Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment

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Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment



Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment, the memoir that Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston coauthored with her husband, James D. Houston, in 1973 and dedicated to her deceased parents and brother, presents a vivid sequence of episodes illustrating the disastrous effects of racial prejudice on law-abiding, patriotic Japanese Americans during World War II. Beginning with the announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Jeanne (the narrator) shares a flood of painful memories and reflections about her own family and her Japanese American neighbors in Southern California. Jeanne recalls the frightening events leading up to her family's forced evacuation to Manzanar Internment Camp when she was only seven years old. She also shares her impressions of her father's imprisonment at Fort Lincoln, near Bismarck, North Dakota (for suspicion as an enemy spy), her brother's meeting with Japanese relatives in Hiroshima after the bombing of that city, and her own challenges as a young Japanese American girl living in the 1940s and 1950s. But the central action of her story takes place at Manzanar, near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 225 miles north of Long Beach, California.

As scene after tragic scene of daily life unfolds at the internment camp, readers gain insight into the tremendous physical, economic, and psychological challenges faced by internees. Jeanne reflects upon the most serious consequences of these wartime challenges: a disintegration of family unity and a loss of personal identity. As a result of his internment, the once-proud Ko Wakatsuki, Jeanne's father, is transformed from a multitalented, hardworking patriarch of a large family to a broken man, ultimately dependent upon his wife to pay all of their bills. Meanwhile, Ko's son Woody is transformed from an obedient child into an independent young man who risks his father's rejection in order to join the military so that he might prove his loyalty to the same nation that imprisoned him. Equally transformed, Jeanne's mother abandons the role of submissive housewife to become the family breadwinner. For young Jeanne, the Manzanar experience introduces her to a strange new world of personalities far beyond that of her nuclear family. Throughout her years at Manzanar, Jeanne is confronted by a variety of sometimes attractive, sometimes repellent, sometimes frightening—but always fascinating—strangers of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. These encounters surely spark her future interest in the professions of journalism and sociology.

Unfortunately, racial discrimination and injustice toward Japanese Americans does not end after World War II and the closing of the internment camps. Jeanne must combat many instances of prejudice against Asian Americans. This discrimination is particularly painful for Jeanne during her years in high school. Unlike her father, who withdraws completely from the world, Jeanne tries to fit in with her white classmates by participating in as many popular activities and clubs as possible. Simultaneously, she attempts to appease her father by taking up traditional "Japanese" activities such as odori dancing. Toward the end of her memoir, Jeanne acknowledges her sense of not belonging in either world.

Jeanne keeps her story of Manzanar and its aftermath secret for thirty years, due to her sense of personal shame at the racial discrimination that she and her family endured. Yet, in the last chapter of the book, the author returns to the long-abandoned Manzanar Internment Camp with her husband and three children. She finally allows herself to recall, and to share with James and their children, some of the experiences that she and her family members had survived decades earlier. Today, teachers throughout the United States consider Jeanne's memoir a valuable tool that can teach lessons about the necessity for human justice and interracial harmony. As part of California's curriculum on history and civil rights, every school and each of the fifteen hundred public libraries in the state now have a copy of Farewell to Manzanar, along with a copy of the 1976 film adaptation of the book.

By 2003, the publishers had sold more than one and a half million copies of the book in more than sixty editions. The book has earned widespread praise, including recognition from United States Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a veteran of the famous Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Senator Inouye noted that Farewell to Manzanar made "vividly clear … the psychological distress and fear within a Japanese American child and the crude isolation of a racial group." Readers learn about the devastating consequences of racial mistrust and misunderstanding that can affect every part of human life during an international conflict—from an internee's diet and simple need for personal privacy to the loss of dignity that results when an immigrant is forced to choose between allegiance to two warring "homelands" and is suddenly labeled as "disloyal."

Today, Jeanne continues to write and lecture about her experiences at Manzanar. Speaking with an interviewer from the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003, she admitted that "[s]ometimes, we may feel like we're 'up to here with it' about camp…. Then you meet someone who doesn't know about the internment, and it makes you wonder, 'Who's going to write about it?'" It was not until 1998 that the U.S. government formally apologized for the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.


Part 1

Chapter 1: "What is Pearl Harbor?"-Chapter 4: A Common Master Plan

The first of many brief episodes in this memoir begins on December 7, 1941, with seven-year-old Jeanne's astonishment as she watches the small sardine fishing fleet (which includes her father, Ko Wakatsuki, and two oldest brothers, Bill and Woody) abruptly turn around and return to the harbor on a bright, sunny morning in good weather. As the fleet's anxious wives and daughters wait on shore, one of the women's male coworkers from the local cannery shouts out the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Ko, who had lived in America for decades, all Japanese Americans in California—law-abiding first-generation immigrants (Issei) (who were forbidden citizenship) and their native-born American children (Nisei)—come under suspicion by the FBI for potential collaboration with the enemy in Japan. Two FBI men soon arrest her "Papa":

About all he had left at this point was his tremendous dignity…. Ten children and a lot of hard luck had worn him down, had worn away most of the arrogance he cane to this country with. But he still had dignity, and he would not let those deputies push him out the door. He led them.

