Summary and Analysis
In her brief recap, or summary, of family history, Jeanne recalls that her father early instilled a fear of Oriental people — particularly, Chinese. After Papa's arrest and the family's move from Ocean Park to a shack on Terminal Island, where Mama and Woody's wife Chizu work in a cannery, Jeanne is terrified of an Oriental-looking Caucasian girl in her kindergarten class. The family remains on Terminal Island until February 25, 1942, when all Orientals are removed to prevent potential danger to the Long Beach Naval Station. Quakers help the Wakatsukis — Mama, sixty-five-year-old Granny, older brother Woody and his wife Chizu, Bill, Kiyo, May, and Jeanne — move to Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Already, President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 authorizes discretionary resettlement of Japanese Americans.
Numbered and tagged like luggage, Jeanne boards a Greyhound bus with many relatives and travels to Owens Valley, then through barbed wire to the internment camp, and, finally, to their two units of Block 16, the new home for the twelve-member family. Jeanne, the youngest, delights in being so far from home and enjoys sharing a bed with Mama. The next morning, Woody optimistically oversees the sealing of knotholes to keep out desert dust, which powders the family like flour. Angered by the drafty, spartan accommodations, Mama comments, "Animals live like this."
Jeanne's narrative reveals her insecurity among roughneck, streetwise kids, an unease exacerbated by her unfamiliarity with the Japanese language. A change in schools, unsettling to any young child, introduces her to the beginning of a pattern of anti-Asian sentiment from her Boyle Heights teacher, who rejects her. The eventual move to Manzanar, in Jeanne's estimation, seems almost a relief because it distances Japanese Americans from racist attacks. Jeanne sums up the tenuous state of affairs in a single sentence: "They were as frightened of the Caucasians as Caucasians were of us."
Among internees, Jeanne, an exuberant child who is obviously too young to muster outrage or bitterness, yells from the window of the bus as it arrives at Owens Valley, "Hey! This whole bus is full of Wakatsukis!" Later, she laughs at olive-drab government issue earmuffs, caps, peacoats, and leggings left over from World War I. To her, the family looks clownish in oversized GI attire. Her humor dims, however, as chronic diarrhea from typhoid shots and spoiled food sends her to foul latrines. Meaningful details, such as the need for cardboard shields around toilets and blankets to separate beds, demonstrate the repugnance that fastidious Japanese women feel as a result of their undeserved privations. The belief that "it can't be helped" and the courtesy with which they respect each other delineate deeply ingrained survivalism that makes life bearable in the desert camp.
Kyushu Japan's deep south, the southernmost of the four major islands in the island chain.
Samurai a member of a warrior class one grade lower than nobility, whose ancestry dates to feudal Japan.
American Friends Service a Quaker charitable organization founded in 1917 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
Executive Order an edict resulting from the discretionary powers of the president, who, as commander in chief of the U.S. military, may legally suspend citizen rights during wartime in the interests of national security.
internment confinement as a method of assuring that no anti-American effort can be carried out by potential Japanese aggressors.
Charlie Chaplin a popular silent movie comic of the 1920s and 1930s.