Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

This is the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family, who lease an asparagus farm from a Japanese family forced to evacuate to an internment camp during WWII.  When Sylvia’s aunt attempts to enroll Sylvia and her brothers in school, they are turned away and sent to the “Mexican school.”  Sylvia’s father is outraged by this discrimination and undertakes a lawsuit against the school district.

Meanwhile, Aki Munemitsu and her family try to keep their spirits up and make sense of being forced to abandon their farm and everything they know and being imprisoned in an internment camp hundreds of miles away from home – forced by a country to which they’ve been nothing but loyal, but which now sees them as a “threat to national security” based merely on their Japanese ethnicity.

Inevitably, Sylvia and Aki, whose old bedroom Sylvia now calls her own, become pen pals, and then friends.

Based on true events, the case of Mendez vs. Westminster School District effectively ended racial segregation in California schools, and was instrumental in ending racial segregation in schools nationwide.

What made this story all the more interesting to me is that it took place locally – Westminster is only a stone’s throw from where I call home.  I was unaware of this little piece of history until I read this book.

Written for the grade-school set (ages 9 and up), it’s a very quick read.  Not extremely in-depth, it does skim over a lot of details that could make the story more interesting.  However, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to kids and grownups alike.