After Ko's arrest and imprisonment at Fort Lincoln near Bismarck, North Dakota, Jeanne's mother attempts to keep the family together at all costs. She moves her children and her nearly blind mother from their Ocean Park neighborhood, where the Wakatsuki family were the only Japanese Americans, to Terminal Island. Jeanne's brother, Woody, and their married sister are already living there in a community of Japanese immigrants, most of whom speak only their native Kyushu dialect, "a rough fisherman's language, full of oaths and insults." Jeanne, on the other hand, "had never spoken anything but English, and the other kids in the second grade despised me for it." Equally difficult for young Jeanne is her terror of Asian people. "This was partly Papa's fault. One of his threats to keep us younger kids in line was 'I'm going to sell you to the Chinaman.'"

Because Terminal Island is so close to Long Beach Naval Station, the Japanese American community there is evicted, in accordance with President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, which protected military rights over the rights of ordinary citizens. "Even though most of us were American-born, it was dangerous having that many Orientals so close to the Long Beach Naval Station."



Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was born in California on September 26, 1934. Her family was sent to Manzanar Internment Camp in April 1942, but Jeanne remained silent about her experiences for thirty years until her nephew urged her to share her memories. Houston's original intent was to write a memoir for her family, but her husband and coauthor, James D. Houston, urged her to share her story with all Americans. She has also written a fictional account of three generations of Japanese American women living at Manzanar; this unique novel, The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, is structured in the form of a five-act Japanese Kabuki drama.

The Houstons met as college students studying journalism. Facing job discrimination against Asian women journalists in the 1950s, however, Jeanne turned her attention to sociology, becoming a social worker and juvenile probation officer. Jeanne was the first in her family to graduate from college—including study in France at the Sorbonne and the University of Paris—and the first in her Japanese family to marry a white person. James Houston is the author of several historical novels, short stories, and nonfiction works. The authors live in Santa Cruz, California.

Secondhand dealers take advantage of the vulnerability of Japanese Americans, "offering humiliating prices for goods and furniture they knew many of us would have to sell sooner or later." In contrast to such predators, the American Friends Service (a Quaker organization) help Jeanne's family relocate for the second time in two months, this time to a "minority ghetto, in downtown Los Angeles, now inhabited briefly by a few hundred Terminal Island refugees." The Wakasukis are desperately aware of the inevitability of being sent inland to an internment camp. Issei refugees remind one another of a traditional Japanese phrase used to describe the endurance of great trials, "Shikata ga nai, meaning "It cannot be helped…. It must be done."

Along with other Japanese Americans, Jeanne and her family endure increasing hostility from whites. Stories of racial violence began to spread:

Public attitudes toward the Japanese in California were shifting rapidly. In the first few months of the Pacific war, America was on the run. Tolerance had turned to distrust and irrational fear. The hundred-year-old tradition of anti-Orientalism on the west coast soon resurfaced, more vicious than ever.

Thus, Jeanne feels relief and a sense of adventure when the government orders their evacuation to Manzanar. Although many families are separated during the forced evacuation, Jeanne's mother once again keeps her family together, on the same bus, leading to the same barracks in the overcrowded, underprepared internment camp. Except for Ko and Jeanne's married sister who live in another barracks with her husband and six total strangers, the twelve remaining members of the Wakatsuki family now live together at Manzanar. Bill (with wife Tomi) and Woody (with wife Chizu and their baby daughter) share one unit of the barracks; Granny, Lillian (age fourteen), Ray (age thirteen), May (age eleven), Kiyo (age ten), Jeanne (age seven), and Mama share the other unit. The internees, including newly married couples, have lost all of their privacy, along with most of their possessions. Their new homes consist of little more than a pair of adjoining one-room drafty, tarpapered shacks (in the six-unit barracks) with gaps in the floorboards and walls, straw mattresses, an insufficient number of army blankets, no kitchen table, and no indoor plumbing.

Woody helps to alleviate these desperate circumstances with a combination of optimism, innovation, and hard work in his determination to make the barracks livable. Meanwhile, Jeanne's mischievous brothers, Kiyo and Ray, provide a regular source of humor. Nevertheless, the internees suffer in many ways. Physically, they become sick with diarrhea from spoiled food and typhoid inoculations; psychologically, they are shamed by the public latrines. "Like so many of the women there, Mama never did get used to the latrines. It was a humiliation she just learned to endure: " shikata ga nai, this cannot be helped."

Chapter 5: Almost a Family-Chapter 8: Inu

Soon after their arrival at Manzanar, refugee family members begin to drift apart, losing their most precious possession: connection with one another. Although Jeanne relays that "mealtime had always been the center of our family scene," the Manzanar "mess hall system" (where Jeanne's mother works as a dietician) makes family meals an impossibility. Now, as families no longer eat meals together and as the traditional roles of the breadwinning family patriarchs are lost, family units quickly disintegrate, even after the fathers return from North Dakota. Writing her memoir thirty years later, Jeanne realizes that "[w]hatever dignity or feeling of filial strength we may have known before December 1941 was lost, and we did not recover it until many years after the war, not until after Papa died."

