The move to the internment camps was a difficult journey for many Japanese-Americans. Many of them were taken from their homes and were allowed only to bring a few belongings. Okubo colorfully illustrates the dramatic adjustment of lifestyle that Japanese-Americans had to make during the war. Authentic sketches accompany each description of the conditions that were faced and hardships that were overcome. The illustrations were drawn at the time each event described throughout the story took place. Each hand drawn picture seems to freeze time, capturing the feelings and intense anxiety many felt during the war. The pictures assist the author’s first person narration and assist the reader in creating an accurate picture of each account.
Okubo’s story focuses on the daily life in an internment camp; meals were described as consisting mainly of potatoes and bread, horse stables used to house the evacuees were described as skeletons smelling of manure and bathrooms where endless lines violated privacy due to the lack of doors or partitions. It seemed like a prisoner’s hell to most Japanese-Americans, each day passing slower than the last. They were robbed of their freedom and basic rights as American citizens and they knew there was nothing they cold do about it. The brief summary accompanied by authentic sketches provides the reader with a broad over view of what the camps looked and felt like. Okubo does not go into extreme detail, but does focus on describing most aspects of the internment camps.
Okubo’s short and simple descriptions of camp life give the story a personal touch. It almost sounds as though Okubo is replicating a type of journal she kept throughout the internment process. Simple to read and understand, the book provides its reader with a personal account of what it was like to be a young Japanese-American imprisoned for a year of her life.
The camps represented a prison: no freedom, no privacy, no “America”. Many families were separated and they did not know when they would see each other again. Internment was not a choice; it was a patriotic duty to prove Japanese-Americans’ loyalty through submission to their new country. They had to believe in the government’s reasoning and trust their new country. The years following the orders for the Japanese to be relocated would be frustrating and depressing for many. The Japanese expression “shi kata ganai” was widely adopted for these troublesome times. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar illustrates the hardships and frustrations of a Japanese family, separated by internment. Houston was interned herself, during the war, which contributes to the vivid reality of the book. It describes the development of a civilization behind the barbed wire, a society who was forced to stay together, under harsh conditions, in Manzanar.
Farewell to Manzanar
Wakatsuki-Houston presents an insightful portrayal of the Japanese-American internment camp in California known as Manzanar. She describes how her life changed throughout the experience as she grew from child to young woman. She captivates the reader’s attention with intermittent interviews, describing the seemingly constant turmoil that each prisoner faced.
Wakatsuki-Houston highlights her father throughout the ordeal as a strong, traditional and somewhat fearful man. She believes his life ended at Manzanar even though he continued to physically live. It was Manzanar that transformed her father from a man of dignity to one of shame and fury. She describes him as a man with “tremendous dignity. Ten children and a lot of hard luck wore him down, had worn away most of the arrogance he came to this country with. But he still had dignity, and he would not let those deputies push him out the door. He led them.” Her father illustrates the important cultural elements of respect, dignity and pride. The more bitter he became, the stronger his pride became. His disillusion of what he believed to be a great country would not destroy his proud, tall heritage, which he believed nothing could touch.
The focus of the book emphasizes the internal struggles of a young girl longing for acceptance in a harsh world of prejudice. Wakatsuki-Houston describes her struggles after Manzanar as most difficult and frustrating. The idealization from American values she learned about what female teens were like did not at all fit her description. “I’d reached an age where certain childhood mysteries begin to make sense. This girl’s guileless remark came as an illumination, an instant knowledge that brought with it the first buds of true shame.” The author was growing into a world of ugly reality, where she would become aware for the first time of who she was and why she was this way. The fact that she was an attractive and outgoing teenager was not enough to normalize her image. Her skin color and slanted eyes told everyone all they needed to know, and for this she grew to be ashamed. The constant obstacles forced her to become callosed to unnecessary comments and accept prejudiced attitudes as commonplace. She now knew the world outside of Manzanar was judgmental and cold; it would have to be her spirit that would carry her through this time.
I especially enjoyed the author’s portrayal as a young developing woman caught in a world of prejudice and discrimination. She was able to overcome the obstacles that blocked her from the truth herself. The more courageous she became as an American woman, the more she was able to discover about the power she held. Her father’s spirit–strong, proud and very Japanese–would encourage her along the way.