This piece is an honest attempt at a CPU (Critical, Personal, Universal) personal response to an excerpt from David Guterson’s Snow Falling On Cedars. The excerpt is set in an American relocation camp in 1941 just shortly after the Japanese bombings of Pearl Harbour, where Fujiko Imada (the mother) and Hatsue (the daughter) are brought to a crossroads after Fujiko gains knowledge of her daughter’s romantic endeavours with a Caucasian boy named Ishmael Chambers. Being that the family is of Japanese heritage, Fujiko perceives this as a threat, and thereby takes upon the responsibility of dealing with the matter herself.
A Mother’s Nature
Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the ways in which individuals take responsibility for themselves or others. (June 2010)
As a daughter, I wish I could say I understood the weight of responsibility that comes with being a mother, but I can’t. I can’t because I have never been one. I have not birthed my own child, nor grown to love and protect them with all my heart. I have also never had to learn to let go, and let my own son or daughter be free to make their own choices, and trust that my work to uphold my responsibilities as a mother will still protect my children even after letting go. I have never experienced that blessing nor that burden. My mother and I have been close for as long as I can remember, but I do recall a time before my senior years of high school that caused a divide between us. Religion and culture have always been a touchy subject for me and my family. My mother, being westernized in the sense that she too was born in Canada, has always held a soft spot in her heart for her Pakistani Muslim lineage, whereas I – a mixed child, born into a progressive modern day Canadian society, do not hold such roots so close to my heart. My mom and I are so alike and we both care for each other so much, so perhaps it was due to that very reason that we clashed. In a way, you could consider me like Hatsue, and my mother as Fujiko; two women who obviously love each other, but are torn due to differences of responsibility. After reading David Guterson’s excerpt from Snow Falling On Cedars, seeing the similarities between Fujiko and Hatsue, and my mother and I sparked a certain sense of understanding in me. It was comforting to know that the relationship I had with my mother was not so uncommon, but also, it was interesting to understand that individuals, particularly parents, may take responsibility by imposing their own beliefs onto others whom they care for, as a way of protecting them from societal struggles. This was an evident truth that I noticed within the actions of both my mother and Fujiko as well as a way to protect their children from a life of difficulties with their beliefs.
In Guterson’s excerpt, when Fujiko finds out about Hatsue’s romantic relationship with Ishmael, she feels as though she had unfulfilled her responsibilities as a mother. Being that this took place right after the Japanese bombings of Pearl Harbour, those of Japanese descent in America were persecuted and sent to concentration camps (as the Imada family was) often by the white man, and so the need to remain close and true to their roots was imperative in order to keep members of the community safe. As a parent, readers can empathize with her mentality as her natural inclination as a parent was to protect and take responsibility for her child was heightened during times of turmoil. Fujiko clearly implements Japanese teachings into her daughter’s life, as demonstrated by her casual use of the Japanese word hajukin (meaning white) as she describes Ishmael. The way Ishmael is perceived by Fujiko is by this Japanese word – by the colour of his skin, which she as a mother perceived as just as much as a threat to her daughter as the current situation. There is also a clear sense of traditional Japanese values that are set in place for the family as Fujiko writes to the Chambers family, both as a way to uphold their family’s honour, but also to take responsibility for Hatsue’s actions. After raising Hatsue into a young woman with a strong Japanese influence, she is disappointed to see her daughter lacking responsibility for herself within her choice to pursue such a romantic relationship. In order to reconcile their relationship, Fujiko tries to impose her ideals further on to her daughter in order to protect her from pain, and therefore dismisses her daughter’s right to take responsibility for herself. She addressed the fact that Hatsue and Ishmael, at age 18, were “only children”, and claimed she knew that “children were foolish”, thereby dismissing Hatsue’s right to her own decisions because of her age. This perception of Hatsue as being young and incapable of her own decisions that Fujiko presents to herself may be interpreted as a means for her to seemingly preserve the youth of her daughter. By justifying her act of ending Hatsue’s relationship, she attempts to protect her daughter from pains of heartbreak and discrimination that existed against the Japanese people.
