“Her eyes blazed then, her voice quietly furious. “Woody, we can’t live like this. Animals live like this.” (Chapter Three, p. 24)
Riku (Mama) is not very vocal. In this quote she expresses deep concern about the living conditions in Manzanar. The unit that they are living in needs considerable repair. Upon taking an inventory of their surroundings, she is frustrated, disappointed and appalled that anyone would require other human beings to live in such unacceptable conditions.
“He didn’t die there, but things finished for him there, whereas for me it was like a birthplace.” (Chapter Six, p. 43)
Upon his return from prison, Papa (Ko) is not the same. He did not physically die while in Manzanar, but he changed in negative ways. He starts to drink; he doesn’t work and he becomes abusive towards Mama. He is not the same man who existed before his imprisonment and detainment. Jeanne, conversely, recognizes that she is figuratively born while in the camp. It is while in Manzanar that she learns about community, the human condition, the importance of family and most importantly, she begins to understand who she is and desires to be. Whereas Papa’s life ends, Jeanne’s begins in Manzanar.
“My faith in God and in the Catholic church slipped several notches at that time. But not my faith in the outside, all such good things could be found.” (Chapter Sixteen, p. 118)
While in the camp, Jeanne is searching. She comes across a group of nuns who intrigue her. She begins to spend a tremendous amount of time with them and listening to their teachings. Initially she takes an interest in Catholicism and she even considers being baptized and joining, but her Papa intercedes and she does not. As the conditions in the camps do not improve, she begins to question putting faith in God and the Catholic Church. Yet, she never forgets about or stops believing in the world that exists beyond the camp’s walls. She still believes that much good can be found out there, in spite of her current condition and circumstances.
“Nine days later, all over America people were dancing in the streets. At Manzanar I suppose there was some rejoicing too. At least we were no longer the enemy.” (Chapter Seventeen, p. 127)
After the bombing of Hiroshima, Americans rejoice because it signals the end of a tumultuous war. Seeing the images of people dancing in the street is Jeanne’s first exposure to how Americans perceive the end of the war. Since America is no longer at war with Japan, Jeanne assumes that American attitudes about Japanese-Americans will also change. Unfortunately, the idea that Japanese-Americans are no longer the enemy proves to be inaccurate and premature when Jeanne finally leaves the camp and reenters American society.
“The stories, the murmurs, the headlines of the last few months had imprinted in my mind the word HATE.” (Chapter Nineteen, p. 136)
Much of the postwar American media attention still focuses on the Japanese people as the enemy of America even though the war has ended successfully for the American and the Allied Forces. As Jeanne observes the world around her, she is bewildered that in the public sphere, there is still so much prejudice, discrimination and dislike of Japanese-Americans. She identifies this as hatred and begins to see almost daily examples of how people mistreat her based upon this hatred.
“This was exactly what I wanted. It also gave me the first sure sign of how certain intangible barriers might be crossed.” (Chapter Twenty, p. 146)
Jeanne discovers that she is the lead majorette for a Boy Scout drum and bugle corps. Prior to this, on numerous occasions, Jeanne is met with blatant discrimination, including parents of many of her peers not allowing her to socialize with their children outside of school. She is not invited over for slumber parties and she is denied a chance to become a Girl Scout. Upon learning that she has been selected to be a baton twirler with two of her Caucasian peers, Jeanne experiences the first time when her ability and skill sets trump the prejudices and the negative presumptions of others.
“I wanted to be ten years old again, so I could believe in princes and queens. It was too late. Too late.” (Chapter Twenty-One, p. 164)
Jeanne is elected carnival queen of Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Despite the accolades and pride that she feels being the school’s first Japanese-American carnival queen, she is struck by how anticlimactic the event actually is. The fairy tales that many young girls believe in are obsolete for Jeanne since life in Manzanar has taught her otherwise. By wishing that she is younger, it is a chance for her to briefly reminiscence about what was lost and to imagine the feelings that she should be having after such a great feat. Instead, she is indifferent and simply acknowledges that she cannot recapture these lost memories or experiences again.
“As I came to understand what Manzanar had meant, it gradually filled me with shame for being a person guilty of something enormous enough to deserve that kind of treatment” (Chapter Twenty-Two, p. 167).
As an adult, Jeanne is able to process the toll that Manzanar has had on her life. She still carries a sense of responsibility, shame and guilt for something over which she had no control. Rather than seeing this as the fault of the oppressors who placed her and others in these camps, she internalizes it. Could there have been something that she and others did in order to deserve such treatment? Of course the answer is no, but this quote reflects the psychological effect that Manzanar has had, and still has, upon her some decades later. Although she is no longer physically encamped, she still carries the experiences with her.
“For a while I could almost detach myself from the place and its history and take pleasure in it purely as an archeological site” (Chapter Twenty-Two, p. 173).
Manzanar, now a historic landmark, is no longer an internment camp. Simply relegating it to a page in a history book is to somehow deny the long-lasting importance that it has had for those who were forced to live there and for American society as a whole. The easy thing for Jeanne to do would be to simply see it as another event in American history. This would protect her from the emotional and physical scars that it has created. However, by returning to the site, she is recognizing that it is and always will be more than a geographic location. For these reasons, she must say farewell.
“It was so simple, watching her, to see why everything that had happened to me since we left camp referred back to it, in one way or another” (Chapter Twenty-Two, p. 176)
Jeanne is literally watching her young daughter, who is eleven, play amongst the rumble and terrain where the Camp Manzanar barracks once stood. It is a moment of epiphany for Jeanne as she recognizes that so much of who she is and who she has become is a result of the time that she spent in Manzanar. Whether it was something tangible or intangible, Camp Manzanar has helped to shape Jeanne and she cannot deny the effect that it has had on her and most importantly, it will continue to have an impact on her identity and worldview.