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Farewell to Manzanar | Study Guide

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

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Farewell to Manzanar | Quotes


What does he mean? What is Pearl Harbor?


The shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor is memorably evoked here. It is the subject of bewildered questions asked among families. Confused children like Chizu ask their parents to explain what has happened. The Wakatsuki family, in this, are just like any other American family. Their context, as Japanese Americans, however, adds more weight to the mention of this conversation. It shows Pearl Harbor and the attack were distant things to them. They did not even recognize the name. Despite this they will soon be implicitly accused of disloyalty to America and interned as a result of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.


He was still prevented by law from becoming an American citizen.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

This states the specific predicament of Jeanne's father. While Jeanne and her siblings were born on American soil and therefore were U.S. citizen by right of birth, her parents are not. Her remark here summons up something of the injustice of her father's situation. Although he has lived in America most of his life, he does not enjoy the rights of citizenship. Indeed, he is specifically prohibited from ever becoming a citizen by deliberate legislation. One of the reasons Jeanne mentions this is that she wishes to put internment into the wider, long-term context of anti-Asian sentiment and legislation in America.


The hundred-year-old tradition of anti-Asian sentiment on the West Coast soon resurfaced.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

The authors wish to show the wider context in which internment happened. Legally, it was justified as a series of measures to secure military and industrial assets from potential sabotage and spying during World War II. But this, like the war with Japan, did not occur in a vacuum. It was not simply a matter of practical reaction to the war. It fit into a long-standing context of deep resentment and racist attitudes directed at people of Asian extraction. For this reason, also, the authors use the term anti-Asian. It was not only the Japanese who had been targeted in this way for so many years but also those from China and other Asian countries. A notable example is the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which severely restricted immigration from China.


Sixteen by twenty feet ... with one bare bulb ... and an oil stove for heat.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

The conditions at the camps are described here. These barracks were home for dozens of people at a time. Whole families were crammed into cramped, sparse conditions. It should be noted the description suggests very little in the way of privacy for the inhabitants. The mention of "one bare bulb" and an oil stove evokes the bare-minimum approach the camps took to addressing the internees' comfort and needs.


I was sick continually, with stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

A major problem of the camps was constant sickness. It is striking that Jeanne's memory of the camp is tied up with being sick "continually." Later she mentions that the constant diarrhea is nicknamed "the Manzanar runs." The disease was the result of so many people being crammed together in tight confines with inadequate sanitation and food that was prepared with wartime necessity in mind rather than nutritional value. This condition makes clear that day-to-day existence in the camps consisted primarily of discomfort, disease, and a loss of dignity. Everything else related in the memoir occurs in this context.


Shikata ga nai, this cannot be helped.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

The repeated Japanese phrase shikata ga nai helps to sum up the prevailing attitude of those in the camp. There is nothing they can do about the situation; it can be borne but not changed. This indicates an attitude of perseverance and willingness to persist in the face of adversity. The use of the Japanese phrase seems to indicate it is a particularly Japanese response to the situation. However, it should be noted that this attitude was a point of contention within the Japanese American community, as some viewed it as simply accepting injustice and refusing to stand up to it.


Culturally we were like those Jews who observe certain traditions but never visit a synagogue.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne attempts to describe her relationship to Japanese culture by comparison to secular Jews. This is, of course, a weighty and meaningful comparison in the context of World War II. This is intentional. Jeanne wishes to connect the two cases and to interrogate what it meant to be "Japanese" and "Jewish" in the eyes of governments and individuals who categorized people and persecuted them based on those categories. Ultimately, it did not matter to the agents of persecution whether people were "culturally" or incidentally Japanese or Jewish. What mattered was fitting certain people into a proscribed category. This led to their internment—and in the case of Jews, communists, and other victims of the Holocaust, even worse.


Years later I learned that inu also meant collaborator or informer.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne remembers hearing her father called inu in the camp and compares it to her later, fuller understanding of what it meant. Farewell to Manzanar is as much about Jeanne making sense of her own memories and coming to terms with her childhood as anything else. She was aware, as a child, that her father had been subjected to this specific term of abuse. Later, as an adult, she has a fuller understanding of what it means to be a "collaborator." She did not know at the time that her father was perceived as having chosen collaboration with U.S. authorities over solidarity with the Japanese American community. The use of the Japanese term and the nature of his offense show there was acute resentment in the camp toward the American authorities. Anyone viewed as a "collaborator" was a traitor to his "own" people. Although Japanese Americans had considered themselves American before internment, many now felt distinctly separate from their adopted homeland.


