ruminating on janet wong’s a suitcase of seaweed & more (+ a giveaway!)

Sometimes good things can get even better.

I’ve always loved Janet Wong’s A Suitcase of Seaweed — it’s my favorite among her poetry collections. First published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in 1996, it explores her Korean and Chinese heritage and what it was like growing up in America.

When Janet was a Poetry Potluck guest back in 2012, I praised the relatable truths in A Suitcase of Seaweed, shared “Grandmother’s Almond Cookies,” and enjoyed hearing about her paternal grandparents. How wonderful to have a PoPo (grandmother) who was the “Boss of Dessert”!

In February, Janet published A Suitcase of Seaweed & More (Yuzu/Pomelo Books, 2019), which contains all 36 poems (+ 3 prose pieces) from the original book as well as lots of new text (backstories, musings, prompts). I loved learning about what inspired the poems, and appreciated the way she extended their themes and widened their contexts. I know her appealing prompts will get readers thinking, talking, maybe even writing their own poems and stories.

In “Love at First Sight,” the first of Janet’s Korean Poems from Part One, she imagines her parents in the early days of their courtship. They somehow met while her father, an American soldier stationed in Korea, would purchase fresh food for the troops from her mother’s family farm. Her mom could not speak English, and her father did not know Korean, but somehow they managed to communicate. It seems love has its own language.

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Park Hang-Ryul (1950 – )

 

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

I like to imagine Mother
when her face was full and smooth
and she wore her hair in a long braid,

and I like to imagine Father
with his crooked smile and his crooked crew cut,
wearing an American uniform,

running after her
in the narrow dirt streets
of her Korean village,

as she rushes away
laughing,
her long braid

wagging like the tail of a dog
that has found
a fresh bone.

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Janet’s prompts for this poem:

Think of your parents or any loving couple that you know.
What do you think brought them together?
What things make them a good couple?

It just so happens I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot recently. April 9th was the 5th anniversary of my mother’s passing, and we lost my dad earlier this week at age 104. My parents had been married 66 years.

 

Dad and Mom across the street from their home in Mililani.

 

Janet’s poem made me recall how my parents first met. It’s best to let my father tell you in his own words. This is from an autobiography we helped him write when he turned 100:

I first saw Margaret at a friend’s get together and was introduced to her. I think I must have fallen in love with her because I kept thinking about her while at work. I decided to ask her for a date. Our first date was going to see a movie at Wahiawa Theater.

 

James and Margaret at Lake Wilson.

 

We enjoyed going for rides in the rowboat my brother John and I built at Lake Wilson, Wahiawa, and sometimes fishing for bass. I admired her for being an industrious, hard working person. She never knew what the word “relax” meant. We loved playing family hi-lo poker on Saturday nights. We went to church every Sunday. I always complimented her for being the best-dressed female in our church. At times after we were ready to go to church she would parade before me in her nice outfit and ask me if I would take a second look at her if I saw her for the first time.

 

 

Every evening when I visited her she would make me a fried egg sandwich. Afterwards when I headed home their German Police dog named Mickey would escort me close to my home and turn around and go back home to Muliwai Avenue.

She had some favorite Hawaiian songs — “O Makalapua,” “Kaneohe,” “My Yellow Ginger Lei” — were some of them. She also liked the Korean version of “Toselli’s Serenade,” which I used to sing to her. Another favorite was “Nighttime In Nevada.” She always made me play “St. Louis Blues” on the uke for her.

 

So for my father it was love at first sight. He was ten years older and a divorcé with two young children, but somehow those nightly fried egg sandwiches and his serenading did the trick.

Dad also mentioned admiring Mom whenever he spotted her in her WAC uniform, driving a Jeep around Hickam AFB, where they both worked for awhile. Maybe like Janet’s mother, he couldn’t resist a natty dresser in a military uniform. 🙂

 

Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

 

Over the years, there was much joking between them — my mother saying that marrying him was the ‘worst’ decision of her life (he was stubborn, could be cantankerous and inflexible). My father said just the opposite about her. Their unique yin-yang relationship somehow worked. She was upbeat and sunny, an optimist who could mitigate his sometimes moody “artistic temperament.”

She was a good cook, he was a champion eater. He was devoted to my mother and was lost without her. He often said that marrying her was the happiest day of his life.

So, a little bit of laughter, the right song, farm fresh food, chance meetings — love has its own language.

