Dr. Brandon Seto
History of Ethnic America
Farewell to Manzanar
“The hundred year-old tradition of anti-Orientalism on the west coast soon resurfaced more vicious than ever,” retracted Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, author of Farewell to Manzanar, after the sudden attacks on Pearl Harbor (Houston, 16). The anti-oriental sentiment in America escalated hastily from moderate to extreme after the Japanese conducted the sudden surprise military attack on December 7, 1941. Despite 35 years residency in the United States, Jeanne’s father is arrested under suspicion for delivering oil to Japanese submarines offshore. The Watatsuki family frequently relocates to different areas under the command of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Regardless of personal beliefs or cultural values, any Japanese person was considered a threat to the war effort and therefore under subjection to be placed in relocation centers. Jeanne utilizes the memoir Farewell to Manzanar to describe her life before, during, and after residency in the Manzanar Relocation Center and how the experience changed not only her family dynamic but her personal identity as well.
Each member of the Watatsuki family coped with their internment in different manners, which ultimately ended up altering the once tight-knit family dynamic. Upon their arrival at the camp, the Watatsukis were greeted by “a cluster of barracks that had just been finished a day or so earlier – although finished was hardly the word for it” (Houston 20). The living conditions of these camps were poor; they were carelessly unfinished, cramped, and unprepared for all the Japanese Americans to pour in. The food was insufficient, and dismissed the Japanese culture by combining rice with sweet mixtures, and “among the Japanese of course, rice is never eaten with sweet foods” (Houston, 20). Furthermore, The lack of privacy of the bathroom facilities caused uneasiness and embarrassment, especially for Jeanne’s mother, because a number of people fell sick to the “Manzanar runs” due the lack of nutrition” (Houston, 31). Despite these conditions, the most devastating factor to the Wakatsuki family proved to be the emotional and spiritual hardships placed upon them. Houston so vividly described the treatment in Manzanar as “a slap in the face you were powerless to challenge” (Houston, 34). Each family member handled this harsh treatment differently and resulted in different outbursts of behavior. In effort to adapt to the lack of entertainment and freedom in the camps, many children developed new interests to deal with the burden of internment. Jeanne in particular developed an interest in organized religions, but after refusal from her father, she began to get involved with a variety of dance, sports, and other activities the school offered. Many of the adults however, like Papa, developed self-destructive behaviors to cope with the lack of freedom in the camps. Papa began to develop a drinking problem resulting in violent behavior. One drunken night, he was about to cause serious harm to Mama until Kiyo punched him in the face. It is instances like these that begin to dismantle the once patriarchal system of the Watatsuki family. After time in interment, Jeanne realizes her “own family, after three years of mess hall living collapsed as an integrated unit” (Houston, 37). They were no longer a collaborative family but a system of connected individuals each trying to survive the conditions in their respective ways.
Soon after the Wakatsuki’s escape to Terminal Island, the FBI comes to arrest Papa. He did not resist the arrest, he almost embraced it as “he would not let those deputies push him out the door, he led them” (Houston, 8). Papa’s personality shines throughout this encounter as he demonstrates his pride and stubbornness. During the rest of the incarnation, the family remains passive about the internment. Even though the conditions were harsh, Mama would “subordinate her…