________

I hope you understand that the “quiet” I speak about is not that we should remain quiet about wrongs or injustices. But there is a time and a place for speaking out, and at least for now, I’m not sure about the effectiveness of social media because nobody is really listening. We’re only pounding our chests.

Most of all, I believe we need to do what we can to silence the fake news and minimize our confirmation bias. How else can we come to understand what’s true, and not what’s to be feared? More important, it’s how we can better come to understand each other, which for me, is the light shining through the crack in our nation.

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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.

uncleyoshioc

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.

9066

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.

courage

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