A Suitcase of Seaweed & More resonates with me on so many levels. Rereading the poems with all the new material Janet added has made me reflect on my ethnicity and personal identity, especially in light of today’s diversity movement and the earnest efforts to foster more tolerance and inclusion in our society. These days, being non-white, an “other,” has become more challenging and worrisome. Racism is out of the shadows, uglier than ever. Sometimes the divisions seem insurmountable.

 

At Grandma’s house

 

I always thought I knew who I was, but when I left Hawai’i for England back in the late 70’s that changed. My experience was like Janet’s: when non-Asian people looked at me, they lumped me together with other Asians, unable to distinguish between Korean, Japanese, or Chinese. It was the first time I felt defined by other people’s racial perceptions and biases.

In London, I was often mistaken for a Japanese tourist (merchants were nice to me, thinking I was a big spender who carried lots of cash). Others took wild guesses: are you Filipino? from Singapore? Some assumed I couldn’t speak English (this actually happened in New Hampshire, too!) — pretty ironic since I went to London to teach high school English.

So, I explained I was from Hawai’i. Do you speak Hawaiian? Well, no. My parents are both Korean, but I don’t speak Korean and have never visited Korea. What are you, then?

I’m American. Oh. Sometimes this was good, sometimes not. How to prove I wasn’t an “ugly American?” It wasn’t until I left the U.S. that I was able to understand how the rest of the world sees us. I learned that quality of life is not necessarily defined by money. Many Europeans think all Americans do is work.

I do think “fear of the other” is fueled by American egocentricity, willful ignorance, and lack of exposure to other cultures, a brand of close-mindedness that endures for generations. Ironic for a nation of immigrants, isn’t it?

Education and fostering meaningful dialogue, one on one, is an important step forward. Books like A Suitcase of Seaweed & More can help accomplish this. Asian or not, we’re able to see parts of ourselves and relate to the experiences described in the poems about our families, friends, customs, and identities. Ultimately, we are more alike than we are different. These kernels of truth are what make us all human.

 

Haleiwa Beach Park

 

Good things can get even better. I didn’t think it was possible, but now I love A Suitcase of Seaweed even more. Thank you, Janet!

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Now, enjoy “My Yellow Ginger Lei.” I like imagining my dad playing his ukulele and singing this to my mom.

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How did your parents meet?

Do you see yourself differently in light of what’s going on in our country today?

 

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A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED & MORE
by Janet Wong
published by Yuzu, an imprint of Pomelo Books, February 2019
Poetry for ages 9-12, 99 pp.

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📕 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📕

Janet is generously offering a brand new signed copy of A Suitcase of Seaweed & More for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Wednesday, May 1, 2019. You may also enter by sending an email with SEAWEED in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!

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🌎 SOARING EARTH GIVEAWAY WINNER! 🕊

We are pleased to announce that the winner of a brand new copy of Margarita Engle’s new verse memoir, Soaring Earth, is:

RUTH BOWEN HERSEY!!

🎉 CONGRATULATIONS, RUTH!! 🎈

Please send along your snail mail address to receive your prize. 🙂

Thanks to everyone for entering this giveaway!

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The lovely and talented Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond Literacy Link. Be sure to pop on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the bloggy world this week. Enjoy your weekend. Can you believe Poetry Month is practically over?

 


*Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

65 thoughts on “ruminating on janet wong’s a suitcase of seaweed & more (+ a giveaway!)

  1. Jama, once again your words touch me deeply. I am white, American. And, when I traveled/lived outside America I really started to understand my place in this world, in my nation and in the human family so much more than ever. When my husband and I adopted children of a different ethnicity we had a crash course in all things having to do with race…the positive stereotyping of Asians as well as the ugly side of racism. Additionally, we deal with issues of adoption that are multi-layered. It has been a rich journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything….but that doesn’t mean its easy. I very much want to get my hands on this book. I can see how it allows a reader to connect in a way that can be healing. Wonderful post today. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing about your experiences, Linda. I wish every American was able to travel outside the country just to get a different/wider perspective of just who we are as a nation in comparison to other countries. If you never leave your own back yard, you don’t know what else is out there, and you don’t truly appreciate what you have to begin with. Your family sounds wonderful; as an adoptive parent you certainly have more than your share of challenges. I admire your bravery, conviction, and compassion for others. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. An interesting topic: the positive stereotyping of Asians. I know that we shouldn’t complain about being the “model minority”–but it works to our disadvantage by minimizing our accomplishments. Even more dangerous: it hurts Asian kids who are struggling and makes “regular Asian kids” feel like underachievers. (Well, a whole post could be devoted to this.) Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Linda M.!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved hearing both your and Janet’s stories/poems about how your parents met. My parents met in college, when they were taking a theater class and the teacher had them act out a scene where they got married! They married the summer after they met (in spring). A quick courtship. They have been married 50 years this summer.
    I live in a majority-Asian neighborhood, which I was pretty aware of when we first moved here 18 years ago and didn’t see myself reflected in the people I met. “Ultimately, we are more alike than we are different.” — so true!

