Farewell to Manzanar: Essay Q&A
1. In what ways is Jeanne’s sense of identity altered after Manzanar?
Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jeanne sees herself as an American. There were very few, if any, ways that she differentiated herself from her peers and members of her neighborhood and community. In fact, her father indoctrinates her not to label or group herself with others. Papa is a successful fisherman who owns a nice home and seems to be embracing and living a very comfortable lifestyle.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of Japanese- Americans propels Jeanne into a world where she is grouped by her racial identity and therefore is no longer seen as an individual, but seen as a member of a larger group that, at that time, were despised by many Americans. While in the camp, she is, for the first time, in a community exclusively made up of other Japanese-Americans. She has to contend with understanding her young and still evolving identity in light of how others perceive her.
This is compounded when Jeanne reenters American society and she experiences implicit and explicit prejudice based on the way she looks and the assumptions that people make about Japanese-Americans. This idea of being singled out is foreign to Jeanne and she begins to internalize and question why she is hated for something that she cannot control. Instead of seeing herself as a young girl innocent and oblivious to the political affairs of adults, she is forced to address her racial identity because of how poorly society treats her. She even contemplates the concept of being invisible as an alternative to being hated and disliked.
As she grapples with understanding her own identity, she is further pulled in by the lore of her father who insists on teaching and maintaining traditional Japanese culture within his household. She is being torn between who she is, who society thinks she is and who her father wants her to be.
Ultimately, Jeanne, even as an adult looking back, realizes that Manzanar served as a birthplace that forced her to make sense of the complexity of her multiple identities at a young age. As an adult, she makes peace with the fact that although she was a victim, she still has a choice to make about the ways in which Manzanar will affect her and those around her.
2. How did the interned Japanese create a sense of community in the camp?
Community is often a word that describes a group of people who elect to live together, share and/or work together based upon shared interests and common goals. Such was not the case in Farewell to Manzanar. The Japanese-Americans find themselves living in a community that is not of their own choosing.
Isolated and detached from life as they knew it, the members of Mazanar have to find ways to work collaboratively in order to survive and to maintain their dignity and pride. When forced to live in subpar conditions, including unsanitary and public restrooms, they discover how to make the best of a worse-case scenario. Although the camps are not suitable for human residence nor are they safe, they negotiate, barter and work collectively, including sharing food, supplies and other basic necessities. By working collaboratively, a community emerged.
Community takes on a very different meaning as each member plays a different role. Mama and other women in the community find themselves responsible for holding their family’s together while their husbands are working in the camps, imprisoned or fighting overseas. Oldest children also play important roles in financially supporting their families.
Rather than being individualistic and working for their own personal well-being, they discover that there is greater strength in communal work. Even the presence of a music band and other forms of entertainment reveal a desire to experience some aspect of normalcy, including leisure activities.
Whether it was sharing a big carton to secure privacy in the ladies’ restroom or the mesh cooks sharing their meals with members of other units, the members of Mazanar create what amounts to be a living, breathing, self-sustainable community that strives even in the midst of such horrific conditions; thereby, illustrating great resiliency and fortitude.
3. What aspects of this story challenge the ideal of the American Dream?
Jeanne’s father plays by the rules. He is a successful businessman and by most accounts, he is a well-liked and respected member of his community. Upon his migration to the United States, he attends college and law school, establishes a business, works hard, buys a house and provides for his family. All of these are desirable acts that are often associated with the American “rags-to riches” story or the American Dream.
Whereas Jeanne’s father may have adhered to the script, there are other factors preventing him from being successful. The bombing of Pearl Harbor, the accusations made against him and his subsequent imprisonment are all life events that are beyond his control. Confused and angry, he cannot understand how and why such things can happen in America. Although it is not his place of birth, he clearly expresses his willingness to support America’s efforts. Yet, even after pleading his case, he is deemed guilty, wrongfully convicted and his family detained.
