Globe & Mail: Out of the mouths of babes, a plea for Kogawa's house

Globe & Mail:  Out of the mouths of babes, a plea for Kogawa's house


photo courtesy of Joan Young (not printed in Globe & Mail article)

Out of the mouths of babes, a plea for Kogawa's house

VANCOUVER
— If the innocence and passion of children were enough to save the
childhood home of celebrated author Joy Kogawa, the campaign to
preserve her old residence from imminent demolition would be a slam
dunk.

Twenty Grade 3 and 4 students made the trek to Vancouver City
Council chambers yesterday to issue a heartfelt plea on behalf of the
historic house, a plea that left councillor Kim Capri on the verge of
tears.

“I didn't expect to get so emotional. I welled up a little bit,” Ms.
Capri told the schoolchildren after listening to each of their
individual, one-sentence messages.

The pleas, made in turn, tumbled into one another in quick succession.

“Please save the house. Everyone will be happy. . . . The house is
so beautiful. I want to save it. . . . It is a beautiful house of
memories. . . . Please help us.”

And at the end, the most poignant of all: “If the house is destroyed, my heart will be a pool of tears.”

Ms. Kogawa's early home is a major image in her quasi-autobiographical, bestselling novel Obasan, about the wartime internment of a Japanese-Canadian family.

It is also central to her children's book on the same topic, Naomi's Road.

The story moved the students from Tomsett Elementary School in
Richmond to embrace Ms. Kogawa's tale and pitch in to try to save the
home where she lived happily for the first six years of her life.

The cultural landmark, a striking bungalow in the heart of the
city's Marpole area, is scheduled to be demolished by its owners at the
end of the month.

A grassroots campaign to buy the home and ward off its destruction
has been taken over by the Land Conservancy, which is seeking to raise
$1.25-million.

That would cover the purchase price, renovations and an endowment fund to establish a writer-in-residence program there.

But the task is daunting. With four weeks to go, the total stands at $170,000, almost all from relatively small donations.

The Richmond students donated $1 each to the fund, prompting Ms.
Capri, who had already made a donation, to cough up again to match
their contribution.

“I think what moved me was the fact that the students had been touched so deeply by this issue,” she said in an interview.

“They saw it, they learned it, they lived it. And what they said captured all of that. Their sincerity was very moving.”

Last month, the class toured the threatened house with Ms. Kogawa, who shared many of her childhood memories with them.

They paid particular attention to the stricken, backyard cherry tree that Ms. Kogawa played on as a child.

“I've just been amazed at how well they have responded,” said the
children's teacher, Joan Young, herself a Japanese-Canadian, whose
mother was interned in the Interior of B.C.

“It's been such a rich learning experience for them. I think they
were struck by the cherry tree, which was such a happy tree for Joy
Kogawa, and then the war came along.”

Yesterday, the students had been planning to present personal
letters to Mayor Sam Sullivan, but Mr. Sullivan had to cancel at the
last minute. Then, the letters were inadvertently left behind on the
bus.

But nine-year Carol Hu, a mere wisp of a child, was able to recite her letter from memory.

“Dear Mayor Sam Sullivan,” she began. “I am writing to you because I
want to save the Kogawa house. I want to save it because when I went
and touched the cherry tree, I felt the energy of love, peace and
friendship there.

“And when I went into the rooms, I felt I was living there with a
warm family. It was like I had four layers of cotton blankets on me.

“It would be a terrible shame if the house had to be destroyed.
Think how many memories would be destroyed and how many tears will come
down.

“We put a lot of work into it to save the house. If it does get destroyed, I would feel like knives coming through my heart.”

A TV crew was so impressed, they asked her to do it again. She did.

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