[Mama] would quickly subordinate her own desires to those of the family or the community, because she knew cooperation was the only way to survive. At the same time she placed a high premium on personal privacy, respected it in others and insisted upon it for herself. … Almost everyone at Manzanar had inherited this pair of traits from the generations before them who had learned to live in a small, crowded country like Japan.”
These lines from Chapter 4, “A Common Master Plan,” describe Mama’s reluctance to use the partitionless toilets and connect her to the issues of Japanese identity traced in the stories of Papa, Woody, and Jeanne. Mama was born in Hawaii and does not struggle as much as Papa or Jeanne, who as noncitizen and citizen respectively, approach the Japanese-American identity problem from opposite circumstances. Yet Wakatsuki makes statements throughout the book that remind us how much Mama also struggles to reconcile camp living with being Japanese. Two of the essentially Japanese values that Jeanne sees in Mama’s selfless but proud character are cooperation and respect for privacy. The need to survive requires Mama to cooperate, but cooperating also means living in cramped quarters with blankets for walls and cardboard boxes for toilet partitions, which impinge on her privacy. Mama’s frustration, especially with the toilets, underscores the incompatibility of these two traits in the context of camp life. Japanese cooperation went far in making life at Manzanar tolerable, but camp life itself was a constant insult to the inhabitants’ concerns for privacy and dignity.