Ruby Rose Coney Wynne-Jones, a seventh grade student of Liz Finin at the Odyssey Multiage Program on Bainbridge Island, Washington, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors, “by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz.
Tracy is part of the Japanese American community on Bainbridge Island, Washington—the first community in the nation to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps during World War II. In this story, she reflects on the meaning of the Japanese saying, nidoto nai yoni: “Let it not happen again,” and wonders what communities might do differently today to protect the civil liberties of our vulnerable neighbors.
Writing Prompt: Think about someone in your school or community who is vulnerable and may need protection or support. This person may be a neighbor or a classmate—it may even be you. Are you willing and brave enough to stand up against injustice? Describe what you would do, and how your actions might make a difference.
It Would Mean the World to Me
When I was in the second grade and living in England, I didn’t understand the questions in my math book, and I didn’t understand the words in my storybooks. Books were a blur of confusing numbers and words to me. I stayed at the same level of reading for about three years. My teachers, who were impatient and frustrated with my learning, would end up telling me how to get the answer to a math problem or say, “This is how to do it,” then give out long droning sighs of disappointment.
One day the second grade math teacher said in front of the whole class, “You don’t get this. Go to the first grade classroom.” Those words made my cheeks turn bright burning red as everyone in the class turned to stare at me. In my head I was screaming, screaming at myself, “Why can’t you just get the problems in the math book or understand the words in the books like everyone else in the class?”
Every week we had assembly. Each student would get a book to read with the songs in it. When it was my turn to get a book, they just skipped me and said to just hum because they knew I couldn’t read the book. I just sat there and swallowed my tears, and my face was that stunned, rose color again. I said to myself, “Let this not happen again” but I did not know how to make this come true.
Every day when I got home Mom would say that I had to read and do my homework—then I could do what I wanted. When I had finished that torturing painful book, I got a piece of paper and drew. Drawing was my way out of that dark space of numbers and letters that swirled around my head like a hurricane. When I draw, the sun comes out.
The next year, my mom drove me to a city and told me I was going to a special doctor. I thought to myself, “I hate doctors,” and wondered why this one was special. We went upstairs to a room and opened the door to where a nice lady with a kind face stood behind the door. My mom sat down in the corner next to the window with the white curtains drawn and sunlight peeking through them.
The lady told me to sit on the chair in front of the desk; she sat next to me and pulled out some card games and mind puzzles. I thought, “I like games, so this can’t be a doctor.” As I played the games with her, she wrote things on a clipboard. When it seemed like an hour had gone by, the lady showed my mom a paper and then we left. When I went to school the next day, the teacher told me to sit at the table with the people who got their own separate teacher. When I got home, my mom told me that the place I had gone to the day before was to see if I had dyslexia. She told me that I had dyslexia.
The YES! Magazine article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors,” by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz, talks about how nobody stood up for Japanese people in World War II. I want to stand up for kids with dyslexia or ADHD— to let it not happen again like when our neighbors on Bainbridge island were taken away. We should consider that kids who struggle with reading or writing may have dyslexia or ADHD. Don’t just judge them as stupid. I was one of those kids who didn’t get it like everyone else. I was the one who everyone thought was stupid. I want to stand up for those kids who are suffering, so that they can be treated like everyone else and not have to go through what I did.
In Loeffelholz’s article, 97-year-old internment survivor Kay Sakai Nakao said, “We have to fight for them—fight for them!—because not too many people fought for us.” I want to fight for kids with dyslexia by putting more paraeducators in schools in England and America, to help people who are not getting the help they need. I am standing up for these people like nobody did for me.
Nidoto nai yoni—let it not happen again. Don’t humiliate children with learning disabilities. Don’t judge people who aren’t as good at things. Don’t treat them differently— treat them the same way you treat everyone else because they aren’t that different. When they ask for help, it could mean the world to them if you did, because I know it did when people helped me.