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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Farewell to Manzanar!