The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

David Mura’s “Issei Strawberry” begins with an invitation to an unspecified audience: “Taste this strawberry.” The next phrases indicate swift action—the reader is not only to “taste” but also to “spin” and “whirl” the flavor on the tongue. The narrator guides readers through the literal savoring of the fruit in their mouths and also guides them through quite a different panorama, a sweep of the mundane and repetitive gestures of migrant laborers, workers on the Pacific coast, whose job it is to pick and process the strawberries. The narrator invites readers to turn their eyes “west” toward “some. . ./ sleepy California town” and to imagine workers there bending down and up picking the berries. The narrator specifies that the scene is set in the autumn of the 1930’s, before World War II.

The poem indicates hardships that the Japanese immigrants have to cope with, including intolerable working conditions, which generate complaints, misery, and eventually labor strikes. Even more deplorable is a situation touched on briefly in the poem and then tossed off: the sad reality that such nonnative people are ignored in the present because they have traditionally been “written out of history” in the past. This situation makes the prosperity that some of the immigrants have been able to achieve even more laudable and significant. In spite of the grueling odds, if they do succeed, that success is miraculous.

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(The entire section is 462 words.)