The title of this poem refers to the executive order that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during the war. ‘In Response to Executive Order 9066’ is a contemporary poem written by Japanese-American poet and novelist Dwight Holden. His work, like this piece, usually focuses on the experiences of Japanese-American immigrants, gay men, and religion.
Explore In Response to Executive Order 9066
‘In Response to Executive Order 9066’ by Dwight Okita describes her ordinary teenage life and emphasizes her American identity.
When the poem begins, she mentions packing for the relocation. She talks about her friendship with a white girl named Denise.
The poet conveys the shifting dynamics the two experience when Denise accuses the narrator of “giving secrets away to the Enemy.” The poem illustrates the personal and emotional effects of the internment on Japanese-American citizens.
Structure and Form
‘In Response to Executive Order 9066’ by Dwight Okita is a four-stanza poem divided into one five-line stanza, one eight-line stanza, one seven-line stanza, and a final five-line stanza, known as a quintain. It is also written in free verse, meaning that it doesn’t adhere to a specific rhyme scheme or meter, and the line lengths vary throughout the poem.
The structure is more akin to a personal letter or monologue, and this informality helps convey the young narrator’s voice.
In this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include:
- Allusion: A reference to something outside the direct scope of the poem. In this case, the poet alludes to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.
- Symbolism: In addition to the tomato seeds, other elements, such as the galoshes, may be seen as symbols.
- Juxtaposition: This can be seen when the poet places contrasting elements close together. For example, pairing the girl’s bad spelling and messy room with the historical trauma of internment.
Of course I’ll come. I’ve packed my galoshes
and three packets of tomato seeds. Denise calls them
love apples. My father says where we’re going
they won’t grow.
The first stanza starts in the form of a letter. The speaker uses a formal tone in these lines, referring to the “Sirs” who demand that her family relocate due to order 9066. It establishes the context of a letter and gives an immediate sense of the communication’s impersonal nature.
The poet’s speaker says, “Of course,” she’ll obey the command, suggesting the resignation or acceptance of the forced relocation. It may also signify the innocence of the narrator, who does not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.
The three packets of tomato seeds introduce a rich symbol. Tomato seeds represent growth, hope, connection to home, and life before the internment. They may also symbolize the girl’s innocence and her attachment to small comforts.
This makes sense when the speaker’s father notes that the tomato seeds won’t “grow” where they’re going. They’re going somewhere devoid of hope, life, and prosperity.
I am a fourteen-year-old girl with bad spelling
O’Connor, Ozawa. I know the back of Denise’s head very well.
In the second stanza of the poem, which is also the longest, the speaker describes herself as a “fourteen-year-old girl” who has bad spelling and a messy room. She’s a normal teenager who is disconnected from stereotypical cultural expectations. This is seen through the fact that she “always felt funny using chopsticks.”
The introduction of Denise as her best friend, a “white girl,” emphasizes the theme of multiculturalism. Their shared experiences and interest in boys reflect typical teenage friendships, another way that the poet is emphasizing how normal and relatable this girl is.
The mention of their last names, “O’Connor, Ozawa,” highlights their different ethnic backgrounds but also shows how they were paired together by mere alphabetical ordering. This is a way that the poet emphasizes the arbitrary ways that society groups people.
I tell her she’s going bald. She tells me I copy on tests.
The speaker reveals in these lines that she thinks of Denise as her best friend. Although they bicker, she cares about her. She teases her friend, telling her that she’s going bald, while Denise accuses her of copying her answers.
The observation that Denise is sitting on the other side of the room, like lines three and four, signals a change in their relationship. She accuses her once-friend of “trying to start a war” and “giving secrets away to the Enemy,” things that she undoubtedly heard from her parents.
This is a poignant moment that captures the profound effect that war and propaganda can have on individual relationships.
I didn’t know what to say.
she’d miss me.
The poem ends on a sad note, one that reemphasizes how naive the speaker is and how difficult this period in history was. The narrator’s response is gentle and thoughtful, serving as a strong contrast to Denise’s cruel words.
The act of giving Denise a packet of tomato seeds serves as a symbolic gesture. Previously, the seeds represented growth, hope, and connection. Here, they become a token of memory and continuity.
The poem ends with a hopeful statement, suggesting that Denise may eventually recognize her mistake and remember their friendship fondly. The gesture is filled with both sadness and hope. It reflects the complexity of human emotions and relationships during this time.
The purpose of this poem is to humanize a historical event by telling it from the perspective of a young girl. This invites readers to connect emotionally and understand the impact on individual lives.
Executive Order 9066, issued in 1942, authorized the forced relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The poem gives voice to those affected by this historical event.
The characters are a 14-year-old Japanese-American girl who is innocent, thoughtful, and struggling to understand her forced relocation, Denise (the narrator’s white best friend), and the narrator’s father, whose voice is one of realism and understanding.
The main theme is the loss of innocence and the transformation of relationships under societal prejudice and fear. It explores how external forces can invade personal lives, altering perceptions and causing betrayal.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related pieces. For example:
- ‘Immigration’ by Ali Alizadeh – is a captivating look at the positives, negatives, and the emotional and mental toll that immigration takes.
- ‘Immigrant Blues’ by Li-Young Lee – describes an immigrant’s bewilderment with the idea of internalizing a second language other than their own.
- ‘Lorikeets‘ by Peter Skrzynecki – is about the conditions under which the poet and his family were forced to migrate to Australia.