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  3. This was a wonderful read. I love looking at your old family snaps. I lost my mom this year–my dad died 30 years to the month before she did. They met on her college campus. She was a young, naive, privileged white girl and he was a 13 year older, German veteran of WWII, studying at a neighboring university. Her parents hated the Germans, she wasn’t fond of her parents, so she married him. He ended up with a Ph.D., a job teaching economics at Middlebury college and two daughters. She was a homemaker who really wanted to be a doctor and eventually got partway there by studying at Dartmouth and becoming one of the first physician’s assistants in 1974. He was a smoker and a quiet alcoholic and died of cancer at 72. She died from complications of dementia at 89. I can tell by writing this that I need to write about them more…

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    1. Wow, that’s quite a story, Ashley!! It’s fascinating to hear what draws people together. This makes me realize there are many reasons why people get married. I am sad to hear your Mom lived so long without your Dad by her side, but kudos to her for pursuing her dream anyway! Sorry you lost her this year. Yes, you need to write about your parents more!

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  4. Thank you for the song, new to me, but my husband played the ukelele late in life & we all loved it. I love reading your father’s words and hearing more about your parents, Jama. What a challenging world it has become recently. I wrote something of this today, too. I have a niece who is Korean, has met more than one challenge in her life, and much of it is as you described, people wondering if she spoke English, people who speak louder & slower to her as if she doesn’t understand. As for my parents, they met in college, & the crazy story is that she was about to be engaged to the young man who later became my step-father, but she fell in love with this other young man & married him. When my father died in WWII, he appeared again & finally had a second chance to marry the girl he loved. They were married a long time and so happy together. Thanks for bringing up memories and heartbreaking experiences as well. As for Janet’s book, I love it, too, & almost shared it today! So, don’t put me in the drawing. I have it! Happy weekend!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Linda. It’s heartening to hear about second chances and true love winning out in the end. But then, you would not be here if not for your mom’s first marriage, so somehow God has a plan for all of us.

      Your parents’ story reminds me of Len’s parents. His mom was first married to his father’s older brother, who died in a plane crash during WWII. Len’s father went to console his grieving SIL, and eventually married her! Len was named after his Uncle Leonard, whose photo (in uniform) is in our great room — quite a handsome guy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Linda B.: About people speaking “louder and slower” to your Korean niece: I have seen that happen so many times to people who spoke accented (but perfectly understandable) English. Calling it out–mentioning it to kids (and adults) as a careless and hurtful thing that people often do–is one way we can slowly change things. Thanks for bringing it up!!

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      1. Yes, I know what you mean in all cases. Sadly, my niece was adopted as a baby & does not even have an accent! We have all learned much from this. Thanks, Janet!

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  5. Jama, this is a beautifully-written post that features poetry and love. The stories of Janet’s family and your parents set the stage for personal love stories. Your father’s words at 100 were remarkable, such clarity of thinking. It could be the start of a book itself. I am sorry for the passing of your parents but know that their love continues in your father’s words, now living on forever on the printed page. This post is definitely one that needs more a global reach as it speaks of the topic of racism in the world today. I gladly retweeted it and placed it on FaceBook. Thank you for this post that will leave me pondering. (Sidebar: My husband often tells others that when we met, it was love at first sight experience for him.)

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    1. How wonderful that for your husband it was love at first sight! How long did it take for you to reciprocate his feelings? 🙂

      Thanks for sharing this post, Carol. Remarkably my father had no dementia till the very end. His mind remained strong as his body faltered. He also had a good memory throughout his senior years, often recounting favorite stories (with appropriate embellishments and enthusiasm).

