Farewell to Manzanar

by: Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Chapter 2

Summary Chapter 2

The U.S. government’s increased manipulation of the Japanese people strengthens the Japanese community. This sense of community is largely a response to the tension that develops between Japanese and Americans as American soldiers impose their will upon the Japanese. The contrast between the family’s initial move to Terminal Island, which Mama initiates, and their relocation to Boyle Heights, which the United States government requires, shows how fighting against oppression unites the Japanese. Upon arriving at Terminal Island, the family does not immediately befriend the other Japanese people. However, when the government orders a relocation, the Japanese band together in their fear and uncertainty as they wait for the inevitable order to move from Terminal Island. Wakatsuki describes a communal sentiment with the Japanese phrase “shikata ga nai,” the sense that there is nothing one can do. Even Jeanne, who thinks of herself as American and of the Japanese as an alien people, experiences this feeling of resignation when her new white teacher treats her coldly. In a critical time, Jeanne, like other Japanese Americans, finds her people a source of comfort.

Wakatsuki sees pride as a defining characteristic of the Japanese people and explores it as both a liability and a strength. The rough Japanese kids of Terminal Island are proud of their derogatory nickname, “yogore,” and of their ethnicity and culture, even to the point of excluding one of their own who does not speak their language. While Wakatsuki initially casts this pride in a negative light, she also shows how it can become a powerful tool when the Japanese are faced with prejudice and the prospect of relocation. Jeanne’s mother’s decision to smash her china rather that sell it to the scheming secondhand dealer demonstrates that money is not as important to her as her integrity. Similarly, the Japanese people’s refusal to eat apricots with their rice is their small, dignified way of signaling to the American government that while they cannot resist forced relocation, they will not accept a slap in the face. These small, pride-won victories keep the Japanese grounded in their culture, which helps keep them unified as a people.