While Jeanne's nuclear family is beginning to dissolve, she discovers a wider world, filled with the strange faces, costumes, and behavior. In good weather, the refugees spend as much time as possible outside. "[We] only went 'home' at night, when [we] finally had to: 10,000 people on an endless promenade inside the square mile of barbed wire that was the wall around our city." This crowd includes "a half-black" woman "with light mulatto skin" who always wore an "Aunt Jemima scarf" to conceal her hair, "passing as a Japanese in order to remain with her husband"; another elegant woman with a "long aristocratic face" that "was always a ghastly white" because she followed the old tradition of powdering it with rice flour; and a pair of nurses, each with a bleached face, a sharp widow's peak, and no lips—two faces so strange that Jeanne describes the nurses as "a pair of reptilian kabuki creatures." The internees also include a pair of Japanese Maryknoll nuns in black robes with white hoods and Father Steinbeck, "one of the few Caucasians to live among us inside the compound and eat in our mess halls. He was greatly admired for this, and many internees converted to Catholicism before the camp was closed." Fascinated by stories of saints and martyrs, young Jeanne yearns to convert, but is forbidden to do so by Ko, who has finally been allowed to return to his family.

After nine months in prison, Ko looks ten years older when he steps off the bus at Manzanar. The great-great-grandson of a samurai warrior in Hiroshima, Ko has pride in his ancestor's former power and wealth. But Ko is ashamed of the gradual erosion of his father's estate that results in his father's new occupation managing a teahouse in Hiroshima. "For Papa, at seventeen, it made no difference that times were hard; the idea of a teahouse was an insult to the family name." In 1904, this "insult" leads to Ko's immigration to Hawaii, and soon after to Idaho, where he works for five years for a wealthy attorney who had paid his passage. Ko's patron helps him enter the University of Idaho to study law. He quits school, however, to elope with Jeanne's mother, the daughter of a Japanese immigrant to Washington. Jeanne's maternal grandparents are suspicious of Ko, especially since he seems to lead "a perilously fast life," borrows money from them, and is insulted when Granny once loans him five dollars. "'It's not enough,' he said…. 'If that's all you've got, I'd rather have nothing!' And he threw the bill into the fire."

Despite his attitude of entitlement—and his ability to learn new skills in a wide variety of jobs, ranging from translating government documents to lumberjacking, dentistry, fishing, and farming—Ko experiences a continual series of disappointments: "he never quite finished anything he set out to do. Something always stopped him: bad luck, a racial barrier, a law, his own vanity or arrogance or fear of losing face." In spite of Ko's many failures, "[w]hatever he did had flourish." Aware that her Papa "was a poser, a braggart, and a tyrant" on the verge of becoming an alcoholic on homemade rice wine, Jeanne imagines his honest responses to an interview at the Fort Lincoln prison camp, where he is asked to choose sides between the Japanese and the American enemies: "When your mother and father are having a fight, do you want them to kill each other? Or do you just want them to stop fighting?" Because Ko returns from Fort Lincoln earlier than most of the Issei men, their wives gossip about him, calling him an inu ("dog"). They accuse Ko of acting as an informer against their husbands in his job as interpreter for the War Department. In response to their insinuations, Ko "exiled himself like a leper, and he drank," becoming increasingly violent with his wife and children.

Chapter 9: The Mess Hall Bells-Chapter 11: Yes Yes No No

Ko does not discuss his experiences at Fort Lincoln. Although he had suffered physical hardships there, his much deeper pain is emotional:

It was the charge of disloyalty. For a man raised in Japan, there was no greater disgrace. And it was the humiliation. It brought him face to face with his own vulnerability, his own powerlessness. He had no rights, no home, no control over his own life.

While Ko retreats into drunken silence at Manzanar, punctuated by angry outbursts at his family, other frustrated men imprisoned in the camp begin to riot. Led by Joe Kurihara, a veteran of World War I, this riot, which takes place in December, a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, results in the death of two young men. Jeanne recalls the tolling of the bells, signifying the internees' mourning. Toward the end of this month of grief, a new director of Manzanar gives each family a Christmas tree as a gesture of good will, along with "a promise of better treatment and better times to come." Instead, in February of 1943, the government mandates a Loyalty Oath; internees must swear their allegiance to the United States and willingness to serve in military combat.

Woody is eager to prove his loyalty by joining the Army, even though this means leaving his wife and children behind and confronting his father's disapproval. Ko is furiously indignant over the Loyalty Oath; yet, he realizes that "disloyal" Japanese Americans who signed "no" will be taken to Tule Lake for possible exile to Japan. The refugees have no choice but to agree with the Loyalty Oath.