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  6. I too love hearing stories about your parents. It seems like there is a book in there waiting to come out! :–) On a darker note re things Korean, I am currently listening to Hampton Sides’ book on the Korean War (“On Desperate Ground”) and certainly one thing one gets out of it is the horrible position of Korea (both physically and geopolitically) and how much Koreans have suffered for it from all directions. I really appreciate how Sides shows the Korean side of the equation with such sympathy instead of the usual American-centric way. Anyway, back to your post, I especially loved the bit about how you were treated in London because of the assumptions!

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    1. Had not heard of Sides’s book; will have to look for it as I know so little about the Korean War. It would be interesting to hear the Korean perspective for a change.

      Being mistaken for a Japanese tourist wasn’t such a bad thing — but I think the salespeople were disappointed to discover I was not the big spender they’d hoped I was. 🙂

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  7. Oh my, Jama, you just lost your father? What a painful time for you. Whether he was 70 or 104, it’s a huge loss, an empty space in your life. Big hug! I love the memories you share about him and your mother.

    I come from a multiethnic family of 7 adopted children, and I know my siblings (Korean, Samoan, and part Filipina) have run into their share of discrimination. But even though racism is experiencing a rebirth in the United States, horribly, I remind myself that there are thousands and thousands of good people here who AREN’T racist, who respect those around them no matter their differences. My next youngest sister is actually Filipina-Latvian, and she is very pretty. She’s had people ask her if she’s Latina, Hawaiian, Filipina, you name it. But the funniest one was an old lady who came up and asked, “Are you Latvian? You look Latvian!” Which nobody else on the planet would have guessed!

    A shout-out to Janet Wong, too! I read the original Suitcase of Seaweed years ago and loved it. Now I’ll have to look for the new one.

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    1. I love hearing about your multiethnic family, Kate. Though I didn’t have siblings of various races, I certainly grew up in a place where it was a given that you’d interact with and befriend people of many different races. Hawaii in that way was a microcosm of the world — a small place with big diversity. You simply had to learn to get along with others, living in such close proximity to one another.

      Interesting about your Filipina-Latvian sister — what a cool combination, and she does sound beautiful. I didn’t know anything about Latvia until I met my roommate in London. So many fascinating people and places, so little time . . . I can’t fathom why everyone would not be curious (in a good way) to learn about other cultures.

      And you’re right — there are tons of good people who aren’t racist; they just don’t seem to be speaking as loudly as they could to stem the tide (I’m mainly referring to elected GOP officials and GOP voters who are complicit in the spread of hatred by not speaking out).

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      1. Los Angeles was like that, too! I think that’s one reason my parents moved there. My sister Loni was a prosecuting attorney for 20 years in L.A., and now she appears on TV as a consulting lawyer. She’s doing a true crime show on Oxygen in a few weeks. I’m very proud of her! Here’s her website home page: http://www.lonicoombs.com

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    2. I love the poem “Our Family” that you wrote to celebrate National Adoption Day in THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR CELEBRATIONS, Kate! My favorite lines were “We’re adopted. / We like it that way.” and later the perfect ending: “It’s just us. / Our family.”

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  8. I am thrilled to learn that Janet Wong has published an extended version of A Suitcase of Seaweed. She is such a talented poet (and amazing editor as well!) I also enjoyed learning the story of your own parents’ meeting, Jama. It spurs me to find out the details of my own parents’ meeting. Thank you for the inspiring post.

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    1. Janet is a wonder, isn’t she? Don’t know how both she and Sylvia do everything they do. Poetry goddesses, both. It was such a great idea to bring out an extended version of A Suitcase of Seaweed. Her poems are more relevant than ever. And I do hope you find out more about how your parents met!

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  9. Unfortunately Janet Wong’s book is not available in my library system, although many of her other books are. I loved reading your stories about how your family met. A number of years ago I had an idea for interviewing parents of friends to collect the stories of how they met. Listening to them share these memories, and watch them interact, was priceless. I wanted to get it all on film, but am not a filmmaker. I have been writing my own poems about family history and recently wrote one about how my grandparents met. She was part Menomonee Indian and my grandfather’s family called her vile names and wouldn’t let her in the house. She ended up looking after them when they got older. I will have to write one about my parents next. Thank you for the inspiration.

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    1. What a great project! It’s so important to preserve family history, and what better way than with poetry. How ironic that your grandmother ended up as caretaker to her in-laws. A big lesson learned right there. This speaks volumes for your grandmother’s love, compassion and self sacrificing nature.

