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Blossom time!

I’ve been reading other people’s blogs in DC and Japan, especially, talking about cherry blossom viewing. It is that time of the year!

Here in KC, we have a lot of trees blooming…mostly crabapple, redbud, and Bradford pear. I don’t know that there are any cherry trees to speak of, but there are plenty of flowering trees to enjoy anyway.

I am reading quite a fascinating novel right now, The Blossom Festival by Lawrence Coates.

I was just browsing around at the library and the title caught my eye, since it is blossom time, so it seemed like a timely read. I looked at the blurb on the back, and it sounded promising. It’s set in what’s now Silicon Valley back when it was known only as the Santa Clara Valley and was famous for its fruit orchards and agriculture. The place names are known to me…San Jose, Los Gatos, Moffett Field. My parents both came of age in that area, though in a different period than that in which this book is set. My folks lived out in the Bay Area in the 1960s, when it was a booming industrial area. Dad worked at Memorex before they moved to Nebraska. Mom’s father, my grandpa Maks was a tool-and-die maker for Ford. The lure of lucrative manufacturing jobs drew many easterners west to the Bay Area in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

But this story is set well before that time, right on the cusp of the evolution from agrarian to industrial. Spanning the years between 1922 and 1940, this story covers the lives of three families, two generations, and the transition period in the Santa Clara valley, when old orchards were being sold off, paved over, and reconfigured as suburban bedroom communities for bustling San Jose. It’s a story of ambitious immigrants trying to make good in a time of economic crisis and the story of younger generations defining themselves distinctly. There’s a tension not only between generations, but between the cultural interests of separate immigrant groups, as well as the understanding of their shared experience of outsiders working their way in.

I think that in particular, the immigrant experience, is probably one of the principal defining lines of “What America Is,” and it’s something I find myself thinking about pretty regularly. I realize that from my mother’s side, I’m only second-generation native born, which sometimes feels surprising, because her parents were very assimilated. Of course Grandpa Maks grew up here in the US. He was all of three years old when his family came to the States, but Grandma Helga was 17 when they came to the US, a Holocaust refugee who had spent most of her childhood in the Shanghai Ghetto. On my Dad’s side, the emigration tracks back a generation earlier, for the most part. Grandma Chickadee came here at age 13, worked in factories in upstate New York, and fumblingly navigated the politics of who went to which Catholic church.

Back when my Mom and Dad were growing up, it seems like most parents wanted their children to be seamlessly integrated. There was no especial urge to preserve the Mother Tongue. Most children of immigrants didn’t learn their parents language. Mom and her siblings did not understand German. Mom said that when she was a kid, she could understand Slovenian, though she didn’t really speak it. Grandma Chickadee didn’t teach Grandma Davis and her sisters and brother to speak Czech. It was considered very important to have “American” kids, and American kids spoke English and that was that.

Dad tells a tale of his adolescence, when he and several of his school friends took a summer job “cutting ‘cots” at a local orchard. He and his three buddies sliced open ripe apricots, shelled out the seed, and laid the apricots out on drying racks. One of his friends was Mexican-American, and his parents only spoke English at home, unless they wanted to talk about something in secret, in which case they switched to Spanish which their children didn’t really understand. Dad and his buddies were working alongside some Mexican migrant workers who only spoke Spanish, and these guys were speaking away rapid fire, laughing uproariously, punching one another in the shoulder, really having a ball.

Dad’s friend was sure these older Mexican guys were having a laugh at the green kids working beside them, so he made a point to remember a few of the words he heard these guys saying repeatedly, and ask his parents to fill him in on what kind of trash the Mexican laborers were talking.

Well, it turns out the Mexican guys were just talkin’ dirty about women, mostly, and flipping each other shit over their respective “manhood” issues. In fact, their language was pretty foul and filthy, and this kid’s folks were pretty religious and didn’t really appreciate their son learning those words in any language!

It’s been very interesting to me how national heritage comes into play in this book, The Blossom Festival One of the kids is second-generation native born of Danish descent with a Danish immigrant stepfather. Another key player in the story is a Nisei Japanese-American girl whose headstrong temperament puts her at odds with her mother and flies in the face of others’ preconceptions of how a Japanese kid would act. That between-the-lines balancing act of reconciling Old and New Country ethos is fascinating to me, because it’s in that nebulous territory that we as Americans became or become Americans.

And, because it is timely, and also because I think this is one of the most aesthetically lovely PVs to ever come out of Hello!Project, I leave you with the 2004 Morning Musume sub-group Sakuragumi hit, “Sakura Mankai”

One Response to “Blossom time!”

  1. Rad says:

    Indeed, this PV is an extraordinary piece of work.

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