Farewell To Manzanar As A Memoir

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

“They wouldn’t see me, they would see the slant-eyed face, the Oriental. This is what accounts, in part, for the entire evacuation. You cannot deport 110,000 people unless you have stopped seeing individuals”(Wakatsuki Houston 158).

After several years of being interned in Manzanar, Jeanne is confronted by prejudice upon returning to school in America. Her transition into a world outside of Manzanar is abrupt, and Jeanne is shocked by her schoolmates’ inability to see past her “slant-eyed face”(Wakatsuki Houston 158). Their prejudiced perspective towards her initiates the realization that she is considered a foreigner, causing her to feel ashamed of her ethnicity and wish to be invisible. Despite this, Jeanne determinedly decides to fight against the ethnic stereotypes that surround her as a Japanese American by joining several extracurricular activities where it is acceptable for her to succeed. Through her efforts, she manages to counter her feelings of self-resentment and takes the first steps of accepting her own identity. As a Chinese American, I can relate to Jeanne’s experiences in America. While I was always conscious of the fact that my skin tone and appearance were different, I did not fully grasp its significance until I began school. Because of my unfamiliarity with English, my odd accent, and my overall shy demeanor, I was considered the “other”, which made it especially difficult for me to socialize. Jeanne’s classmates’ attitude towards her reflects the several underlying prejudices against Asian Americans that still exist today. Even in our modern society, certain people are still unable to see past the features and skin tone of an individual. Although prejudices and stereotypes can never be truly eliminated, it is important to make sure that our negative thoughts do not translate into harmful actions.

“But the entire situation there, especially in the beginning—the packed sleeping quarters, the communal mess halls, the open toilets—all this was an open insult to that other, private self, a slap in the face you were powerless to challenge”(Wakatsuki Houston 34).

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese Americans are imprisoned in isolated and underfunded internment camps. During Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family’s confinement at Manzanar, they are forced to live in horrible conditions. Families are crammed into small, rickety barracks and served spoiled food in mess halls. In addition, the toilets have no partitions, stripping the residents of their privacy and dignity. Despite these injustices, the Japanese American community is rendered powerless, as any resistance or protest against the government would paint them as the enemy. Their only option is silently to endure the treatment. The common sentiment, “Shikata ga Nai,” meaning “It cannot be helped,” portrays the helplessness that the Japanese Americans felt in the dire situation. The conduct used towards the internees is reflected in the way minorities are treated in today’s society. I find it incredibly absurd that the people who work hard to belong in America are excluded simply because of their identity. Even as America transforms from a predominantly white population to a community rich in various ethnic groups and cultures, discrimination and prejudice against certain races are still present. The continuous pattern of racial bias greatly impacts minorities’ ability to feel fully integrated and accepted in America. Their opportunities may also be limited, which leads to an inability to rise in social class. Despite the unfair treatment towards minorities, it is commonly overlooked by the more privileged. Society as a whole must become aware of the presence of discrimination to truly resolve this issue.

“’When your mother and your father are fighting, do you want them to kill each other? Or do you just want them to stop fighting?’”(Wakatsuki Houston 64)

During an interview entirely composed by Jeanne between her father and an interrogator, he is asked several questions about his intentions towards America and connections to Japan. Papa is asked about where his loyalties lie. Unable to answer the question, as it would mean jeopardizing either his heritage or dreams for economic success in his adopted country, he evades the question. The bombing of Pearl Harbor placed Issei in a difficult situation, as they could not favor a country without compromising their relationship with the other. In addition, while they felt cut off from their homeland because of their lack of communication and were resented by them for immigrating to America, they were also perceived as threats by the people in their new country. Papa points out to the interrogator that, even though he had been living in America for nine years longer than the officer had, he is still forbidden to become a citizen or own land. To me, the treatment received by Japanese Americans is unfair and revolting. While America is famously known as “the land of opportunities,’ its reputation is repeatedly proven false. Rather than succeeding in pursuing economic success, Papa faces discrimination that greatly hinders his ability to rise in social class. Furthermore, all of his hard work is vanquished after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and makes him an invader in his own country. Not only did the bombing of Pearl Harbor devastate America, but it also had a detrimental impact on the Japanese American community. 

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