Part 2: Chapter 12: Manzanar, U.S.A.-Chapter 21: The Girl of My Dreams

As more Japanese Americans leave Manzanar to join the military, the camp becomes less crowded; the living conditions of those who remain behind become more comfortable. Thanks to Mama's quick thinking and her job at the camp hospital, the Wakasukis double their living quarters in early 1943. Papa and his neighbors begin to decorate their barracks and plant gardens:

The fact that America had accused us, or excluded us, or imprisoned us, or whatever it might be called, did not change the kind of world we wanted. Most of us were born in this country; we had no other models. Those parks and gardens lent it an oriental character, but in most ways it was a totally equipped American small town, complete with schools, churches, [and] Boy Scouts.

Young Manzanar refugees form softball and football leagues, glee clubs and dance bands. Ten-year-old Jeanne joins the baton club at Manzanar because she is "desperate to be 'accepted.'" She continues this activity later in high school because "baton twirling was one trick I could perform that was thoroughly, unmistakably American." Although Jeanne also attempts to learn traditional Japanese odori dancing from an elderly geisha, she is more fascinated by the Japanese ballet teacher, until Jeanne notices the teacher's bloody toes and other wounds. "Ballet seemed then some terrible misuse of the body, and she was so anxious to please us, her very need to hold on to whatever she had been scared me away." Also enchanted by the ceremony and costumes of the Catholic confirmation ritual, Jeanne begs Ko to allow her to be baptized and confirmed as soon as the Maryknoll nuns would allow. Ko's refusal leaves Jeanne with a feeling of "total separate-ness." Ko is gravely concerned about his pregnant daughter, Eleanor, and shows momentary tenderness toward Mama upon learning of Eleanor's successful delivery of a healthy son.

Soon after Eleanor gives birth, she moves to Reno, Nevada, to stay with friends while her soldier husband fights in Germany. The internment camp population steadily decreases. Woody is drafted in 1944 and Jeanne's older siblings move to New Jersey the next year. The east coast is "3,000 miles away, with no history of anti-Orientalism, in fact no Oriental history at all. So few people of Asian ancestry had settled there, it was like heading for a neutral country." Sadly, Ko's children know that their father will never join them in New Jersey.

He was too old to start over, too afraid of rejection in an unknown part of the world, too stubborn and too tired to travel that far, and finally too proud to do piecework on an assembly line…. The truth was, at this point Papa did not know which way to turn.

Resisting still another move, Ko waits until the camp officially closes and he is forced to leave. Rather than take advantage of the government's offer of a free bus ride back to the internees' former homes, Ko purchases a beat-up old car so that he and his family can "leave in style, and by our own volition." Ko makes three separate trips to move his large family and their meager belongings back to Boyle Heights—only to discover that his two fishing boats and all of their family furnishings had been stolen while the Wakasukis were at Manzanar. To support the family, Jeanne's mother returns to her job at the cannery while Ko stays home sketching blueprints for a housing cooperative that never materializes; family pride will not allow the unemployed Ko to "accept anything like a cannery job."

With her family resettled in Boyle Heights, Jeanne enters sixth grade. On her first day, she reads a lesson aloud, perfectly, only to be shocked at her classmate's response.

"Gee, I didn't know you could speak English."… I smiled and sat down, suddenly aware of what being of Japanese ancestry was going to be like. I wouldn't be faced with physical attack, or with overt shows of hatred. Rather, I would be seen as someone foreign, or as someone other than American, or perhaps not be seen at all.

Jeanne is determined to prove that she belongs, but she "lived with this double impulse: the urge to disappear and the desperate desire to be acceptable." Refused membership in the Girl Scouts because of her ethnic background, Jeanne becomes the lead majorette in the Boy Scout band. While Jeanne is "striving to become Miss America of 1947," however, Ko is "wishing I'd be Miss Hiroshima of 1904." Father and daughter find a compromise to this dilemma: "You want to be the carnival queen? x2026; I'll make a deal with you. You can be the queen if you start odori lessons at the Buddhist church as soon as school is out." Jeanne keeps her bargain, attending ten lessons, until her teacher sends her away. She wins the award of carnival queen, despite the teachers who try to sabotage the election results. Still, the carnival ceremony turns into a devastating embarrassment for Jeanne, who feels that she does not belong there any more than she belongs in the Japanese dancing class.

Part 3: Chapter 22: Ten Thousand Voices

In the last brief chapter of her memoir, Jeanne observes:

As I came to understand what Manzanar had meant, it gradually filled me with shame for being a person guilty of something enormous enough to deserve that kind of treatment. In order to please my accusers, I tried, for the first few years after our release, to become someone acceptable. I both succeeded and failed.

The first in her family to marry a white person, Jeanne recognizes that she must finally reveal the secret of her Manzanar experiences, sharing her story with her husband and children. Thus, thirty years after she entered the internment camp, she returns with James and their three children. Walking over the dusty remains of the deserted landscape, Jeanne relives scenes from the past, accepting the fact that Manzanar had become "[m]uch more than a remembered place, it had become a state of mind. Now, having seen it, I no longer wanted to lose it or to have those years erased."


