One of my students from last year wrote this amazing story in her 5th grade study of Human Rights. They chose a Human Rights issue, researched it, designed a presentation, and wrote a historical fiction piece. This is her first draft. To see how one of my former students has continued her journey as a writer is so amazing. It also turns out she’s one of my future students, since I’ll be teaching 6th grade next year.
Yuki looked like a wild horse, galloping through the streets of the small, friendly town, her silky black hair flying through the wind. The glaring sun beamed down at her.
“Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” she screamed. “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!”
Months later, when the event was forgotten in that small Japanese American town, Yuki snatched a rusty red radio from her windowsill. The sun was streaming in. It was early afternoon, and a long shadow was cast behind the silent radio. She leapt outside, meeting a group of friends on her dusty stoop. The crackling voice begins, reciting a shock. “Recently signed Executive Order 9066 allows people of any race or culture to be evacuated throughout the war,” then she added, “and most believe that Japanese Americans will be targeted because of the threat posed by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December.” Yuki could taste the blood in her mouth as she felt the inside of her cheek with her tongue. Yep, she’d bit off some skin.
Just over a month passed, and Yuki had again forgotten about the day when the rusty red radio spoke those words. Just emerging from an orange grove, her and her friends were making their way home from school. Straight in front of her, her eyes were glued to a familiar wood post, for they had nowhere else to rest. She bent her fingers back until they screamed with a fire of pain inside of her. Her thoughts embraced the post, the imperfect edges, all the splinters from it that had pierced her skin, all the times she danced with joy around it, everything. She ran to the post, her friends close behind her. Cupping her hand so that it rested on it perfectly, she prepared herself to skip around it. But there was a paper in her way. A paper with bold lettering, tied to the post with a confident nail. She usually would have not stopped to acknowledge it, but she surprised herself and stopped in her tracks. She read it with worry– nearly tears– in her eyes. The radio was right. They (and all other Japanese Americans) had to evacuate to internment camps in 6 days! Her mind raced. How would they make it? Who would she tell first?
Before she knew it, it was all over. With nothing but clothes and her favorite bandana, Yuki was stepping on cold, metal steps onto the cold, metal train, her mother and her sister Keiko by her side. Her father had died long ago. All around her were mothers, their arms wrapped around their children, children with needy, tearful looks in their eyes, and men with their work caps, standing tall, clutching handles. Everyone was swaying with the train. And before long, Yuki felt like one of them too, swaying with the crowd, going to a place unknown.
For one sweaty month, Yuki lived in horse stables. The space was so small that it felt like all the emotions, health, everything was cramming, spreading, and exploding throughout the crowd. You could see and feel everything that the person next to you saw and felt. There wasn’t even enough room to breathe your own breath, say your own words, feel your own things, or think your own thoughts before someone else’s life butted into yours. Yuki desperately needed to start doing karate kicks, her fury and frustration flying with her power.
Finally it was over. But nobody was preparing themselves to float home with relief, back to their beautiful lives. No. They were preparing themselves for something very different. Yuki sat again on a cold, metal train, but the air was so fresh and cool, she didn’t mind quite so much.
Wind was blowing through her silky black hair again. Her hair was flying through the fresh wind. Everyone else’s hair was tied up in a tight knot. Everyone else had stiff, short headcovers of hair. Everyone else’s hair was bottling up their emotions and freedom. Only Yuki’s hair was free. Only Yuki was still Yuki.
The buildings in Amache were brand new, you could tell. But that didn’t mean they seemed like a good place to live, a place worthy of human beings. People were already settling into their new homes though, and the dust behind the train was settling too, for it had flew in the air, surprised by the train’s passing.
All of Yuki’s friends were far, far away, and karate kicks weren’t helping. Yuki buried her face in her pillow all day, everyday, for there was no school. All Yuki could think was I’ve lost myself, the world is ending, and I’m only 8 years old. Yuki thought of the days when everything was going to be alright, when she and her best friends had hid out in Ms. Breed’s library just for the fun of it, staying there for a long as they felt like it. And Ms. Breed had always just given them a smile, letting them giggle and sit there, never telling them what to do, when and how, as Yuki’s mother would have. Then, as if the world had read her mind, Yuki discovered that she got a letter. There was a slightly dented corner, but her name was right there on the front, and that was all that mattered. Then, smaller, as if the writer was less important, was the name Ms. Breed. Dear Yuki, I was just thinking of you. Every afternoon I absentmindedly wait for you and your friends to arrive here, giggling and talking. How are the camps? What was it like to live in a horse stable for a month? I miss you, and I hope everything’s okay. Ms. Breed.
10 days had passed, and Yuki had written back the best letter she could. With Ms. Breed’s support by her side, Yuki managed to get out of bed and out of the building. Far away on the horizon was a snow covered mountain. Nearly just as far away she saw adults working, leaning down to the ground with metal bars by their feet. A ball flying through the air caught her eye, and to her surprise, there were some older girls, about Keiko’s age, 11, playing volleyball and smiling. Yuki felt like a baby bear, just coming out of it’s den for the first time, a whole new world to discover, one very different than it’s old one. All of the sudden, Yuki felt and heard someone breathing beside her. She turned, and it was a guard. She stepped back. Yuki once again felt the pain of the skin inside her cheek squeezed between her teeth.
“I won’t hurt you,” said the guard, in a gentle father-like voice, one she hadn’t heard in a long time. He seemed almost hurt, but more sorry that she was scared of him. Yuki let out a sigh of relief, as if she knew she could trust him. He had long skinny legs, and he was tall, towering over her. Her relieved grip on the skin in her mouth tightened. But then he made a surprising move, and Yuki knew that he wasn’t truly a guard inside. Seriously Yuki, now you’re becoming Keiko? The guard bent down and squatted by her side. He looked her right in the eye, and said merely,
“Hello”. Then he stood up, and their fixed gazes wandered again.
Many hours later, at nearly the tip of night, midnight, when all the lights are dark, and the camps are dead silent, a whisper rises from Yuki’s mouth. It seemed like she had almost broken a spell.
“I met a guard.”
“He sounded like a father. He was nice.”
“He squatted and looked me in the eye.”
“Did you see?”
“Good. Do you see without really seeing?”
“Would you like to meet him?”
“What? We have to wait until morning?”
“Well can we go then?”
“I just know.”
“So then you do see without seeing.”
One month had passed, and never had the right day come for Keiko to meet the guard. Just moments after Keiko and Yuki had settled into bed on the fourth of July, Keiko whispered to Yuki.
Slipping outside, Yuki in her bare feet, Keiko in slippers, the two moved through the dust. Yuki leaping, Keiko gracefully tiptoe sliding as if on ice. As they approached the guard, he had his hands behind his back, his eyes glued to the sky. Keiko nodded. Yuki looked up at the sky, joining the guard. The sky was filled with stars, each shining with it’s own special beauty, though disguised by how it blends with the many.