Farewell to Manama by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Specifically, it will discuss several themes in the novel, and analyze the experience of living in the relocation camps during World War II. Life in the relocation camps changed the Japanese-Americans forever. They learned to distrust the government and whites, and learned that their families could be torn apart with ease. Jeanne's father was a broken man after his experience in the camps, and Jeanne herself became distanced from her family.
Families fell apart during their stay at Manzanar and other relocation camps. The Wakatsuki family was tight-knit and loving before they were relocated. The father and sons operated a fishing business in Long Beach, and the family was comfortable financially. However, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Mr. Wakatsuki was taken away, charged with being an enemy, and the family had to move twice. Already, they were beginning to fall apart. The author notes, "Papa had been the patriarch. He had always decided everything in the family. With him gone, my brothers, like councilors in the absence of a chief, worried about what should be done" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 15-16). With Mr. Wakatsuki gone, and the family relocated to a remote camp in central California, the stress on the family continued.
Jeanne writes that the living conditions in the camp were brutal. The barracks were little more than shacks thrown together with one layer of wood and tarpaper. Numerous people shared the tiny rooms, and often they were complete strangers. She writes, "Our two rooms were crowded, but at least it was all in the family. My oldest sister and her husband were shoved into one of those sixteen-by-twenty-foot compartments with six people they had never seen before" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 21). The camp experience literally tore families apart. They lived apart from each other, and as they grew apart, they changed from loving families into people just trying to survive. Jeanne's sister and her husband left the camp to pick sugar beets in Idaho because it was better than their life at the camp, and other families suffered similar losses. In addition, life was so hard at the camp, many people just tried to survive, and gave up any semblance of regular family life.
The first rift in the family at the camp occurred because of the tiny living quarters. All the meals were served in a mess hall, and there was no way for the family to gain the intimacy of a family meal together. Jeanne writes, "Before Manzanar, mealtime had always been the center of our family scene" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 35). However, the mess halls encouraged diners to eat with their friends, and many did. Jeanne continues, "My own family, after three years of mess hall living, collapsed as an integrated unit. Whatever dignity or feeling of filial strength we may have known before December 1941 was lost, and we did not recover it until many years after the war [...]" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 37). Her family recovered, eventually, but many more did not. The camps changed the entire lifestyle of the Japanese-Americans, and created a new and different society.
Jeanne's father was a proud, successful man before the war. She writes, "About all he had left at this point was his tremendous dignity" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 8). Unfortunately, his experiences at Manzanar robbed him of that dignity and turned him into a broken man. She continues, "He was not the same man. Something terrible had happened to him in North Dakota" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 45). He came back an alcoholic and a bitter man - a loner who no longer had dreams, and that is the saddest affect the war had on Mr. Wakatsuki. Before the war, he was a dreamer who tried to accomplish anything he attempted. The family is further torn apart because of his drunken rages, and Kiyo actually has to hit him one time to make him stop his threats and violence. The family is not a family anymore, it is separate units all attempting to survive in adverse conditions. This close family is ruined, and so are their lives when they return from the camp. As a man and provider, he is utterly ruined by the war, and the once happy man becomes bitter, angry, and tragic.
Mr. Wakatsuki tries several different jobs after the war, but he cannot make any of them successful. He is no longer the patriarch of the family, and in fact, his family is spread out around the country, not close as they were before the war. Mrs. Wakatsuki is the provider, with a job at a fish cannery, and the only job Mr. Wakatsuki can find is growing berries outside San Jose, which he does until he dies. He is no longer the man in command who can slice a whole pig with flair, he is a broken man, who no longer dreams and no longer respects the country he has spent the majority of his life in. He is a broken man, his family is broken apart, and they will never be the way they were before the war. He represents so many people whose dreams disappeared in the detention camps, and who were treated so unfairly by the government and even their neighbors. Before the war, he is strong, proud, and has hopes for the future. After the war, he has nothing but his family, and starting over is simply too much for him to bear. The author says he really died in Manzanar, and that is true. He dies when he loses control of his family and loses his dignity, and it is a terrible thing to witness.
It is not surprising there was resistance in the camps. What is surprising is that there was not more of it. The living conditions were deplorable, the food often made the people sick, and they lost all the possessions they had left behind. Their lives were turned upside down, and finally, they began to fight back. In Manzanar, the December Riots came a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The rioters were protesting the bad food, the awful living conditions, better pay, and a whole litany of things to at least make their camp life a little more bearable. Considering what they were going through, it is not surprising their frustration boiled to the surface and turned ugly. The leader of the riots was American born, and had served in World War I for the United States. Jeanne writes, "[a]nd he was so frustrated by his treatment at Manzanar he was ready to renounce his citizenship and sail to the old country" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 75). The Japanese had a right to their indignation. Most of them were Japanese-Americans, and their loyalties lay staunchly with the United States.
Many, like Mr. Wakatsuki, had been in the country for decades, and wanted to become citizens, but they were not allowed to. They were honest, loyal people, who were caught up in the hysteria surrounding the war. They lost everything, were living for nothing, and it is not surprising that they finally had enough. The resistance did not really help end their camp experience, but it did bring attention to their plight. Eventually, they got a new camp administrator who tried to make life a little better. Jeanne's father also became more involved in camp business, and stopped drinking so heavily. The resistance also urged some of the young men to enlist in the U.S. Army, to prove their loyalty and serve their country. Woody did not enlist, but was drafted in 1944, and other men enlisted in the Army sometime after the December riots, and so, the riots did serve some kind of purpose. The young men who died gave their lives for what they believed in, which helped bring the camp together in mourning and in purpose, as well. After the riots, there was little resistance. As the author notes, "In such a narrowed world, in order to survive, you learn to contain your rage and your despair, and you try to re-create, as well as you can, your normality, some sense of things continuing" (Wakatsuki Houston, pg. 100). As life became as "normal" as it could be in the camp, resistance ended, and the people tried to make due with what they had, and forget what they had lost. They no longer fought to change things, in fact, when the camps were finally closed, many of them did not want to leave, because they were afraid of life outside the camps.
Jeanne's camp experience was perhaps the most depressing of all, because when her family began to disintegrate, she was literally left to her own devices. At the age of seven, she was free to do what she wanted, so camp life at first to her was an adventure. She began to spend time with two Catholic nuns, she was infinitely bored, and when her father came back,…