Author’s Note: This short story is about a group of Japanese youths who were about to cross the street when suddenly numerous police officers started bombarding them, shouting at them to cross the street and demanding to know if they spoke English. I took the perspective of the only female Japanese youth in this picture entitled, “Do You Speak English?”
My name is Chiyoko, which means “a thousand generations” in Japanese. As I was born in America, my parents chose this name as a constant reminder of where I’m truly from. “You are Japanese,” they told me every day while I completed my English homework, hung out with one of my American friends, or dressed in the American fashion. “This is not our home,” they said. But this was the only home my sister and I knew. My sister’s name is Asa, meaning “born in the morning.” I was unable to sleep during her birth as the screams of my mother and sister had continued till five am, so I watched the sunrise to distract myself. As it and my sister entered the world, they were joined by two colors of the sky. The fierce red jellyfish had fallen in love with the baby blue birds and had painted the colors of their love upon the blank white slate in the sky. It was the perfect way to be born into this world, into this country.
I told my sister this story the day our father had a heart attack from stress; she told me it too the day our mother had one of sadness. Our father’s death had been devastating, but not surprising. He had overworked himself trying to earn enough to take us back to Japan because of the prejudice against us right after the war. But when my mother died, the sky had cried with us too. I had not seen the jellyfish and the bird’s love story since my sister’s birth twelve years ago, but on the morning of my mother’s funeral I noticed the same colors staining the sky as our tears dried upon our cheeks.
I was forced to become the sole provider for my sister and me. I had to quit school to become a seamstress and become the mother Asa needed. I was merely surviving, only for her, and not necessarily living. My purpose became earning enough to send Asa, who spent most of her time escaping the world in her writing, to college. She wanted to become a poet, and I would do whatever possible to help. Every spare moment from writing she had was spent admiring her hairclips. Fixing these became my most important role.
These clips were a little expensive, but she loved them and I loved her, so I managed. It had all started with a clip our mother had passed down to my sister and me. The clip was from Japan and the only concrete thing I had ever been offered from that country. It had a fist-sized red flower on it with a rosy gem made of sea glass on the center in which you could see your blurry reflection. My sister and I loved this clip growing up, but we had lost it shortly after our mother’s funeral. I remember because she and I had traded off wearing it that day.
I had looked for it from time to time without much success and my sister never worried because she had a dozen others that were made here. The only problem with these was that they were constantly breaking. On countless occasions she would return home in tears cradling the snapped clip in her hands, protecting the pieces like they were a bird with broken wings. She would tell me how the girls at her school had thrown pebbles at her head breaking the hairclip and her heart, while I mended the cracked accessory. Then, I would brush her long black hair only to pull it all out of her face and secure it back with the mended clip. This had become very routine, but necessary for the brief happiness and sense of belonging it gave Asa.
Eventually I did find the hairclip our mother gave us. I was walking to the laundromat and was about to cross the street. Once the walking white man flashed allowing me to cross, I was immediately submerged into a sea of shouts. The spit which flew out of the men’s mouths and two belabored phrases, “Do you speak English?” and “White means cross!” were drowning me. The white man in front of me mirrored the white man on the walk signal, but he held out a red hand even though I knew I could cross.
I saw other Japanese around me being harassed as well. I was so angry and in desperate need of air, so I searched in my pockets for something to throw at the white men in blue. I pulled out my mother’s red hairclip and saw the reflection of my dark eyes in the gem, glowing with hatred the more I stared. This clip, something I had once cherished greatly, now lay on my palm like a helping hand, but it couldn’t have looked weaker. Without understanding what I was doing, I threw the clip at one of the men, but he hardly noticed when it hit his shoulder and fell to the ground. I didn’t feel a thing either when it and my fake allegiance to a country I never knew were trampled on. Eventually I made my way out of the sea and collapsed upon entering my workplace.
That night Asa arrived in tears, but instead of fixing her broken clip, I threw it away and for the first time, gave her a clip I had made. After dinner, she pulled me over to the window. Our friends of the morning now set with the sun, but disappeared into the ocean where I knew they would stay. We stared solemnly at the birds and jellyfish as they left us, but I knew we’d be alright.