Race plays a huge part in character relationships in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—especially because the story takes place during World War II, when prejudice against Japanese Americans is rampant. Even though Henry and Keiko look the same on the outside to many of their classmates—who (racistly… which should totally be a word) consider them both Japanese and traitors to America—there's even more racial tension in the mix because Henry's Chinese father hates the Japanese and doesn't want him to hang out with Keiko. Good times.
These racial tensions, the internment of Japanese Americans, and Henry's father's meddling is what ends up keeping Henry and Keiko apart—even though they love each other.
Questions About Race
Why does Henry's father hate the Japanese so much? What feelings do you see driving his prejudice?
Is Henry treated better than Keiko because he's Chinese? Why or why not?
How are Keiko and Henry both treated as the "other" when they're at school?
Do Henry's parents like Ethel more than Keiko simply because she's Chinese American? Why or why not? Give evidence from the text, please and thank you.
Chew on This
Time and again this book shows that racism is motivated by fear.
Henry's father makes him wear an "I Am Chinese" pin because he wants his son to be more accepted than Japanese people are—but the pin backfires and only serves to make Henry's otherness stand out more.