In the true story “Farewell to Manzanar” we learn of a young girl’s lifeas she grows up during World War II in a Japanese internment camp.
Along withher family and ten thousand other Japanese we see how, as a child, theseconditions forced to shape and mold her life. This book does not directly placeblame or hatred onto those persons or conditions which had forced her to endurehardship, but rather shows us through her eyes how these experiences have heldvalue she has been able to grow from. Jeanne Wakatsuki was just a seven year growing up in Ocean Park,California when her whole life was about to change. Everything seemed to begoing fine, her father owning two fishing boats, and they lived in a large housewith a large dining table which was located in an entirely non-Japaneseneighborhood.Order now
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese was themoment Jeanne’s life was critically altered. This started WWII and all Japanesewere seen as possible threats to the nations safety. It is not difficult to see,but difficult to justify this view, and therefore Jeanne Wakatsuki, just a child,was now seen as a monster. Her father was immediately arrested and taken away,being accused with furnishing oil to Japanese subs off the coast. And now,Jeanne left without a father, her mother was trapped with the burden of Jeanne’srapidly aging grandmother and her nine brothers and sisters. Too young tounderstand, Jeanne did not know why or where her father had been taken.
But shedid know that one very important part of her was gone. Jeanne’s father was a very strong, military-like, proud, arrogant, anddignified man. He was the one who was always in control, and made all thedecisions for the family. He grew up in Japan, but left at the age of seventeen,headed for work in Hawaii, and never again went back. Leaving his own familybehind and never contacting them ever again. But now it was time for Jeanne’sfamily to do something.
They found refuge at Terminal Island, a place wheremany Japanese families live either in some transition stage or for permanentresidents. Jeanne was terrified. ” It was the first time I had lived amongother Japanese, or gone to school with them, and I was terrified all the time. “Her father, as a way of keeping his children in line, told them, “I’m going tosell you to the Chinaman.
” So when Jeanne saw all these Japanese kids sheassumed she was being sold. They were soon given 48 hrs. to find a new place tostay. Again they found refuge in a minority ghetto in Boyle Heights, LosAngeles. But then the government issued Executive Order 9066 which gave the WarDept.
power to define military areas in the western states. Anyone who couldpossibly threaten the war effort (Japanese) were going to be transported tointernment camps. As Jeanne boarded the Greyhound bus someone tied a number tagto her collar and one to her duffel bag. So, for now on all families hadnumbers to which they could be identified. No longer people, but animalshearded off to some unknown place.
This was to be their destiny for the rest ofthe war, and long after. Being a child, Jeanne was too young to comprehend what all this reallymeant. She knew that her dad was away and her family was moving a lot. Atfirst, for Jeanne this seemed exciting, like an adventure, since she had neverbeen outside of L. A. before.
Jeanne is a Nissei, a natural born citizen of theUnited States. But, again this really didn’t mean much to her. What could shedo, and what could she know? Up to this point her life had been relativelysimple. As a 7-yr. old one doesn’t really no much of life anyway! This wassoon to change for her, as she is now being forced into a world guarded behindbarbed wire. Manzanar, located near Lone Pine, California was the camp Jeanne’sfamily, kept together only by an effort made by Jeanne’s mother, was assigned to.
The conditions were raw, cold, windy and unfriendly. In a sense a metaphor forJeanne, their treatment, and the unstable condition of her family and life. 10,000 Japanese shoved into a quarter mile piece of dust-land surrounded withbarbed wire, and guard towers. The living quarters were shabbily constructedwooden barracks which didn’t provide any shelter from the blistering cold windand the dry dust. Not quite a concentration camp, but not quite adequate either. At first Jeanne actually didn’t mind the situation that much.
Shereferred to as like camping. But for the adults and her older brothers andsisters, including one newlywed couple sharing a barrack with a family with twoyoung kids, it was hell. 6-8 people sharing a 15 by 20 foot space with a cot,two army blankets, and a stove which didn’t work very good. “Animals don’t evenlive like this,” was a comment made by Jeanne’s mother after her oldest brotherWoody tried to ease their mama’s pain.
As months rolled by and their fatherstill imprisoned at Fort Lincoln, Montana Jeanne began to notice her lifechanging. Japanese families had always been very tight units and this wasbeginning to break down. As a family they would always eat together, but theconditions of the mess halls to eat at and Jeanne’s Grandmother unable to makethe walk to dinner, this tradition ended. Adults ate seperately from thechildren, and this in itself begins to break down the structure and unity of thefamily. The parents lost control over their children. The barracks were toosmall for any in-home activity and the children were forced, not like theyobjected, to be outside all the time.
The housing units were strictly forcoming home at night to sleep in. This break down of family structure forcedthe kids to find alternate ways of occupying themselves, rather than havingparental guidance or some type of authority to watch over them. After nine months Jeanne’s father finally returned. Jeanne admittedthat she really didn’t think about him that often. When he arrived no onerushed to greet or hug him, only after a brief hesitation did Jeanne approachand serve as the entire family’s welcome home party. They Were silent becausehe seemed to be a changed man.
