our national disgrace

On  February 19,  1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, a military mandate that led to the internment of over 110,000 Japanese-Americans in camps located in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and Arkansas. Farewell to Manzanar is the story of only one family in one camp but perhaps serves as an echo of many thousands more. It is also the story of America during a critical time of war.

Jeannne Wakatsuki and David Houston

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, not until after Papa died and we began to come together, trying to fill the vacuum his passing left in all our lives.

The closing of the camps, in the fall of 1945, only aggravated what had begun inside.  Papa had no money then and could not get work.  Half of our family had already moved to the east coast, where jobs had opened up for them.  The rest of us were relocated into a former defense workers’ housing project in Long Beach.  In that small apartment there was never enough room for all of us to sit down for a meal.  We ate in shifts, and I yearned all the more for our huge round table in Ocean Park.

Soon after we were released I wrote a paper for the seventh-grade journalism class, describing how we used to hunt grunion before the war.  The whole family would go down to Ocean Park Beach after dark, when the grunion were running, and build a big fire on the sand.  I would watch Papa and my older brothers splash through the moonlit surf to scoop out the fish, then we’d rush back to the house where Mama would fry them up and set the sizzling pan on the table, with soy sauce and horseradish, for a midnight meal.  I ended the paper with this sentence:  “The reason I want to remember this is because I know we’ll never be able to do it again.

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