Kiuchi, an 87-year-old Bellevue man, spent three years in Japanese internment camps as a boy in the 1940s. He shares those experiences as a speaker with the Japanese Cultural &Community Center of Washington.
Ford, a writer who lives in Montana, used the history of Japanese-Americans detained during World War II as a centerpiece in his novel, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” His best-seller was the Everett Public Library’s Everett Reads! selection in 2011.
Loucks, an English teacher at Everett’s Cascade High, recently assigned Ford’s book to seniors in his College in the High School classes. In partnership with Everett Community College, the classes let Cascade students earn EvCC credit.
For several years, Loucks’ seniors have read “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” a tale that begins in Seattle. It follows the friendship and enduring love between Henry, a Chinese-American boy, and Keiko, a Japanese-American girl. Keiko is sent off to the Minidoka War Relocation Center, an internment camp in Idaho.
In the past, the author has video-chatted with Cascade students via Skype. This year, Ford visited the school. He spoke with Loucks’ students March 31. His late father, who grew up on Seattle’s Beacon Hill, was Chinese. “I am half Chinese,” the 48-year-old author said Wednesday from Montana.
Kiuchi visited Cascade earlier in March, as he has in years past. He was 12 in 1942 when his Seattle family — his parents had five children — were sent first to “Camp Harmony,” an assembly center in Puyallup, and then to the Minidoka camp. They were there until 1945, when Kiuchi was 15.
A field trip April 10 was the book project capstone. Loucks took about 130 students from five class sections to Seattle’s International District. Their “Bitter Sweet Tour,” designed by the Wing Luke Museum, matched sites from the novel.
Cascade kids not only traveled back in time, they walked in the fictional footsteps of Henry and Keiko.
They were photographed in Canton Alley, the site of Henry’s apartment in the book.
They visited the old Panama Hotel, a National Historic Landmark at 605 S. Main St. that’s still in operation. Its basement, in the book and in reality, was where some Japanese-Americans’ belongings were kept after they were sent away. The Seattle tour also took students to the Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall.
The novel is timely this year, the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. It was Feb. 19, 1942, little more than two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the order that authorized relocating people of Japanese ancestry to camps.
Some of Loucks’ students see parallels between Japanese-Americans in the 1940s and immigrants today. And “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is encouraging them to pick up more books.
“It isn’t often you receive a history lesson in English class. It was special for me,” said Mitchell Haldi, a Cascade baseball player in Loucks’ class. Haldi said he read a lot in middle school, but hasn’t had a chance to read for enjoyment in high school.
“This book makes me want to read even more,” said Maritza Lauriano, a senior in the class. Born in Mexico, she relates to the prejudice experienced by the book’s young characters. “I’ve been stared at the same way the Japanese were,” Lauriano said. “Those who are immigrants here live in some fear that something could happen, that history will be repeated.”
Another Cascade senior, Tri Le, wrote in his essay for Loucks’ class that the novel not only schooled him in the plight of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but “this unit taught me about the importance of respecting my Vietnamese traditions.”
Cascade senior Micki Dang, whose parents came from Vietnam, understood the character Henry’s conflicts between his Chinese heritage and growing up in the United States. “I come from another culture,” said Dang, who liked the friendship between Keiko and Henry. “I could relate to it. I’ve bonded to people of Vietnamese heritage and other Asian cultures,” she said.
Loucks said “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” clicks with students because of its Seattle setting and “the deep lessons that can be learned from the story, from internment to a committed relationship that doesn’t falter in the midst of struggle.” The teacher said Ford and Kiuchi have been amazingly supportive. “The combination makes this a really rich experience for students,” Loucks said.
For Lauriano, meeting the Japanese-American man was a lesson in resilience.
“Mr Kiuchi coming here was really cool,” she said. “It taught me that what they lived through was really awful. But even though he had hardships, he is so happy. He still has the energy to live life and explore. That got to me.”
Kiuchi said Friday that students often ask what they can do when they see injustice.
“I tell them to keep marching,” he said. “Nobody marched for us.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more at EvCC
Seattle writer Mayumi Tsutakawa will present “The Pine Tree and the Cherry,” a talk about her Japanese family’s history, including internment during World War II, at 12:20 p.m. May 16 in the Henry M. Jackson Center Wilderness Room at Everett Community College. Tsutakawa, the daughter of renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa, will talk about her mother’s survival in the Tule Lake Japanese internment camp in California and life in Seattle’s Japantown. The event, free and open to the public, is a Humanities Washington project. The EvCC campus is at 2000 Tower St., Everett.