He was again using the cane he had carved yearsback which he used to extend a type of military authority over everyone. Beforebeing imprisoned, as I said, he had great dignity, but now seemed to have lostthat. He had lost it because all his loyalty and honor was repeatedlyquestioned there. Drinking began to take control of him and he never wouldleave the barracks. He brewed his own rice wine and brandy, and became adrunken tyrant. Jeanne was never aware that her mother and father used to fightthe way they did there.
Because she always had a room to escape to. She beganto despise her father and his authority. Jeanne was discovering new things, and before her father’s returnbecame seriously interested in Catholicism. She loved all the women martyrstories, and possibly could relate to them or to some aspect in them. Butbefore she could get baptized her father had come back and exercised his controlover it, and wouldn’t allow it. He told her that their family was Buddhist andthat she was to young to even understand what Catholicism was.
Even though theynever practiced the religion only celebrated a few holidays. She was confusedand wanted acceptance in any way she could find it. She took up the baton andbecame very skilled at it. But her father criticized this activity, saying sheshould not try to become American, but rather take up some traditional Japaneseactivity, like Odori dancing. Even though he himself left that life behind himin Japan to move to America.
He could not expect his children growing up inAmerica to only do Japanese things, even though this place they were trapped inwasn’t what America should be for them. She began to desire the outside world. It was where everything was, but couldn’t be reached. She would see things inthe Sears Roebuck catalogue and dream of that place out there that has all thesethings. She even referred to this catalogue as the same as God.
She was nowaware that this place she was in was not where she should be. Manzanar became to her and her family their home. They had food,clothes, and shelter. It had become their world all rolled up within a quartermile, with baton lessons, dance, schools, religion, and even a band. But thewar was ending and the camps due to close in December, 1945.
Where were theyto go and what were they to do? These questions frightened her and her parents. There were no answers. How could a government take everything away, put us incamps, then let us loose with nothing? And how were they to be treated oncethey were out there. Fearing the stories they heard that earlier releasedinternees had been beating or even killed. But when they finally left it wasdifferent. They expected people lining the streets with guns, or billboardsreading “go home you dirty Japs” on them.
They were put up in a housing compound in Cabrillo. It was small buther mom now could cook and the cold winds didn’t get in. Jeanne enrolled in Jr. high school, and her mother got a job at a cannery.
Her father refusing tostoop that low didn’t find a job for a long time. Her first experience on theoutside of Manzanar had the lurking of all her fears of not being accepted. When asked to read in class as the new student, she stood up and read well. Then a girl said something that haunts her to this day. “Gee I didn’t know youcould speak English. ” This remark made by a white girl, whom she became friendswith later, made her realize that this is how things were going to be.
Theyweren’t going to beat or injure her, they were going to see she has slanted eyesand assume that she is different. She only wanted acceptance. And realizedthat it was going to happen unless she proved something to them. She did. Since she had taken baton at Manzanar she made the marching band as majorette.
The first Japanese majorette ever at her school. Then on to win beauty queen inhigh school. These things made her feel accepted, one of the others. But shewas denying the fact that she was doing this for them not completely for herself. She realized this when she was walking down the isle to receive her carnivalqueen award.
A kind of revelation hit her that none of this really mattered anymore, and wished she had taken Odori classes like her father wanted her to. Ithink this revealed that she had finally found herself among all these otherpeople and didn’t have to be the same as them, she could now be her, for herself. Nearly 30 yrs. Later when she herself was married and had 3 children ofher own was she able to accept that part that over the years she tried to forget.
She said that she was always putting off trips to Manzanar because she wasafraid it might have the same effect on her as it did when she was young. Thatfeeling of inferiority and nothingness in this world she had always been a partof. She used to hate herself for the way white people would get to her with onelittle comment like “Oh! You speak English,” that she would feel completelyforeign in her world. When she finally visited the ruins of Manzanar she “nolonger wanted to lose or have those years erased. Having found it, I could saywhat you can really say when you’ve truly come to know a place: Farewell. “This says it all.
She had finally been able to see that Manzanar was one giantstepping stone she had climbed, and that gave her worth, so she could feel atpeace with herself. Her life had really begun at Manzanar, but she isn’t aboutto let it end there. In conclusion, this story was well written and I could sympathize withevery trial and tribulation she encountered. Some may say she didn’t value herJapanese heritage enough or was pitying herself for being Japanese. But she, inmy view is a hero because she took everything that was imposed on her andendured through it. She was able to accept herself through a kind of spiritualgrowth, which was both revelational, and inspirational.
I only hope that oneday I can make some sense of the things gone wrong in my life, or at least growfrom them. Jeanne is a woman now, who as a child was thrown around in a racialroller coaster, and can accept herself as an important part of society and life,rather than needing others to accept it for her.Note: I really enjoyed this book and the next time I head out to Mammoth LakesI will definitely try and find Manzanar.Category: History