Racial Profiling

Regardless of the number of years Isseis had lived as law-abiding residents in the United States since emigrating from Japan, they were still classified as "aliens." In what is now called "racial profiling," Japanese Americans like Ko Wakatsuki who lived along the West Coast of California were forced to leave their jobs, homes, vehicles, and most of their other precious possessions, including family pets. Even the Nisei children of these immigrants were forced into the internment camps, although they had been born and raised in America, holding the American citizenship that was denied their parents until 1952. Unlike most German and Italian immigrants, who were not sent to internment camps, the physical characteristics of Asian Americans were immediately recognizable, making them easy to identify.

The authors emphasize that before the war, "traditionally racist organizations like the American Legion and The Native Sons of The Golden West … had been agitating against the west-coast Japanese for decades." Later groups, with names such as San Diego's "No Japs Incorporated," Sacramento's "Home Front Commandoes," and the "Pacific Coast Japanese Problem League" in Los Angeles were established to keep the internees from returning to their homes after the war ended. Thus, Jeanne and the rest of the Wakatsuki family members remaining at Manzanar in 1945 were afraid to return home to Boyle Heights. Listening to the stories about violence, Jeanne felt as anxious "as if Ku Klux Klansmen lurked outside the window." She began to fear the appearance of "a row of Burma-Shave signs saying JAPS GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM" as she and her sisters wondered aloud why people hated them.

Ethnic Stereotypes

After an entree of Vienna sausage and canned green beans, the Wakatsuki's first meal at Manzanar, prepared by whites, includes overcooked rice, which was topped by canned apricots as a "good desert. Among the Japanese of course, rice is never eaten with sweet foods, only with salty or savory foods. Few of us could eat such a mixture." However, according to strict rules of Japanese etiquette, which were not suspended because of internment, "no one dared protest. It would have been impolite."

Seven-year-old Jeanne feels "horrified" upon seeing "the apricot syrup seeping through my little mound of rice" at Manzanar, but she had been absolutely terrified two years earlier, as "the only Oriental" in her kindergarten class. Because Ko had often tried to control his children with the threat, "I'm going to sell you to the Chinaman," Jeanne experiences such an uncontrollable fear of unfamiliar Asian faces that she assumes a white classmate with "very slanted eyes" is in fact the dreaded "Chinaman." Her terror increases upon moving to Terminal Island, where she encounters children who only speak Japanese. These children, who were "a little proud of their nickname, yo-go-re" (which Jeanne translates as roughneck), "would swagger and pick on outsiders and persecute anyone who didn't speak as they did." Although the children never attack Jeanne or her brother Kiyo, she assumes the worst, based upon "their fearful looks, and the noises they would make, like miniature Samurai, in a language we couldn't understand."

Years later, Jeanne becomes the victim of her sixth-grade classmate's stereotyping, related to language and appearance.

"Gee, I didn't know you could speak English."… I smiled and sat down, suddenly aware of what being of Japanese ancestry was going to be like. I wouldn't be faced with physical attack, or with overt shows of hatred. Rather, I would be seen as someone foreign, or as someone other than American, or perhaps not be seen at all.

Social Stigma

Several of Jeanne's examples in Farewell to Manzanar suggest that invisibility could serve as an ultimate fortress of power and self-protection against racism and social stigma. For example, Mrs. Wakatsuki, raised in a culture that values privacy and hygiene, with a social stigma against dirtiness, feels tremendous shame and embarrassment at Manzanar's deplorable toilet conditions. Therefore, she and other female internees use large cardboard boxes to create walls of temporary invisibility. Ko gradually retreats into a realm of invisibility within the confines of his small barracks room in order to cope with a different source of humiliation: the stigma of being a suspected traitor.

The humiliation suffered by Ko Wakatsuki and other Issei forced to live at internment camps was surely more painful than any physical sacrifices that they had to make for the nation that would not grant them citizenship. Making matters a thousand times worse, Ko (along with other men who were allowed an early release from imprisonment or given any other special privilege) must deal with mistrust on both sides of the racial barrier. Neighbors of Asian descent suspect Ko of serving as a spy for the American military at the same time that the military suspects him of collaborating with the Japanese enemy. Thus, the proud descendant of samurai warriors hears himself being labeled as "inu" (dog). He hides at home while his wife works as a dietician, earning the highest wage of any internee at Manzanar. Returning home after the war to discover that all of their warehoused possessions and his two fishing boats have been stolen, Ko can not find employment worthy of his talents. "And if he did, Mama's shame would be even greater than his…. So she went to work with as much pride as she could muster."