Three years of wartime propaganda ... had turned the Japanese face into something despicable and grotesque.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Just as the decision to carry out internment exists in a long context of anti-Asian sentiment, so too have the circumstances of the war helped deepen and intensify anti-Japanese racism. As the language here implies, war propaganda was not just aimed at the government or soldiers of Japan, but at "the Japanese face." To have a Japanese face was to be viewed as "despicable and grotesque" and certainly less than human. Jeanne wishes to show war propaganda has a life outside of the circumstances of war. Dehumanizing Japanese people through propaganda is not an attitude that could just be put to the side when the war ended. It would inform reactions to people of Japanese descent for generations.


A row of Burma-Shave signs saying Japs Go Back Where You Came From.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne is not describing reality but her fears of what reality will be—and what the country will look like—after she leaves Manzanar. Her fear of the outside world and of how anti-Japanese sentiment has developed reflect her years of internment. She has been shut away from the knowledge of wider America. Jeanne's nightmares range from overt violence (machine gun fire) to this vivid image of mainstream American racism. Burma-Shave had an advertising campaign consisting of billboards posted at regular intervals on major roads. Jeanne's imagination here takes that quintessentially American form of messaging and describes how it could be twisted into a powerful mechanism of racial hatred.


It can both undermine you and keep you believing in your own possibilities.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

This statement sums up Jeanne's desire to be and to be considered American. At the same time, it references the way her desires have been rebuffed throughout her life by those who consider her an outsider. In the book Jeanne emerges from Manzanar with a mixed attitude toward America and American society. She has a view of her country that accepts the duality of its best and worst natures. The promise of America is anyone can succeed if they apply themselves, and this is reflected in the way American culture promotes the belief in "possibilities." However, the reality of American life regularly undermines people at the same time. Jeanne does not say so explicitly, but she implies that structural racism is one significant way America undermines people who otherwise believe in America and consider themselves Americans. This is what she and other internees experienced both in and outside of the camps.


During the years in camp I had never really understood why we were there.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne reminds the reader that her perspective during her time in the camp was that of a child. This helps to deepen the sense a terrible crime was committed. Japanese Americans were interned as a "wartime necessity," but how, we are forced to ask ourselves, could a child be a spy or a saboteur? Jeanne insists she had no idea what was going on, and we have no reason not to believe her. Nevertheless, she was sent to the camps with her entire family—just like over a hundred thousand others.


You cannot deport 110,000 people unless you have stopped seeing individuals.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne sums up a point she has made several times in her narrative. Japanese Americans had been systematically dehumanized by propaganda and a century of anti-Asian sentiment. She points out that internment could only have happened in such circumstances. She believes it would not have been allowed if other Americans had viewed Japanese Americans as people at all, let alone fellow Americans. Again and again, Jeanne points out the roots of internment lay in American society, not only in a specific U.S. government policy during wartime.


Acceptance, in her eyes, was simply another means for survival.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne's father in the narrative is a somewhat larger-than-life character who clings as hard as he can to his Japanese background. He resents Jeanne's adoption of American fashions as a rejection of her ancestry. It is worth bearing in mind he was accused of being a traitor in the camp. Jeanne's mother, however, is pleased. This is because assimilation into American society—described as "acceptance" by mainstream (Caucasian) Americans—means Jeanne will have an easier life than her parents. That this is framed as "survival" makes plain the stakes as they appear to Jeanne's mother. Her children's well-being rests on whether they can integrate effectively into American society at large.


It gradually filled me with shame ... to deserve that kind of treatment.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne recounts how her growing understanding of the circumstances of her internment made her feel ashamed and guilty. As a child, she did not know what was going on. As she grows older and more aware, she comes to believe she must have been to blame for her treatment. This, she reveals, is part of the legacy of internment. Innocent victims of U.S. policy were made to feel as if they were unworthy of acceptance and deserved to be locked away as dangerous aliens. An insidious aspect of oppressive behavior is how it makes the victims question their own place within the society that oppresses them.

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