What do you think the tomato seeds might represent in the poem?
In response to Executive Order 9066
Of course I'll come.
I've packed my galoshes
and three packets of tomato seeds. Denise calls them love apples. My father says where we're going
they won't grow.
I am a fourteen-year old girl with bad spelling
and a messy room. If it helps any, I will tell you
I have always felt funny using chopsticks
and my favorite food is hot dogs.
My best friend is a white girl named Denise--
we look at boys together. She sat in front of me
all through grade school because of our names:
O'Connor, Ozawa. I know the back of Denise's head very well.
I tell her she's going bald. She tells me I copy on sets.
We're best friends.
I saw Denise today in Geography class.
She was sitting on the other side of the room.
"You're trying to start a war," She said, "giving secrets
away to the Enemy, Why can't you keep your big mouth shut?"
I didn't know what to say.
I gave her a packet of tomato seeds
and asked her to plant them for me, told her
when the first tomato ripened
she'd miss me.
When the speaker says that she gives Denise a packet of tomato seeds, it is apparent that she is going away to the internment camps. That she provides Denise with the seeds of a vegetable is indicative of the contribution to agriculture that Japanese immigrants made. In California, for instance, the immigrants knew how to irrigate land that was inhospitable to any growth. Their sophisticated methods thus provided for the cultivation of flowers, fruits, and vegetables in areas that were hitherto barren.
Therefore, the significance of providing Denise with the seeds of a tomato, a nutritional staple of many Americans' diets, suggests the value of the Japanese to American culture. Without them to cultivate vegetables for California, there may well have been a shortage of such foods. Thus, "the first tomato ripened" will serve as a reminder to Denise of a friend who should have been valued, not rejected.