As a young Nisei, born and raised in American culture, and wanting to assimilate, Jeanne Wakatsuki "lived with this double impulse: the urge to disappear and the desperate desire to be acceptable." For over twenty-five years, the author can not allow herself to share with anyone, even her husband and children, her sense of humiliation caused by racial prejudice and the Manzanar experience. Indeed, she tries to suppress all memories of the shame that resulted from prejudiceagainst her and her family. Toward the end of her memoir, Houston admits,

As I came to understand what Manzanar had meant, it gradually filled me with shame for being a person guilty of something enormous enough to deserve that kind of treatment. In order to please my accusers, I tried, for the first few years after our release, to become someone acceptable. I both succeeded and failed.


Discrimination Against Japanese Immigrants Before World War II

The Encyclopedia of Japanese American History reports that America's first Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii in 1868 as contract laborers, to work on sugar plantations. Their immigration marked the beginning of a series of interracial conflicts based upon economic motives. In 1900, President McKinley's "Organic Act" incorporated Hawaii as an official American Territory, resulting in the prohibition of contract labor and subsequent strikes by more than eight thousand workers. Anti-Japanese citizens in San Francisco formed the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1905. Two years later, President Theodore Roosevelt outlawed the immigration of additional Japanese laborers from Hawaii and Mexico. For the next several decades, Japanese immigrant workers fought racial discrimination with a series of labor strikes; by early 1920, more than two-thirds of the work force (8,300 Japanese and Filipino workers) went on strike. In 1938, fifty strikers were wounded in the infamous "Hilo Massacre." The Alien Land Law of 1920 and other federal legislation reinforced the discrimination against early Japanese immigrants. The Supreme Court Ozawa ruling (1922) prohibited Japanese American citizenship, and President Calvin Coolidge's immigration law (1924) prohibited further Japanese immigration.

The World War II Era

Each episode in Farewell to Manzanar reflects the experiences of many Japanese American internees, whose own oral histories describe challenges similar to those the Wakatsukis endured. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fair Employment Practices Committee, created in June of 1941 to protect the rights of African Americans working for the federal government, did nothing to help immigrants from Asia, who were still denied citizenship or the right to own land in the United States. In the months preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were subjected to increasing acts of suppression and hostility. Their financial assets were frozen on July 25, 1941. A month later, Representative John Dingell of Michigan suggested the arrest of Japanese Americans in Hawaii. Other state leaders echoed this suggestion.

Idaho's attorney general argued that "all Japanese should be put in concentration camps…. [W]e want to keep this a white man's country." The Army Chief of the Western Defense Command, John L. DeWitt, claimed that "The Japanese race is an enemy race…. [The] very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date [was a] disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken." By November 1941, the FBI began to arrest Japanese American community leaders in California; within a month, over a thousand Issei were in custody, with no formal charges against them. Then, on February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 gave official permission for military authorities to evacuate Japanese Americans from the West Coast; residents of Terminal Island were the first to be removed a few days later. For the next several months, Japanese Americans from on the West Coast, from California to Washington, were sent to internment camps scattered throughout the United States (at Manzanar and Tule Lake, California; Amache, Colorado; Minidoka, Idaho; Topaz, Utah; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas; and Gila River and Poston, Arizona). The Tule Lake camp became the "segregation center" for anyone who refused to sign "yes" to a loyalty oath. Only a few Japanese Americans, such as Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Fred Korematsu officially challenged the constitutionality of the evacuation.

Like Woody Wakatsuki, many Nisei went directly from their internment camps into the military, joining the all-Nisei 442 Regimental Combat Team, which combined forces with the 100th Infantry Battalion of Hawaiian Nisei. Harry H. L. Kitano's Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture reports that these two battalions

suffered more than 9,000 casualties, had more than 600 killed in action, and become known as the most decorated unit in American military history. There was also a significant contribution by Nisei in the Pacific against Japanese of their own ancestry.

With the exception of the members of the "Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee," formed in 1944, few Nisei resisted the draft. These Heart Mountain protesters loyally agreed to serve in the military, but demanded full civil rights for their interned families before they would take the physical examination required for military service.

Conscientious Objectors and Other Internees

Although it is not widely known, not all of the refugees at the internment camp were Japanese American. Seiichi Higashide, the author of Adios to Tears:Memoirs of a Japanese-Peruvian Internee in U.S. Concentration Camps, was an immigrant to Peru from Hokkaido. Higashide and other Japanese-Peruvians were deported to the Crystal City, Texas Internment Camp as part of a hostage exchange program with the Japanese government. Americans of Italian and German ancestry were also imprisoned on the suspicion of their divided loyalties. Lawrence Distasi's Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment During World War II reports that ten thousand Italian immigrants were forced to relocate from their homes on the West Coast and "[a]bout 250 individuals were interned for up to two years in military camps." John Christgau's Enemies: World War II Alien Internment includes the story of German prisoners at the Fort Lincoln Internment Camp in North Dakota, where Ko Wakatsuki was sent at the beginning of the war. In a 2001 interview printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tak Hoshiaki remembers the conscientious objectors (mostly Quakers, Mennonites, and Jehovah's Witnesses) who were sent to the internment camps along with the Nisei. "We got to be pretty close friends…. We used to have little seminars and readings. I remember reading War and Peace." Jeanne Wakatsuki frequently refers to Quaker volunteers in her memoir; she later expressed appreciation for the "mountain of books" they had been donated to the camp. Dr. Yoshiye Togasaki, a specialist in communicable diseases who had graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1935, volunteered to establish the medical unit at Manzanar, fighting tuberculosis and typhoid. In her chapter of And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps, Dr. Togasaki praised the Quaker volunteers who helped her, in contrast to whites who called her a traitor because she was Japanese. "The Quakers were great, though. A Quaker doctor came to me and said, 'Togi, if there's anything we can do, let me know.'"

