Books: Fiction

Sylvia & Aki

Book — Historical fiction. By Winifred Conkling. 2011. 160 pages.
Based on the true story of two girls who meet in 1940s California and a landmark lawsuit on education.

Time Periods: 20th Century
Themes: Asian American, Civil Rights Movements, Education, Latinx, Laws & Citizen Rights, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity

sylviaandakiSylvia & Aki is a middle school book based on the true stories of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu Nakauchi, two 3rd graders whose lives are connected by history. When Munemitsu’s family is forced to leave their home in Westminster, California to a Japanese American internment camp in Arizona, the Mendez’s move into their home.

Sylvia Mendez looks forward to her first day of school, only to be told she and her siblings cannot enroll, whereas her lighter skinned cousins can. This leads to the ground-breaking Mendez v. Westminster School District desegregation lawsuit which preceded Brown v. Board. Munemitsu worries everyday about her father who is interned separately for most of WWII.

This book of historical fiction by Winifred Conkling (author of Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery) alternates chapters between the experiences of Sylvia and Aki, introducing the reader to the daily injustices of internment and school segregation.

ISBN: 9781582463377 | Tricycle Press/Random House

Four other Orange County families joined the Mendez family in the class action lawsuit to fight against Mexican American school segregation. These include the families of Thomas Estrada and William Guzman of Santa Ana, Frank Palomino of Garden Grove, and Lorenzo Ramirez of Orange. Too often the other plaintiffs are left out of this history. It is important to recognize their struggles and commitments.