Farewell to Manzanar
Summary—Chapter 12: Manzanar, U.S.A.
In the spring of 1943, the Wakatsuki family moves to nicer barracks in Block 28 near one of the old pear orchards. Wakatsuki tells us that the Spanish word manzanar means “apple orchard” and that there were once many orchards in Owens Valley, where Manzanar is located. Papa tends the fruit trees, and Mama is closer to the hospital where she works as a dietician. Their new lodgings are twice the size of their old ones and have ceilings and linoleum floors. Papa continues to distill liquor, but he drinks less because he spends more time outdoors. After the first year, the Japanese are allowed to venture outside the fence for recreation, and Papa goes on hikes, looking for driftwood, which he carves into furniture. He also paints, sketches, and even builds a rock garden outside the Wakatsuki barracks, with stepping stones leading up to the door.
Life in camp becomes subdued and shikata ga nai, “it cannot be helped,” again becomes the motto. Many families plant gardens, the administration begins to operate a farm, and some former professional gardeners build a small park. Manzanar becomes its own world with its own churches, stores, movie theaters, and schools, and many of its residents forget about the war. Papa talks Woody out of volunteering for the military, and Woody works at the general store while he waits to be drafted. Kiyo collects arrowheads unearthed by the strong winds and sells them to old men, and Ray plays on a local football team. Jeanne’s older sister, Lillian, joins a hillbilly band called the Sierra Stars. Jeanne’s oldest brother, Bill, leads a dance band called the Jive Bombers, singing such hits as Don’t Fence Me In. There is a picture of the band in the Manzanar High School 1943–1944 yearbook, Our World, along with photos of cheerleaders and the school play, whose description reads “the story of a typical American home.” The last two photos in the yearbook show a watchtower and a woman with her dog walking down a peaceful path outside of camp.
The camp authorities create a high school and elementary school, and Jeanne enrolls in fourth grade. Her teacher is a spinster from Kentucky, but Jeanne says she is the best teacher she has ever had. Jeanne also joins the Glee Club, which gives concerts throughout the camp. The War Relocation Department brings in leaders, mostly Quakers, to run a recreation program. On weekends the leaders organize hiking trips to the recently built campgrounds in the hills outside of camp. One leader, a Quaker girl named Lois, has a crush on a Japanese boy, and the two arrange an overnight camping trip for the younger girls in order to spend time together. Jeanne enjoys the occasional excursions but is afraid of spending too much time outside the compound.
Jeanne begins taking baton-twirling lessons, practices for months, and eventually joins the baton club at school. Wakatsuki wonders why she was so attracted to such an all-American activity and compares it to her experience taking Japanese dance lessons from an old geisha—a Japanese woman trained to entertain men—in camp. The geisha teaches traditional odori dancing to young girls who want to participate in the obon festival honoring dead ancestors, but Jeanne does not understand the geisha’s traditional attitudes and Japanese dialect. Two girls in the class tell Jeanne that a good dancer must use hair tonic on her face, put cold cream in her hair, and never wear underpants, but Mama tells her the girls are teasing. Jeanne also tries taking ballet lessons, but she is unimpressed by the out-of-shape teacher and her daikon ashi, which refers to horseradish-shaped legs. Disappointed, Jeanne returns to her study of religion with the nuns and longs to be baptized in a white gown and veil. When she announces her intention to Papa, he gets angry and refuses her wishes on the grounds that she will be unable to marry a Japanese boy. One of the nuns is a friend of Papa’s and tries to reason with him, but he says Jeanne is too young. Jeanne decides she hates Papa and returns to baton twirling.
Part II of Farewell to Manzanar opens with the Wakatsuki family’s move to the new barracks next to the orchard, underscoring that the move marks a new phase in Jeanne’s family life. The fruit trees symbolize fertility and rejuvenation, and the move to the fruit orchard coincides with a return to a more normal family life. Though he still indulges in alcohol, Papa becomes productive, tending the orchard and pursuing creative interests such as carving furniture out of driftwood. Similarly, Jeanne and her sisters begin to busy themselves with various activities and hobbies. Additionally, the Wakatsukis’ residence is much more inhabitable than their previous one. For the first time since the memoir’s opening moments, the Wakatsuki family is planted. As each family member becomes involved in his or her own interests, the family becomes less and less a source of tension.
The mainstream American nature of the lives the Japanese Americans re-create for themselves within the confines of Manzanar reminds us that these prisoners are loyal American citizens. Manzanar is an all-American town, and through the parade of typical American cultural phenomena such as touch football teams, yearbooks, jive bands, and school dances, Wakatsuki once again raises the question of how American and how Japanese the Japanese Americans really are. The young Nisei are responsible for most of the American aspects of camp life, and their enthusiasm for American culture demonstrates how the Japanese are becoming more and more American with each generation. The name of Bill’s dance band, “the Jive Bombers,” for example, is an obvious pun on the term for Japanese kamikaze pilots famous for dive-bombing their targets. This lighthearted reference to these pilots shows that Bill feels little, if any, sympathy for the Japanese military effort. Additionally, he sings Don’t Fence Me In not because he wants to protest against the camps but because it is a hit song in the United States, and he wants his band to be up to date. That Bill does not even recognize how politically appropriate the song’s words are to his situation underscores how little he feels that he is a victim of injustice rather than just an ordinary American.
Jeanne’s mild fear at venturing outside of camp shows that even though the camp is a prison to her, it provides a security that puts her at peace with herself. Her first timid attempts at discovering her true self result in disappointment, as she is uncomfortable exploring beyond what is known and certain. The camp is her entire world, and there are enough things for a young child to explore in the camp without the complication of venturing outside. But the limited scope of her explorations and her choice of such non-Japanese activities as ballet, baton twirling, and religious study suggest that in discovering her own identity, Jeanne will eventually have to reconcile these American tendencies with her Japanese ancestry. She gravitates to American activities because being American is all she has ever known. But when she is finally pushed out of the comfort of the camp, she has the deeper realization that in order to understand her identity, her definition of herself must go beyond simply being Japanese or American and must address what it means to be both at the same time.
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