Why is Gonzalo's symbol a pepper in Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman?
Paul Fleischman's novel Seedfolks is a series of thirteen character vignettes that tell the background of each character and what they plant in the community garden that connects them. Kim, the first character to plant in the vacant lot in the Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood where they live, is from Vietnam.
Gonzalo is the fourth character readers meet. He is from Guatemala, and he helps his Tio Juan when he plants in the garden. In this book, the seeds that Gonzalo and Tio Juan plant are never identified. Gonzalo explains,
"He showed me exactly how far apart the rows should be and how deep. He couldn't read the words on the seed packets, but he knew from the pictures what seeds were inside. He poured them into his hand and smiled. He seemed to recognize them, like old friends. Watching him carefully sprinkling them into troughs he'd made, I realized that I didn't know anything about growing food and that he knew everything."
Many of the characters specify what they are growing, because what they grow is significant in some way. Curtis plants tomatoes in an effort to show his ex-girlfriend Lateesha that he has changed. Virgil's father plants lettuce because he has heard that fancy restaurants will pay top dollar for fresh lettuce. Gonzalo's story is more about acclimating to a new culture. It was easy for him because he learned to speak English through watching TV. It was impossible for Tio Juan because he was old when they moved, and only knew an Indian language. The only person he is able to communicate with is Gonzalo's mother. Planting seeds in the garden is the first time Tio Juan can participate in something meaningful in his new country.
Judy Pederson provides illustrations in this novel, and she drew a packet of sweet peppers on page 17, where Gonzalo is introduced. There is no other textual evidence about what was planted by Gonzalo and Tio Juan, so readers must make an inference about why the sweet pepper packet was drawn by the illustrator. Since Tio Juan was a farmer in Guatemala, it is possible he chose seeds based on what he knew would grow best in that location. He did feel and even taste the soil prior to planting.