Henry Lee is twelve years old in 1942, and his father is forcing him to wear a pin that says "I am Chinese" on it when he goes to school. His school is full of white kids.
Before this, Henry's always gone to school with Chinese kids and his parents have always talked to him in Chinese, but they're now insisting he only speak English—even though his mother and father don't speak it.
Henry walks to school, and along the way he stops and gives his lunch to a sax player named Sheldon, who gives him a nickel for it. He does this because at Rainier Elementary, he's been getting beat up during lunch by the white kids.
With his nickels, Henry always buys his mother a starfire lily at the end of the week because it's her favorite flower and to assuage the guilt he feels about giving away the lunches she makes for him each day.
Because Henry is at Rainier Elementary on scholarship, he has a lot of duties to do at school. For example, he's been working in the cafeteria, and after he serves all the other kids, he usually eats some canned peaches in the storage room by himself. Some lunch.