Farewell to Manzanar Essay
In the true story “Farewell to Manzanar” we learn of a young girl’s life as she grows up during World War II in a Japanese internment camp.
Along with her family and ten thousand other Japanese; we see how, as a child, these conditions forced to shape and mold her life. This book does not directly place blame or hatred onto those persons or conditions which had forced her to endure hardship, but rather shows us through her eyes how these experiences have held value she has been able to grow from. Jeanne Wakatsuki was just a seven year old growing up in Ocean Park, California when her whole life was about to change.
Everything seemed to be going well, her father owning two fishing boats, and they lived in a large house with a large dining table which was located in an entirely non-Japanese neighborhood. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese was the moment Jeanne’s life was critically altered. This started WWII and all Japanese were 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’s rapidly aging grandmother and her nine brothers and sisters. Too young to understand, Jeanne did not know why or where her father had been taken. But she did know that one very important part of her was gone.
Jeanne’s father was a very strong, military-like, proud, arrogant, and dignified man. He was the one who was always in control, and made all the decisions 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 family behind and never contacting them ever again. But now it was time for Jeanne’s family to do something. They found refuge at Terminal Island, a place where many Japanese families live either in some transition stage or for permanent residents.
Jeanne was terrified. ” It was the first time I had lived among other 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 to sell you to the Chinaman. ” So when Jeanne saw all these Japanese kids she assumed she was being sold.They were soon given 48 hours to find a new place to stay. Again they found refuge in a minority ghetto in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. But then the government issued Executive Order 9066 which gave the War Dept.
power to define military areas in the western states. Anyone who could possibly threaten the war effort (Japanese) were going to be transported to internment camps. As Jeanne boarded the Greyhound bus someone tied a number tag to her collar and one to her duffel bag. So, for now on all families had numbers to which they could be identified.
No longer people, but animals hearded off to some unknown place. This was to be their destiny for the rest of the war, and long after. Being a child, Jeanne was too young to comprehend what all this really meant. She knew that her dad was away and her family was moving a lot. At first, for Jeanne this seemed exciting, like an adventure, since she had never been outside of L. A. before. Jeanne is a Nissei, a natural born citizen of the United States.
But, again this really didn’t mean much to her. What could she do, and what could she know? Up to this point her life had been relatively simple.As a 7-yr. old, one doesn’t really know much about life yet. This was soon to change for her, as she is now being forced into a world guarded behind barbed wire. Manzanar, located near Lone Pine, California was the camp Jeanne’s family, 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 for Jeanne, their treatment, and the unstable condition of her family and life.
10,000 Japanese shoved into a quarter mile piece of dust-land surrounded with barbed wire, and guard towers.The living quarters were poorly constructed wooden barracks which didn’t provide any shelter from the blistering cold wind and the dry dust. Not quite a concentration camp, but not quite adequate either. At first Jeanne actually didn’t mind the situation that much. She referred to as like camping. But for the adults and her older brothers and sisters, including one newlywed couple sharing a barrack with a family with two young kids, it was hell. Six to eight people sharing a fifteen by twenty foot space with a cot, two army blankets, and a stove. Animals don’t even live like this,” was a comment made by Jeanne’s mother after her oldest brother Woody tried to ease their mama’s pain.
As months rolled by and their father still imprisoned at Fort Lincoln, Montana Jeanne began to notice her life changing. Japanese families had always been very tight units and they were growing apart. As a family they would always eat together, but the conditions of the mess halls and Jeanne’s Grandmother unable to make the walk to dinner, this tradition ended. Adults ate seperately from the children, and this in itself begins to break down the structure and unity of the family.The parents lost control over their children. The barracks were too small for any in-home activity and the children were forced, not like they objected, to be outside all the time. The housing units were strictly for coming home at night to sleep in. This break down of family structure forced the kids to find alternate ways of occupying themselves, rather than having parental guidance or some type of authority to watch over them.
After nine months Jeanne’s father finally returned. Jeanne admitted that she really didn’t think about him that often.When he arrived no one rushed to greet or hug him, only after a brief hesitation did Jeanne approach and serve as the entire family’s welcome home party. They were silent because he seemed to be a changed man. He was again using the cane he had carved years back which he used to extend a type of military authority over everyone. Before being imprisoned, he had great dignity and loyalty, but now seemed to have lost that. Drinking began to take control of him and he never would leave the barracks.
He brewed his own rice wine and brandy, and became a drunken tyrant.Jeanne was not aware that her mother and father had ever fought the way they did when he returned. She began to despise her father and his authority. Jeanne was discovering new things, and before her father’s return became seriously interested in Catholicism. She loved all the women martyr stories, and possibly could relate to them or to some aspect in them. But before she could get baptized her father had come back and exercised his control over it, and wouldn’t allow it. He told her that their family was Buddhist and that she was to young to even understand what Catholicism was.
Even though they never practiced the religion only celebrated a few holidays. She was confused and wanted acceptance in any way she could find it. She took up the baton and became very skilled at it. But her father criticized this activity, saying she should not try to become American, but rather take up some traditional Japanese activity, like Odori dancing. Even though he himself left that life behind him in Japan to move to America. He could not expect his children growing up in America to only do Japanese things, even though this place they were trapped in wasn’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 in the Sears Roebuck catalogue and dream of that place out there that has all these things. She even referred to this catalogue as the same as God. She was now aware 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 quarter mile, with baton lessons, dance, schools, religion, and even a band. But the war was ending and the camps due to close in December, 1945. Where were they to 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 in camps, then let us loose with nothing? And how were they to be treated once they were out there. Fearing the stories they heard that earlier released internees had been beaten or even killed. But when they finally left it was different. They expected people lining the streets with guns, or billboards reading “go home you dirty Japs” on them. They were put up in a housing compound in Cabrillo. It was small but her mom now could cook and the cold winds didn’t get in. Jeanne enrolled in Jr. igh school, and her mother got a job at a cannery.
Her first experience on the outside 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 you could speak English.
” This remark made by a white girl, whom she became friends with later, made her realize that this is how things were going to be. They weren’t going to beat or injure her, they were going to see she has slanted eyes and assume that she is different. She only wanted acceptance.And realized that 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 in high school.
These things made her feel accepted, one of the others. But she was 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 carnival queen award. A kind of revelation hit her that none of this really mattered any more, and wished she had taken Odori classes like her father wanted her to.
I think this revealed that she had finally found herself among all these other people and didn’t have to be the same as them, she could now be her, for herself. Nearly 30 years later, now a married woman with three children of her own, is able to accept her past. She said that she was always putting off trips to Manzanar because she was afraid it might have the same effect on her as it did when she was young. That feeling of inferiority and uselessness in this world she had always been a part of. She used to hate herself for the way white people would get to her with one little comment like “Oh!You speak English,” that she would feel completely foreign in her world. When she finally visited the ruins of Manzanar she “no longer wanted to lose or have those years erased. Having found it, I could say what 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 giant stepping stone she had climbed, and that gave her worth, so she could feel at peace with herself. Her life had really begun at Manzanar, but she isn’t about to let it end there.In conclusion, this story was very influential and I could sympathize with every trial and tribulation she encountered. Some may say she didn’t value her Japanese heritage enough or was pitying herself for being Japanese. But she, in my view is a hero because she took everything that was imposed on her and endured through it. She was able to accept herself through a kind of spiritual growth, which was both revelational, and inspirational.
Jeanne, now a grown woman who as a child was thrown around in a racial roller coaster, can accept herself as an important part of society and life, rather than needing others to accept it for her.