Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wordstock Reading

Come to Wordstock, Portland's gala literary festival, featuring Portland's finest poets, writers, and publishers.

I'll be giving a reading from What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps, a seven-year collaboration of poems and quilts with fiber artist Cathy Erickson. The reading begins at 2:00 on October 9 on the Wordstock Stage. I'll be sharing the stage with poet Kilong Ung, a Cambodian genocide survivor, who will read from his book.

While reading each poem, I'll show an image of Cathy's accompanying quilt and then talk about how I used the color, texture, shapes and images in her quilts to create my poems.

Visit my website to hear me read poems from What Remains. Cathy's quilts can be seen on her website

Radiance by Cathy Erickson

Fires on the Mountains, Fires in our Hearts

Margaret Chula reading at the Japanese American National Museum on 9/11/2010

 “When it snows, the San Gabriel Mountains look beautiful,” the Japanese woman at the front desk of the Miyako Hotel Los Angeles tells me. “But sometimes there are fires on the mountains.”

Exactly nine years ago on the morning of September 11, I awoke in Portland smelling smoke. I searched the house thoroughly. There was no fire, yet I felt uneasy. At that moment, on the east coast in New York, planes were crashing into the Twin Towers.

Now on September 11, 2010, quilt artist Cathy Erickson and I presenting our book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps at the Japanese American National Museum. The room fills up early. Many of the audience were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. Others are second- or third-generation Japanese Americans who learned about the camps in school, not from their parents, who were too ashamed or emotionally scarred to tell them.

September 11 is a day to reflect on not only the loss of innocent lives, but also the dissolution of human rights. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, over 120,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up and transported to ten concentration camps in desolate areas of the country. Seventy percent of them were American citizens. Fifty thousand were children. Not one was ever convicted of a disloyal act.

We begin our presentation with projected images of Cathy’s quilts. The audience oohs and ahhs at their beautiful colors, textures, and creative patterns. As I read my accompanying poems—in the voices of a young boy/a grandmother/a dancer/a carpenter/a teen-age girl—I hear women in the audience quietly weeping.

After the hour is over, I lean against the wall emotionally exhausted. The men and women quietly file out. Several of them come over to me, take my hand, and look me in the eyes. “Thank you for telling our story.”

Visit the JANM site at

Tea Party Under the August Sun

Nana Maggie, Shaina, and Angela

On a hot July afternoon this summer I treated our granddaughters Shaina (10) and Angela (8) to a tea party in the back yard. But before the party, we needed to find appropriate outfits. 

"Where are we going?" they asked from the back seat. "On a magical mystery tour," I replied. (We were giving their parents a day off to shop and relax.) John had gallantly offered to accompany us. First we stopped at Trilogy to get a Marx Brothers movie, then to the library for some books to carry them through the week, and finally to our destination—GoodWill, the mother store. 

First, the dresses. The three of us crowded into one dressing room and tried on dress after dress. John stood patiently outside the dressing room and gave his opinion on each outfit. The girls ended up with two dresses each and even I found one that may have been a wedding gown! "Great," says John, "can we go now." Oh, no, we have to find accessories and maybe some shoes. " At the jewelry counter, they each chose beads to match their dresses. Shaina found a pair of shoes and Angela a long flowing scarf. 

Back at home, I brought out all of my mother's and mother-in-law's tea cups, saucers, and a flowered teapot. Yellow daisies, cookies, peppermint tea, a pastel tablecloth, and Japanese fans, completed our party decor. We spoke of gentle things: the rabbit Camille who we had left weed clippings for, the beautiful white roses, the abundant raspberries that we picked each morning for our cereal, and how lucky we were that we were girls and could play dress-up.