As Jeanne recounts throughout her narrative, her father is not alone. There were many productive and law-abiding citizens, many of whom are American born, who are either arrested and/or interned without just cause. These individuals have committed no crime or offense other than being a part of one of the ethnic groups that America is fighting against in World War II.
Unfortunately Jeanne’s father, Ko, never rebounds from his experiences. His family suffers because of his frustrations and his dreams become unattainable and he eventually withers away. The strong, opinionated father figure is just a shell of his former self after Manzanar. By illustrating that her father’s experiences are not isolated and that there were many others like him, Wakatsuki gives voice to those American citizens who were deemed voiceless by their own government and fellow citizens.
4. Why does Jeanne take her own family, including her children, back to Manzanar?
Manzanar serves as a symbol of suffering, pain, disconnection and isolation for Jeanne. As she recalls the various events that transpire there, she also recognizes that these experiences have deeply shaped her. Returning to Manzanar serves as an opportunity for Jeanne to make peace with her past. It also is as an opportunity for her to reconcile the past with the present.
Rather than running away from the past or pretending that it either did not happen or did not affect her profusely, she faces it head first. Physically returning to the space acts as a tangible reminder that she has overcome the negativity that she once associated with Manzanar. Furthermore, it also allows her to bury that which she admits she has been carrying with her the entire time, the parts of her identity that are linked to Manzanar.
As she watches her oldest daughter play amongst the rubble, she is reminded that she too was once that age, innocent and carefree. Rather than being engulfed in rage, bitterness, anger and fear, she shares her past with her family. Even though her young children cannot fully grasp its significance, it is important that they visit the place of their mother’s youth.
By sharing her past with her husband and her children, she is sharing an integral part of herself. Although the experiences are not pleasant, they are fundamental in shaping and developing her worldview. To deny the importance of Mazanar would somehow be to deny a part of herself and her identity. Her children, in turn, will inherit a part of her story just as she inherited a part of her father’s story. Perhaps the dreams that died in Mazanar will live on in Jeanne’s children just as Ko’s dreams live on in Jeanne.
5. How did the U.S. government address the injustices suffered by Japanese-Americans during World War II?
Executive Order 9066 was issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 26, 1941. It was the official beginning of Japanese-American internment. Manzanar was just one of many such camps. Internment was an attempt by the federal government to establish military zones or areas where certain people would be excluded, in this case, the Japanese. In addition there were those in the community who also advocated such exclusion, but not for military reasons. Instead anti-Japanese sentiment served as a springboard for some to use the bombing of Pearl Harbor as an excuse to express their prejudicial views.
As a result of the Executive Order, Japanese Americans were then placed into internment camps where they were expected to live indefinitely. Such internment ended with a Supreme Court decision on December 18, 1944, when the Supreme Court ruled that citizens of the United States could not be held without just cause. The following month, January 1945, Executive Order 9066 was officially rescinded. It is estimated that there were over 110,000 Japanese-Americans of all ages who were subjected to this process.
Shortly after the Japanese internment camps were removed, Congress passed an act that allowed Japanese-Americans to seek financial damages for lost property. Very few of those interned had the necessary documentation to seek compensation so slightly over 26,000 claims were filed and less than 40 million was awarded.
In the 1960s, many Japanese-Americans petitioned the U.S. government to extend a formal apology and monetary compensation, also known as reparations, for surviving camp members. Officially called the Redress Movement, activists argued that many of the interned lost their livelihood, property and were separated from their families.
In addition, there was immeasurable psychological and emotional damage that many suffered, often in silence. Eventually a commission was established that looked into the grievances and responded accordingly. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which allocated $20,000 of payment per surviving camp detainee. The physical locations where the camps once stood have also been earmarked as historical landmarks, including Manzanar.
To this day, the injustices suffered by Japanese-Americans at the hands of other Americans is still controversial. With the issuance of monetary compensation and discussions in numerous high schools and universities around the country, some wounds have begun to heal.