This morning, while giving my children’s story, The Magical Red Kimono, a final read-through before submitting to a publisher, I read a blog comment from my friend, Alice White. In her comment, she mentioned the scene in The Red Kimono where Sachi teaches her black friend, Jubie, to dance in her mother’s red kimono.
When I wrote this scene, I certainly did not intend Jubie dancing in Sachi’s mama’s red kimono to be any form of cultural appropriation, though, according to the Metropolitan Fine Arts Museum’s “Kimono Wednesdays” protesters, it would be.
I wrote the scene, imagining my own mother’s red kimono and remembering my childhood in California, the afternoons when my black friends who lived across the street came over and danced with my sisters and I.
In fact, I created The Magical Red Kimono around it, because we can learn a lot from children who are not so afraid of stepping over the line of political correctness, and not so easily offended. It’s important to share our cultures with each other in a way that brings us closer. Instead, we often cling so protectively it puts distance between us.
EXCERPT from The Magical Red Kimono:
Sachi watched Jubie dance and wondered if there was something magic about the red kimono. How else could her friend—her friend who wasn’t Japanese—look as if she’d danced bon-odori a hundred times before? With each graceful step, the long, silken sleeves of the red kimono floated like kites in the summer breeze.
It didn’t matter that Jubie’s dark skin was a different color from the Japanese people who would be at Obon. Her dance was as lovely as anybody’s Sachi had seen. Surely Mama would be proud. Still, worry lingered like green beans on her dinner plate.
Just then, she noticed the way Jubie held her tongue—half hanging out of her mouth and wiggling up and down with every step she took. Jubie always did that when she was concentrating, and Sachi couldn’t help but laugh.
Jubie stopped dancing. Hands on her hips, she glared at Sachi. “You laughing at me?” she asked. “Because if you are, just wait until I teach you the Boogie Woogie. Now that’ll be something to laugh about.”
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