Study Guide

Seedfolks Race

By Paul Fleischman

Race

Gibb Street was mainly Rumanians back then. It was "Adio"—"Good-bye"—in all the shops when you left. Then the Rumanians started leaving. They weren't the first, or the last. This has always been a working-class neighborhood. It's like a cheap hotel—you stay until you've got enough money to leave. A lot of Slovaks and Italians moved in next. Then N**** families in the Depression. Gibb Street became the line between the blacks and the whites, like a border between countries. I watched it happen, through this very window. (2.1)

Over time, Ana has seen a ton of changes in her part of town. And with each change, her neighborhood stays segregated—different races don't live side by side. It's so extreme that Ana even compares the parts of her neighborhood to separate "countries." What do you think—is this a fair comparison?

She gave me some binoculars and told me all about the Chinese girl. (3.5)

Ana has been watching Kim work on her lima beans, and now she wants Wendell to take a look at those lima beans, too. Nosy, much? We know for sure that neither of them knows Kim's background, either, because she's definitely not Chinese (she's Vietnamese). What do you think this tells us about making assumptions about race?

I start up conversations in lines and on the bus and with cashiers. People see I'm friendly, no matter what they've heard about whites or Jews. If I'm lucky, I get 'em talking to each other. Sewing up the rips in the neighborhood. (6.2)

Sam wants to make sure people look past racial stereotypes. For him, this means being nice all the time. No matter what. Do you notice any other characters doing this, too?

One Saturday, when the garden was fullest, I stood up a minute to straighten my back. And what did I see? With a few exceptions, the blacks on one side, the whites on another, the Central Americans and Asians toward the back. The garden was a copy of the neighborhood. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. (6.5)

When Sam looks at the garden, he sees one thing: segregation. People have separated into their own parts of the garden and aren't working across ethnic differences. Normally, Sam is an optimistic dude. But here, he doesn't sound too cheery. Why don't you think Sam is surprised by the segregation in the garden? Is he more pessimistic than we thought?

The only faces looking back were the drunks that hang out under her place. […] They liked to call me "field slave" and "share-cropper." Ask how Massa's crops is doing. I could have banged their heads together and shut 'em up, but I didn't. (9.6)

While Curtis is working on his tomato plants, a bunch of rude drunks across the street start mocking him. When they call Curtis names like "field slave," they're reminding Curtis about a dark part of American history, when African Americans were slaves. Curtis does a good job of not getting too angry about all this cruel name-calling, but in Shmoop's book, it's 100% unacceptable.

If you're Mexican, the Cubans and Puerto Ricans hate you because they think you snuck in illegally and they didn't. (11.1)

Maricela has some pretty serious thoughts about race. For starters, she feels like other people make assumptions about how she came to live in Cleveland because she's Mexican. And Maricela makes the whole thing even more complicated because she's making some assumptions of her own, right? What do you think of all these assumptions? And does Maricela get to escape stereotypes by the end of her story?

Cleveland is a city of immigrants. The Poles are especially well known here. I'd always heard that Polish men were steelworkers and that the women cooked lots of cabbage. But I'd never know one—until the garden. She was an old woman whose space bordered mine. She had a seven-block walk to the garden, the same route I took. We spoke quite often. (12.5)

Amir has heard some pretty specific stereotypes about Polish people. And before he meets a Polish woman, these stereotypes are all the information he has, which means his picture of Polish people is super skewed. Well, Amir is about to get to know his Polish neighbor pretty well, and he's going to find out just how misleading stereotypes can be.

She looked down at them and said she knew she ought to do it, but that this task reminded her too closely of her concentration camp, where the prisoners were inspected each morning and divided into two lines—the healthy to live and the others to die. Her father, an orchestra violinist, had spoken out against the Germans, which had caused her family's arrest. When I heard her words, I realized how useless was all that I'd heard about Poles, how much richness it hid, like the worthless shell around an almond. I still do not know, or car, whether she cooks cabbage. (12.5)

When Amir gets to know his Polish pal better, he discovers that the stereotypes he's heard are just plain wrong. And worse than that, they actually keep people from really learning about other individuals. Amir compares a stereotype to a "worthless shell around an almond." What do you think of this comparison? One thing is for sure: it's a good thing Amir ignores the stereotypes, because he ends up making a great friend.

Many people spoke to me that day. Several asked where I was from. I wondered if they knew as little about Indians as I had known about Poles. (12.9)

Amir realizes that racial assumptions can go both ways. And yes, it's great that Amir has learned to look past stereotypes, but does this mean that everyone has had the same realization? Are there characters that make assumptions about Amir based on his race?

My great-grandparents walked all the way from Louisiana to Colorado. That was in 1859. They were both freed slaves and they wanted to get good and far from cotton-growing country. They went over the mountains, just to be safe, and homesteaded along the Gunnison River. Which is how my grandfather and my father and my sisters and I all came to be born there, the first black family in the whole county. My father called them our Seedfolks, because they were the first of our family there. (13.1)

According to Florence, her family history has a lot to do with her race. Her great-grandparents were freed slaves moving west, so they were true pioneers. They had to find a place to live where they felt safe. And they also wanted a location where they didn't have reminders of "cotton-growing country" (because that's where enslaved African Americans were often forced to work). Sounds like a really important journey that her great-grandparents took.