Cherry Blossoms begins in Bella Bella, a remote island on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia and home to the Heiltsuk Nation. It is a world where gender roles are set in stone, and traditional ceremonies mark a child’s passage into adulthood. Fourteen-year-old Sarah is about to have her coming of age ceremony, and is very much missing her parents. Her mother died long ago, and her father abandoned her not long after that. She is now left to fend for herself with her aging grandfather, Papa, a hereditary chief. He has passed his talent for traditional art on to his granddaughter. Sarah adds her own flavor to the art with comic book heroes done in the traditional Heiltsuk style—Wonder Woman and Superman, only like you’ve never seen them before.
The preparation for her coming of age ceremony creates a longing in Sarah to know her only surviving parent. She travels to Vancouver with her best friend Jackie to shop for their ceremony. It is there that she meets her Aunt Ruth—a transgendered woman who has found refuge from a community unwilling to accept her uniqueness. In doing so, Ruth has given up her past, her family, and her culture.
We soon discover that Ruth is actually Sarah’s father, and that Sarah knew this all along. Sarah finds the courage to confront Ruth about abandoning her as a child. She learns that Ruth (nee Richard) was disowned by Papa because of the sex change. Sarah and Ruth get to know each other, and Sarah desperately wants Ruth to be present at her Coming of Age Ceremony. But Ruth knows she will not be welcomed home with open arms.
Ruth returns to Bella Bella, prepared for a battle with her father – and finds one. Ashamed, Papa shows his heartache with his fists. It is Sarah’s love and acceptance of Ruth that allows Papa to accept Ruth back in their home.
Set in a rich cultural environment, Cherry Blossoms weaves the customs and the striking images of traditional West Coast art with pop iconography to tell a complex story about a girl who blossoms into womanhood while bridging cultures and generations. Together, Ruth and Sarah become women, and find their own distinct places amongst their people.
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