Direct Effects of Internment

Many refugees suffered from lifelong illnesses due to poor conditions at the internment camps. According to Children of the Camps, a PBS documentary, "Health studies have shown a two times greater incidence of heart disease and premature death among former internees, compared to non-interned Japanese Americans." Roger Daniels explains in Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II that the military had outlawed "the shipment of household goods to camp, so people had to sell, give away, or discard what they could not carry. Those with cars and trucks were not allowed to drive themselves to camp."

According to Japanese American Internment Camps: At Issue in History, families who had once lived in middle-class homes "were housed in converted horse stalls among other places." At the mercy of extremely low salaries, the fenced-in refugees often could not afford to purchase even the most basic supplies from a catalog to improve their living conditions.

The WRA directed camps to be self-sufficient in labor, but paid internees lower wages than were paid U.S. army privates. This meant that all Japanese internees, including professionals, such as doctors and educators, made a fraction of what WRA personnel and other outside employees of the camps were paid.

The average salary for these camp jobs was sixteen to nineteen dollars a month. "Many Japanese families were ruined economically," according to Harry H. L. Kitano, author of Japanese Americans: The Evolution of a Subculture. Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis report, in The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of Japanese Americans During World War II that "in publicity releases the unheard-of low wage rates were often cited with pride rather than apologies, as an example of the sacrifice evacuees were making like soldiers in the service of their country." Nevertheless, white employees who did similar jobs were paid much higher salaries. Although the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 awarded $28 million in damages, Japanese American Internment Camps: At Issue in History reports that "the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimated wartime property losses of Japanese Americans to reach $400 million."

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed House Resolution 442, which authorized payments of $20,000 to each of the sixty thousand surviving internees. This law, named in honor of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, also established a $1.25 billion education fund. Upon signing the law, President Reagan spoke of Congressman Norman Mineta, whose family had been sent to live at Santa Anita Racetrack before being relocated to Heart Mountain Internment Camp; then, President Regan added,

no payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.


Literary critics and historians have consistently praised Farewell to Manzanar since the book first appeared in 1973. Soon after its publication, a critic for the New Yorker magazine observed that the author told the painful story of her family's internment and her father's subsequent disgrace "with great dignity." In the Saturday Review, Dorothy Rabinowitz noted that "Houston and her husband have recorded a tale of many complexities in a straightforward manner, a tale remarkably lacking in either self-pity or solemnity." A 1974 New York Times Book Review recommended the memoir as "a dramatic, telling account of one of the most reprehensible events in the history of America's treatment of its minorities."

A 1998 article in "Asian-American Literary Traditions" by Jeffrey Paul Chan and Marilyn C. Alquilozo of San Francisco State University places Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston "among the most widely read contemporary Japanese American voices." These reviewers categorize Farewell to Manzanar as "one of the finest literary products of the relocation camp experience." In their 1998 essay "Japanese and Japanese American Youth in Literature," Connie S. Zitlow and Lois Stover point to Farewell to Manzanar as "a particularly outstanding example of young adult literature that is very appropriate for high school classrooms." More than twenty-five years after the novel first appeared, the Los Angeles Times emphasized the fact that Farewell to Manzanar offered important lessons, as an "accessible and unsentimental work" that "shed light on a subject that had been largely ignored in popular histories."

Eric Waggoner's 2001 doctoral dissertation, "Living Protest: Resistance and Testimony in Twentieth-Century American Autobiography," argues that the book's "central character is, in one compelling view, not Jeanne herself but the Wakatsuki family in sum, whose internal and inter-generational clashes serve as simulacra for the damages caused by the internment." Dr. Waggoner emphasizes the important role of "family narratives" as a mean of educating "middle class America" about the traditional values and concerns of Asian Americans, as well as their World War II internment experiences. In "American Uses of Japanese American Memory: How Internment Narratives are 'Put into Discourse,'" Professor Brian Lain of the University of North Texas highlights the personal, nonpolitical side of Houston's memoir. Professor Lain quotes the 1973 Publishers Weekly article by Barbara Bannon, who perceived Farewell to Manzanar as "a sober and moving personal account." He also refers to another review, in 1975, from Booklist: "it is written, 'not as political history, but as the story of one person's life-altering experience.'" Traise Yamamoto observed in her 1999 essay, "Masking in Nisei Women's Autobiography," that Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and other Nisei women writers had to balance "historical motive and cultural reticence" in their revealing stories about personal and family shame. According to Yamamoto, Houston "had everything to lose and little to gain by revealing the private self."