Now, while I can’t exactly compare myself to the Imada family directly, I can relate with the situation at hand, which made the piece so compelling to me. My mother and I faced a similar divide during a time where I wanted to explore myself. High school is a place for change and growth and in my first years, that was exactly what I was doing. At the time I had come to the hasty conclusion that I no longer wanted to be a Muslim. This can be compared to Hatsue’s decision to pursue a relationship with Ishmael Chambers. Much like how Hatsue kept the relationship a secret for several years, this was an idea that I sat on for many years as well, always humming and hawing at the idea of being something else. It wasn’t necessarily one thing that sparked that idea within me, but constant mentioning of Muslim terrorists in the media, combined with my dilute understanding of the faith made me feel dissociated and uncomfortable with my own religion. Due to the fact that I was a mixed child, I had much exposure to the Catholic Church (due to my Latin roots) and thought maybe that was the path for me. You can imagine my mother’s grief after hearing this news when she had spent her entire life conditioning me with her own beliefs of Islam. She was hurt and obviously disappointed with me, just like Fujiko was with Hatsue’s decision. After that came countless arguments, my mother taking away my electronics and giving me several lectures about staying true to my faith. This can be compared to how Fujiko took it upon herself to receive all of the Imada family mail and to write the letters to the Chambers family herself. I was so mad at her, and I couldn’t understand why she felt the need to be so mad about a decision that was my own. What I failed to recognize however was that my mother felt that she had failed to uphold her responsibility as a mother, just as Fujiko Imada did, and so she combatted that by imposing her beliefs further on to me. She was trying to protect me from the stigmas that existed against the Muslim religion, and yet all I could seem to notice was how she was treating me like a child. I remember her telling me how “I was only 14 at the time” and how “as a child I didn’t know what I wanted”, which was a similar justification to Fujiko’s when explaining how she and Ishmael were not thinking straight at 18.
Next came religious lessons with the grandfather for an entire summer, and as the days past I felt myself changing in a way. I noticed my mother’s desperate need to stress the importance of Islam in my life, and though I didn’t fall head over heels for the religion, I saw my mother more clearly. As I learned, our relationship grew closer in the sense that by taking responsibility for me and my learning, she was able to relax more, and the lessons stopped. She told me that now that I knew the history, it was time for me to learn to embrace Islam myself. I admire my mother so much, and only then did I realize how tiring motherhood must be. It was only after seeing her take a step back from juggling all the responsibilities of being a mother that I saw how much of our own responsibilities she took up in order to keep us safe and happy. We never talked about differences of religion much after that, like how Fujiko gave Hatsue permission to write her own letter instead of the one she had written. That small bit of responsibility that my mother gave me, as well as Fujiko to Hatsue, must have been so hard to give up. After all, a mother’s main duty is to protect their children, and to see their child make a decision that they perceive to be wrong must not only be disheartening, but also frightening.
I realize now that my mother tried to save our relationship by teaching me about my faith, not harm it. After all, she was looking to protect me from the racist slurs and stigmas that revolved around my culture that obviously made me feel uncomfortable and uneasy in my own skin. This was a realization I noticed in Fujiko’s character as well as she was trying to help her daughter, not harm her, despite her restrictions. Her apprehensions towards Ishmael Chambers were not due to the fact that Hatsue claimed to be in love, but because of the dangers it could have brought her in during the times. Just like there is a stigma against Muslims now, there was one that existed against the Japanese post World War Two, and Fujiko was trying to uphold her responsibility as a mother best by preserving her daughter’s Japanese identity. My mother too wanted to give me a sense of identity (as I claimed to have never had one before because of my mixed heritage), and also wanted to make sure I knew the importance of my faith. She made it her responsibility to make sure I knew how to not get it confused with harsh sayings on the news or in the media, and helped me combat an insecurity that I held that was hurting me. It is too often that you hear of Muslims being called terrorists or extremist, and so my mother tried everything in her power to reverse that mentality for me and teach me in order to protect me from the dangers of my misconceptions. The same can be said for Fujiko, and after seeing Hatsue’s realization at the end of the excerpt, it is clear to the readers that she too comes to a similar conclusion as she takes it upon herself to end the relationship without her mother’s push.
As a parent, particularly as a mother, the responsibility of raising a child is pressing, and I truly envy the strength mothers around the world who to do the job well. One of the hardest things, I can only assume, would be to take a step back from parental responsibility and watching your children make decisions for themselves. It is inevitable fate that that time must come in every relationship, but the easing to that point may be difficult. Mother’s want to do everything in their power to protect their children, whether it be from bullies to the racism in the media, to even just plain insecurities. More often than not, mothers will turn to tactics such as restrictions or smothering of beliefs on their children in order to do so, with the hopes that these lessons will stick with their children and follow them on their journey to claiming their own responsibility. In both my own personal life, as well as in David Guterson’s excerpt from Snow Falling On Cedars, I have come to understand that the responsibility of mother’s is both hard to handle, as well as hard to give up. In both cases, both mothers were faced with situations in which their children were faced with possible hardship, and so they took it upon themselves to take up the responsibility of teaching their beliefs to their children in order to preserve their innocence and protect them.
Featured Image: Mother’s Nature by Wrightsonarts