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    2. cweichel: Please see if you can find the book on Amazon–and/or through interlibrary loan. And I hope you write more about your parents and grandparents!

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    1. It’s been quite a week. Did I mention a huge tree in our yard was hit by lightning on Saturday, and a big branch fell in the driveway, totally blocking access to the house? Luckily it didn’t hit the house or Len’s car (which he parks outside), or Len himself (who had just been taking a walk minutes before the lightning struck). It took 2 days and 8 men to clear that big branch (more like half a tree trunk) away. Then a couple of days later my dad died. Can’t help but think “how the mighty have fallen.”

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  10. I’m glad that you found some comfort in re-visiting this now revised book, Jama–it sounds lovely! Thank you for sharing your parents’ love story, and the beautiful photos too.

    Many hugs!! ❤ ❤

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    1. My parents are finally back together again. Though I miss them every day, it’s good knowing they’re at peace and not suffering physical pain or discomfort anymore.

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  11. Jama, thank you for your beautiful post, the stories about your family, and your experiences and reflections. I have loved this book for a long time. I found it just after our family returned from living in Hong Kong for 3 years. I loved it for the reason I love so many books–because I could both learn from it and connect to it. Isn’t it wonderful that both can happen at the same time. I especially love the picture of your parents at the lake.

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    1. Exactly right — with the best books you learn from and connect to them at the same time. Didn’t know you lived in Hong Kong for 3 years — that must have been totally fascinating!

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  12. Jama, thank you for sharing your parents’ beautiful love story. I also enjoyed listening to “My Yellow Ginger Lei” and imagining your dad playing it on the ukulele for your mom. 🙂 I also couldn’t agree more about my feelings for a Suitcase of Seaweed and its importance in these times. (I already have a copy, so no need to enter me in the giveaway). The only time I ever felt like an “other” was when we moved to Australia… and I’m not sure that counts considering I didn’t LOOK like an other and wasn’t treated like one either. It was more a matter of figuring out how to break into a culture that was more British (reserved) than American (welcoming) in the way it considered weekends and holidays to be family-only time. It took a while to find others who didn’t have family nearby! Thank you for such a sensitive and thoughtful post today. ❤

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  13. Thank you for sharing your lovely parents with us. Their story is so different than that of my parents and it so nice and comforting to me to hear of couples who really do love and cherish each other. I too agree that we are more alike than different. I would love to be able to read the poems in this collection and learn about their back stories as I imagine that would make them even more meaningful.

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    1. There is so much we forget, especially as we get older and busier and preoccupied with certain things. This book did remind me to ponder events I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

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  14. Thanks for the shout out for Janet’s new version of A Suitcase of Seaweed. She came and spoke to my sixth graders a few years ago. It’s amazing how she manages to coax out the poetry that’s naturally in every student. I loved hearing your family stories. Sorry that you’ve just lost your dad. It’s never easy to lose our fathers (or our mothers). But they live on in the stories we write. Today’s post was a wonderful tribute to both of them.

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  15. I so enjoyed this visit with your family via your dad’s writing, your photos, and hearing about their yin yang relationship–relationships take work. Thanks also for reviewing Janet’s rich book with the newly added comments and info on writing the poems.
    My parents were fixed up on a blind date. My mother’s cousin was best friends with my Dad. But their actually meeting was very unique. My mom went to see him in a play and she was looking for him on stage when he appeared from behind her catapulting over seats to greet her–an interesting feat for my 6′ 1 1/2″ dad, with all looking on–his good looks captured her despite all the attention he gathered.
    I think the world is a very different place today, kind of scary. I’ll never understand why people fight against one another because of differences in religion or race. Perhaps I am sensitive to our racial inequalities because I am jewish or perhaps it’s just a part of who I am.

    On a lighter note, thanks for the lovely “MyYellow Ginger Lei,” song and dance–music seems to bring people together.

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  16. Jama, so sorry to hear about the passing of your father. I can totally relate to what you said about being glad that he’s “at peace and not suffering physical pain or discomfort anymore.” That’s exactly how I felt when Mom passed. I don’t miss her any less, and I’m thankful for every moment we had together. She and Dad met at a family gathering — they were actually distant cousins by marriage! (Makes for a complicated family tree!)

