Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
I n the morning of december 7, 1941, Jeanne Wakatsuki says farewell to Papa’s sardine fleet at San Pedro Harbor in California. But soon the boats return, and news reaches the family that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Papa burns his Japanese flag and identity papers but is arrested by the FBI. Mama moves the family to the Japanese ghetto on Terminal Island and then to Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which he signs in February 1942, gives the military the authority to relocate potential threats to national security. Those of Japanese descent in America can only await their final destination: “their common sentiment is shikata ga nai” (“it cannot be helped”). One month later, the government orders the Wakatsukis to move to Manzanar Relocation Center in the desert 225 miles northeast of Los Angeles. ￼
Upon arriving in the camp, the Japanese Americans find cramped living conditions, badly prepared food, unfinished barracks, and swirling dust that blows in through every crack and knothole. There is not enough warm clothing to go around, many people fall ill from immunizations and poorly preserved food, and they must face the indignity of the nonpartitioned camp toilets, an insult that particularly affects Mama. The Wakatsukis stop eating together in the camp mess halls, and the family begins to disintegrate. Jeanne, virtually abandoned by her family, takes an interest in the other people in camp and begins studying religious questions with a pair of nuns. However, after Jeanne experiences sunstroke while imagining herself as a suffering saint, Papa orders her to stop. Papa is arrested and returns a year later. He has been at Fort Lincoln detention camp. The family is unsure how to greet him. Only Jeanne welcomes him openly. Jeanne has always admired Papa, who left his samurai, or warrior class, family in Japan to protest the declining...