What do you think the tomato seeds represent In Okita's "IN RESPONSE TO EXECUTIVE ORDER 9066: All Americans of Japanese Descent Must Report to Relocation Centers"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Okita's "IN RESPONSE TO EXECUTIVE ORDER 9066: All Americans of Japanese Descent Must Report to Relocation Centers," the tomato seeds are representative of the young girl's initial reaction to going to "camp."  Okita writes the poem from a young person's point of view, someone being told they were going to a "camp."  Initially, the image of "camp conjures a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Okita wishes to locate the poem from the point of view of a child who hears a concept and cannot envision what might lie underneath the surface:

So the poem is inspired by my mother's personality and by my own wondering about what might've happened if she had been in high school that day. My mother said that the term "camp" always sounded fun, like summer camp. So I wrote the poem in the form of a kind of thank-you letter which I imagined she might've written to the American government...

The tomato seeds are part of the "camp" experience that Okita sees as intrinsic to young people.  Given how the relocation camps were so far from this traditional notion of summer fun, the tomato seeds acquire significance.  The tomato seeds represent a sense of hope and optimism within the child, given the cruelty of what awaits.  It is in this light where the father, who probably has a good sense of what lies ahead, recognizes that the tomato seeds "won't grow" where they are going.  Okita sees the seeds as representing the sense of innocence and hope that Japanese- Americans held towards a nation and government that betrayed them:  "The packet of tomato seeds, initially packed by the young girl speaking in the poem, and later given as a gift to Denise -- were my idea. I like that the Japanese American girl gives her gift and then explains the gift."  The seeds represent that sense of hope that the young girl packs and then gives back to her American friend, embodying the full extent of betrayal and deferred friendship caused as a result of Executive Order 9066.


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