Whether Farewell to Manzanar is viewed as a personal memoir, a family narrative, or a historical document, all readers are touched by Houston's poignant story. Historians and educators are unanimous in their agreement of the book's importance. In 2002, Publishers Weekly announced that the book had been chosen for a new statewide reading program in Missouri (called "ReadMOre") "because the issue of ethnic profiling during time of war seemed especially timely." To teach lessons of racial tolerance and respect for ethnic diversity, California provided ten thousand copies of the memoir and its 1976 film adaptation to schools and libraries throughout the state in 2003.

Theresa Kulbaga and Wendy Hesford included A Farewell to Manzanar in their 2005 New Dictionary of the History of Ideas as "one of the most famous internment narratives" whose "narrator describes the racialization process by which Japanese immigrants and citizens were reconstructed as enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethnicity and without regard to their citizenship status or national loyalties."


Traise Yamamoto

In the following excerpt, Yamamoto describes the risks that second-generation Japanese American autobiographers have taken in telling their stories and revealing family secrets.


Farewell to Manzanar was adapted as a film for television, produced and directed by John Korty in 1976 and distributed by National Broadcasting Company (NBC). It is currently unavailable.

However, we should also recognize that Japanese American autobiography exists between two impulses: historical motive and cultural reticence. On the one hand, Nisei autobiographies are the written record of a community betrayed by the dark side of democracy—majority rule or, in this case, majority racist hysteria. On the other hand, the autobiographical form is fundamentally at odds with the Nisei tendency to downplay the individual self, a behavioral adaptation largely shaped by the desire to "fit in" and thus avoid racist discrimination. The result is an autobiographical tradition grounded in the desire to witness, not in the introspective impulses of self-contemplation. And yet, as Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston writes in the foreword to Farewell to Manzanar:

It became [clear] that any book [I] wrote would have to include a good deal more than day-to-day life inside the compound. To tell what I knew and felt about it would mean telling something about our family before the war, and the years that followed the war, and about my father's past, as well as my own way of seeing things now. Writing it has been a way of coming to terms with the impact those years have had on my entire life.

While these narratives function as records of "day-to-day" life in the camps, they are also the statement of a subject whose constitution is intimately tied to the fact of the internment. To write about the internment is to write about an event whose very basis was the denial of subjectivity, and it is thus an act of writing the self—and by extension the community of interned Japanese Americans—as subject. Because much of their narrative is addressed to a potentially defensive and hostile white American audience, Nisei autobiographers are selective in their use of personal detail and guarded in their criticisms of white America. If as Sidonie Smith writes, the female autobiographer "can speak with authority only insofar as she tells a story that her audience will read" Nisei women who assume autobiographical authority must be even more careful to present their stories in "acceptable" terms. However strongly they might feel about their experiences of the camps, there is also a reluctance to speak about those experiences and feelings, a guardedness about the act of revelation. Already marginalized and delegitimized by race, gender and, often, class as they critiqued, however subtly, an audience whom they were largely addressing, these writers had everything to lose and little to gain by revealing the private self.

Source: Traise Yamamoto, "Masking in Nisei Women's Autobiography," in Masking Selves, Making Subjects: Japanese American Women, Identity, and the Body, University of California Press, 1999, pp. 105-106.


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Children of the Camps: The Japanese American WWII Internment Camp Experience, www.pbs.org/childofcamp (March 14, 2006).

Christgau, John, Enemies: World War II Alien Internment, Authors Choice Press, April 2001.

Daniels, Roger, ed., Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II, Hill and Wang, 1993, p. 55.

Dudley, William, ed., Japanese American Internment Camps: At Issue in History, Greenhaven Press, 2002, pp. 15-20.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Lawrence Distasi, eds., Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment During World War II. Heyday Books, 2001.

Girdner, Audrie, and Anne Loftis, The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese Americans During World War II, Macmillan, 1969, p. 170.

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Nakao, Annie "A Unique Tale of WWII Resistance: Japanese American Internees Refused Draft," San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2001, p. A21.

――――――, "'Farewell to Manzanar' Author Returns to Internment Days in First Novel," in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 14, 2003, p. E1.

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Rabinowitz, Dorothy, Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in Saturday Review, November 6, 1973.

Reagan, Ronald, "Remarks on Signing the Bill Providing Restitution for the Wartime Internment of Japanese American Civilians, August 10, 1988," history.wisc.edu/archdeacon/404tja/redress.html (March 15, 2006).

Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in New Yorker, November 5, 1973, p. 186.

Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in New York Times Book Review, January 13, 1974, p. 31.

Singh, Ajay, "The Lessons of History," Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2001, p. E1.

Tateishi, John, ed., And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps, Random House, 1984, pp. 222-25.

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