Farewell to Manzanar

by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Farewell to Manzanar is the autobiography of Jeanne Wakatsuki, who was seven years old in 1942, when the U.S. government forced Japanese-American families from their homes, and relocated them to internment camps.  She tells the story of life at the Manzanar camp, as well as her family’s difficulty in resuming a normal life after the camp closed, including her personal struggle to fit in with white kids at school.

Just prior to the internment, Jeanne’s father was arrested and taken to North Dakota.  He was a fisherman, and they charged him with delivering oil to Japanese submarines.  During interrogation, he explained that the 50-gallon drums on his boat contained bait, not oil.  His interrogator asked, “Who do you want to win this war?”  He answered, “When your mother and your father are having a fight, do you want them to kill each other? Or do you want them to stop fighting?”

One amusing part of the story is about how the camp residents entertained themselves. “He didn’t sing Don’t Fence Me In out of protest… It just happened to be a hit song.”

Woven into the story are historically significant facts.  Ironically, while being held captive as a threat to the country, second-generation Japanese-American men were drafted into the Army.  Many accepted the call, and others even volunteered prior to being drafted. However, some fought in court, and a judge in San Francisco ruled in their favor.  And in December of 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot detain loyal citizens against their will. Within the next year, the camps were closed.

Wakatsuki documents her experience in the form of a relatable, human story.

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, 2002. Buy from Amazon.com

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