Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old in 1942 when her family was uprooted from their home in southern California and sent to live at Manzanar internment camp — with 10,000 other Japanese-Americans. Detained after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wakatsuki and her family were forced to live in the camp for three and a half years despite the fact that the Wakastuski children were born in the United States.
Approximately 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast to ten island camps by August 12, 1942 after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the War Department authority to define military areas in the Western states and to exclude from them anyone who might threaten the war effort. The Supreme Court ruled in December 18, 1944 that loyal citizens cannot be held in detention camps against their will, but Manzanar camp was not officially closed until November 21, 1945 after Japan surrendered. People of Japanese ancestry were not granted the right to become nationalized citizens until June 1952.
Despite how well-read I consider myself to be with issues pertaining to World War II, the Japanese-American internment camps are a little known aspect of history. I cannot say for certain if this time in history is purposefully ignored (although, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true) or just unknown, but I have never had a history class mention these camps. I, myself, learned about them at a young age but never found a book on them until now.
The childlike innocence infused into this book despite the passage of time underscores how confusing and unimaginable the interment of American citizens by their own government is. The first section of the book explains life leading up to internment, and I shall not forget the imagine of Wakatsuki’s mother throwing her china on the floor rather than selling it to those acting like vultures, trying to purchase expensive goods for insultingly low prices.
The second part details life in the camp — how the barracks were so hastily built they were not fit for inhabitants — and the third part delves into life after the camp was closed — how the racism and bias towards Japanese-Americans did not end with the closure of the camps. This section becomes more of an internal analysis as Wakatsuki Houston explains how this racism had to permeate her own understanding of who she is and how she should behave, particularly that “you are going to be invisible anyway, so why not completely disappear” (pg. 159).
- Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar. New York: Laurel-Leaf, 2007. Originally published 1973. Print. 222 pgs. ISBN: 9780553272581. Source: Free bin.