Farewell to Manzanar (2002) is a book written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her husband, James D. Houston. Being first published in 1973, the book describes an experience of Japanese Americans throughout their imprisonment at the Manzanar Camp, created due to the United States government’s policy during World War II. According to the chapter “Chronology”, included at the beginning of the book, the Manzanar Camp, in Owens Valley, California, existed almost 5 years, from March 25, 1942, till November 21, 1945, when the camp was officially closed. Through the discussion of the events that took place before and after the imprisonment, Houston tries to analyze the ambivalence of the conditions she and her family were placed in.
Nowadays, there is no doubt that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a big mistake. Still, when the U.S. Supreme Court has finally decided that loyal U.S. citizens cannot be held in detention camps against their will, the reaction of the people in the camps was ambivalent. When they found out that they will be released, some people wanted to leave right away, whereas others preferred to stay. The reason for such a difference is covered in the way the internees lived before and after their imprisonment. According to Houston, there were two kinds of Japanese Americans before the war. The first group, including Wakatsuki’s family, preferred to live separately from other immigrants. The author states that her father did not want “to be labeled or grouped by anyone” (Houston 9). As a result, they were the only one Asian family in the neighborhood. On the other hand, there were those Asians, who “would swagger and pick on outsiders and persecute anyone who didn’t speak as they did” (Houston 11). In such a way, there were people who lived in communities before the camp as well as those, who were shocked by the necessity to share their everyday life with thousands of people. Both groups, however, had no attempt to bring harm to someone in their new homeland.
Contrary to Japanese Americans, the attitude of white citizens to this issue was unequivocal. Hate crimes, boycotting and other similar incidents were rather widespread after the U.S. declared a war against Japan. The freedoms of the certain races, class and gender groups were violated because of fear, prejudices, and inequality. In particular, Jeanne’s father had suddenly become an alien, “a man without a country”, and “a man with no rights who looked exactly like the enemy” (Houston 7), only because he was Japanese and held a commercial fishing license. Before the war, Jeanne hardly had a sense of identity and an idea of what prejudice looks like. When she entered the Manzanar Camp, the process of self-identification started. At the age of 11, the girl realized that there should be “some submerged belief that this treatment is deserved, or at least allowable” (Houston 142) to imprison thousands of people. The sense of her own invisibility has followed Jeanne even at school when her white friends were surprised that she had similar habits and used the same language.
While speaking of the ambivalence of internees’ attitude to the issue they faced, Houston demonstrates the contradictions of World War II. Although America entered the war in order to protect the U.S. citizens and the country’s values from an external enemy, these values appeared to be selective. Democracy and freedom did not extend to the representatives of other races, despite the fact that they were native-born Americans. Those people, who were glad to leave the camp, decided that they were finally free. On the other hand, those, who would like to stay inside, predicted the prejudices and stereotypes that followed the post-war depression.
- Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of
Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.