History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Social Commentary, WWII

#501 Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. HoustonFarewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

During WWII thousands of Japanese Americans were locked away in concentration camps inland and away from the coasts. Some were detained for years at a time. They lost almost everything they possessed before they left for the camps and many times death and conditions such as PTSD affected those who lived in the camps.

Jeanne’s family went to a camp named Manzanar, which is supposed to mean “apple orchard” in Spanish. There did used to be apple orchards there, and pears, and other fruits, but when irrigation projects were created to send water to Las Angeles, the water in the area dried up. A once prosperous town, turned into the perfect place to imprison thousands of people.

Pearl Harbor was attacked and Jeanne’s father was taken away two weeks after it happened. They found out later he was taken to Kansas. He was accused of being  Japanese conspirator even though he hadn’t spoken to anyone in Japan in years, but he owned two fishing boats and a fishing license. In the government’s eyes he possessed the materials to be a traitor. Jeanne’s father was not born in the United States and was not allowed to become a citizen until the 1950s. Jeanne was born in the states along with nine brothers and sisters.

The older siblings were already married when everyone was ordered to camp, but they had to go anyway. They took their spouses along. Jeanne’s first nieces and nephews were born in the concentration camp. In the beginning nothing was ready for anybody. There wasn’t proper medical care. The toilets did not have partitions between them. People who had never cooked before were made to cook for hundreds of people. There was no organized school. People died and suffered disease.

Jeanne grew up in the camp. A school did eventually appear. Jeanne was able to take lessons in various subjects. She made friends. When it finally came time to leave, the family didn’t know what to do. Everything they had had before camp was gone. There was no more farm. There was no more Victorian house. There were no more fishing boats. Many members of the family went to New Jersey, because the West had been tainted for them. They felt they would not be accepted back into society there.

The family finally did find a place in an apartment. Her father turned to alcohol for comfort, but finally got the family a farm. Jeanne learned to excel, in spite of being Japanese. There were activities she was not permitted to do because she was Japanese, such as girl scouts. She lost friends, but she moved on. In the end, Jeanne was able to do many of the things we all do in life. She went back to visit Manzanar many years after living there, but there wasn’t much left. It had been torn down. The place where The United States imprisoned thousands of people was gone, perhaps in order for people to more easily forget that it had ever happened.

What I liked

I’ve read books about Japanese concentration camps before. You do have to admit that this was a very rough deal for people. Nothing was anywhere near like Nazi concentration camps, but these were still concentration camps. I do like that people were treated better in the United States than in Europe, but this still shouldn’t have happened at all. People were paranoid. Just as with other books I have read on slavery and treatment of Native Americans in the United States, this book too serves as a lesson of remembrance. We need to remember that this happened so we don’t do stupid stuff like this again. There is a reason we didn’t round up people of middle-eastern descent after 9/11, it was because it would have been wrong and stupid of us. One person does not speak for an entire race of people.

Jeanne had a tough life, but I’m glad she was able to go forward and live her life much the way she wanted. She didn’t let prejudice hold her back. I do feel bad that she felt she had to succeed because she was Japanese and she was trying to make up for something. There was nothing for her to make up for. She didn’t do anything. She shouldn’t have had to have had that attitude and carried that guilt.

What I didn’t like

Again, who thinks this is a good idea? Who thinks it’s a good idea to lock an entire people away based on a stupid prejudice and suspicion? Who sanctioned this? Why would we allow this? Why didn’t people protest this in mass numbers? Why didn’t we say, “No, you can’t do this; these people didn’t do anything?” We must remember that this was before the larger Civil Rights movements in the United States; we were still a  bit backwards. That’s not an excuse, but it does help us understand the situation a little better. None of this makes it right. None of these people should have held any suspicion from the U.S. government.

Jeanne felt like she had to make up for being Japanese. That’s not something to make up for. The only times you really have something to make up for are when you have actually done something wrong like being a murderer or a drug dealer. Jeanne wasn’t anything bad; she had done nothing wrong. We shouldn’t treat people as if they have something to make up for because they’re a certain race, a certain height, a certain weight, a certain religion, or a certain gender. You shouldn’t be saying anything like, “Oh well, she’s nice enough, if only she weren’t so heavy,” and nobody should have to think anything like, “oh, well, I have to try twice as hard at this job because I’ve got red hair.” Jeanne was essentially discriminating against herself because she had seen the way society discriminated against Japanese people. We should not foster a social circle that breeds discriminatory thoughts in us against other people or ourselves.


This is an important piece of American History and it’s a good thing to know about.

Weigh in

Do you think we cause people to discriminate against themselves currently specifically in regards to weight and body image?

Why do you think only Japanese-Americans were locked away instead of German-Americans or Italian-Americans?

american concentration camps, concentraion camps, farewell to manzanar, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, james d houston, japanese concentration camps, jeanne wakatsuki, jeanne wakatsuki houston, manzanar concentration camp, pearl harbor, WWII
History, Houston-James D., Houston-Jeanne Wakatsuki, Memoir, Non-Fiction, social commentary, WWII


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