California Educator

December 2015

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Page 48 of 63

On making the personal universal My father, Lawrence Honda, was incarcerated at Manzanar as a teenager. He went through high school there. [In the relocation, children] had to leave behind beloved pets and toys, not knowing if they would see them again. The idea of the book was this feisty cat smuggled in to be a witness to his family, to learn through the cat's eyes of the devastation of camp, the unfairness of the situation. But it's also a story of resilience. The cat doesn't suc- cumb to hopelessness; instead, he turns it around and harnesses internal strength, internal tools. One can use different techniques to control one's internal state and perception of life, even though circumstances around that person might be out of control. On learning different ways to respond Mass hysteria, racial ignorance and intolerance — those are all things we are all vulnerable to experiencing. There are so many other options, as we've learned from civil rights leaders. It's important to respond to tragedy and difficulty not with violence and hatred, but instead to use peaceful, empowering and enrich- ing tools. In therapy, I can explain concepts to children about anxiety and depression, but when I show them a book about a raccoon strug- gling with depression and what he has to do to work through it, it internalizes in them in a very different way because it's such an approachable and friendly medium to use. On the importance of bearing witness Being a witness to someone else's story, history, pain and chal- lenge is a powerful role. [When there is a witness,] people feel they're not alone as they journey through difficulties. The cat was the witness, the outsider looking in who had a cer- tain objectivity: How could you do this to your own people? The person who really inspired me as someone who bore wit- ness was Ralph Lazo, a friend of my father's. He lived in the same barracks. He was Mexican/Irish-American. He wasn't Japanese American, but he chose to be there alongside his friends as a young teenager. He had the remarkable precocious- ness to say, "This is not right. I'm going to stand by them and be a witness to what they have to go through." [Ralph Lazo followed his Japanese American friends to Manzanar, spending two and a half years there. The sub- ject of a 2004 film, Stand Up for Justice, Lazo became an educator in the Los Angeles area.] On the impact of the book The people I've heard most from, which has been the most gratifying, are educators — how teachers have used it in the classroom, how school counselors use it, how librarians use it to foster understanding for civil rights or the [internment] camp experience. Most moving was hearing from people formerly incarcerated in camps. [They told me the book] helped them with childhood trauma, helped them understand their own personal experience and be able to talk about this ordeal without shame. On the importance of reading Reading is a conduit for connection — to knowledge, concepts, ideas, historical events, learning about different parts of the world. Books are such a tangible resource for building bonds to oneself, the outer world and other people. Children can have a sense of independence, have their own personal relationship with a book, interpret it differently, read the same book again and again and be able to experience it in very different ways. There's the emotional attachment as well. One of things that was most coveted in my house as a child were the hardcover books. Books were special, to be treasured and taken care of. Reading together conveys this special connection. On her link to education and educators I come from a family of many, many teachers. I'm married to a teacher; my mom was an office manager for LAUSD for about 40 years. Most of our friends were teachers. I grew up in the world of teaching; it was the backdrop of my childhood. And I was a TA for many years while going to college. To be acknowledged by this body of individuals — profes- sionals I really admire — and by extension to feel part of the educational family means a lot and honors the people who have inspired me. The Cat Who Chose to Dream, by Loriene Honda with illustrations by Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, Martin Pearl Publishing, 2014; forward by George Takei. Common Core lesson plan and other educational and therapeutic materials based on the book available at and For more California Reads book recommendations, see Manzanar internment camp: Lawrence Honda is in the top row, far right, wearing a cap; Ralph Lazo is in the second row from the bottom, far left, in a dark shirt. Source: Katsumi Taniguchi Collec- tion/Manzanar National Historic Site 47 December 2015 / January 2016

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