    I’ve been reading and thinking lots about issues of race, racism, and white privilege. My current read (listen, actually, but I had to buy the book because I know I will go back to it over and over again) is WHITE FRAGILITY. I am learning to see more and do more to make change on a personal basis, but the pervasive nature of the structure of racism upon which our country was built makes big change daunting. One kindness at a time. One conversation at a time. We can do this.

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    1. It’s definitely a daunting prospect, but even baby steps count at this stage. Awareness and good intentions come first; I think more recognize the need for change than before, so that’s encouraging. Still, a long way to go.

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  17. Jama, May I extend my condolences on your dad’s passing. It seems that your parents had a wonderful life! My parents are gone as well, but always alive through my stories. Their love story began in Southington, CT, where my father, a recent immigrant from Italy, met and fell in love with my mom, a first generation Italian/American. They had a long and interesting life having 4 children in their youth, and me later in life. They were very proud of the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren. Thank you for introducing me to A Suitcase of Seaweed

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  18. Thanks for sharing your family’s story, Jama. I loved seeing the old family photos. My parents got married in 1941. Then my father went off to war. My older sister was born in 1942. My father was a stranger to her when he came home after the war ended.

    My mother spent many years as a widow. My dad died in 1984. My mother passed away in 2017.

    I love A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED, too. Don’t include me in the drawing. I already own a copy of the book.

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    1. Elaine: I love what you did to highlight the connections in your life to A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED & MORE, particularly your post about how you carried kielbasa and kasha to your Aunt Irene in Washington State in 1967 because she had a hard time getting Polish food. And your post connecting to my poem “Acupuncture” was a gem, too! Thank you for those! (if someone reading this comment is NOT familiar with Elaine’s blog Wild Rose Reader, take a look! http://wildrosereader.blogspot.com/2019/04/npm-acupuncture-poem-and-personal-story.html)

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  19. I feel social media, media and politics have so much to answer for these days. It seems the loud and opinionated people are the ones with hard hearts and scary agendas – and they cut others down in swathes or shout all over them. It is very concerning! Heartbreaking. Your blog reflection is beautiful. Hugs to you as you navigate this new phase, without the presence of your dad. No matter how long a good life was, there is always a hole when it ends.

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    1. I agree with you, Kat. Social media might have its good points, but it’s certainly given haters a huge platform. Being able to spew their ugliness anonymously emboldens them even more.

      Thanks for the hugs. The loss of my Dad (and my mom for that matter) is still sinking in.

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  20. Jama, I am so sorry for the loss of your father. Thank you for sharing your parents’ love story through photos and poetry and your father’s words. What a lovely tribute to them. And somehow I have missed Suitcase of Seaweed. I do want to read it.

    I struggle with how to challenge the rising racism in America today, but definitely agree that traveling outside our country and getting to know people from different backgrounds helps us see beyond our blinders. My daughter spend last spring in England, and by the end of her stay, she dreaded running into ugly Americans that she encountered there. When we went to visit, we found people in England to be warm and welcoming.

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    1. I had the same warm reception from the British as well — and when I moved back to America it was jarring as I missed the “civilized” and polite conversation I had gotten used to. I’ve always felt travel is the best education — the best way to remove one’s blinders and see beyond yourself and home turf. So important especially these days. We are a global society, we’re all in this together and need to understand and cooperate as we share the same planet.

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  21. So sorry about your father, Jama. I loved your parents’ story, and the photos. Your post inspired me to order A Suitcase of Seaweed. I’m currently reading Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, a beautiful novel about a Korean family in Japan.

    My American-born mother and Dutch-born father met at a party, and she didn’t much like him on their first date because they played a card game, and he was too competitive. But she married him anyway. (My mother is still alive, but my father died when I was little.)

    I’m not sure about myself, but I think my Korean American husband is wrestling with his identity given what’s happening in our country now. I think the anti-immigrant sentiment is bringing up memories of challenging times when he immigrated in the 1960s, to Wisconsin.

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    1. Glad you ordered a copy of the book! One of these days I will also read Pachinko (on my list for a long time). Thanks for sharing how your parents met; sorry to hear your dad died when you were still very young.

      Like your husband, I’ve definitely been wrestling with my identity. I’m more cautious in public and wary of others. Who are the friendly ones, and who aren’t? This was never a concern 10 years ago. I admit to feeling “safer” when my white husband is by my side. It shouldn’t be that way.

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  22. Thanks so much for sharing your family history, and I’m so excited that I won the drawing! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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