Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sylvia and Aki

The topic of school segregation is one that is not new, as is evidenced by the variety of books I have on this topic in my school library. However, all of these books deal with African Americans being kept out of white schools. Sylvia and Aki is a segregation story a bit different than the rest. Written by Winifred Conkling, this book is based on a true story of two girls whose lives just happened to cross paths.

Aki, a Japanese American, was viewed only as Japanese after Pearl Harbor was bombed. She and her family were sent away to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona, where they made their home for a few years during the 1940s. Unlike some other Japanese American families, Aki's parents were fortunate that they located a family to rent their farm while they were gone. Sylvia's family lived in Aki's house, happy to have an opportunity to rent this farm. And Sylvia lived in Aki's bedroom where she found Aki's Japanese doll she had left behind when her family was forced to leave.

Sylvia's parents expected her and her brothers to graduate from high school, yet they were not welcome in the white elementary school, instead having to travel further to attend the Mexican school near the barrio. Unwilling to back down on the issue of separating students because of their nationality, Sylvia's father sued the school district.

Aki and Sylvia's paths did cross, and although each had a different background, both were discriminated against - Sylvia because of her Mexican heritage, and Aki because her ancestors came from Japan.

This is a worthwhile read and one I will be booktalking at school to my students. I am always excited to see books with Latino characters and this story tells of an important time in their fight for school integration in California.

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