Japanese American Internment Camps
Overwhelmingly the response of people in times of desperation is to survive at all costs and make the best of the situation. American history in the mid 20th century provides vivid example of desperate times such as those who were hit hardest by the era of the depression and also those who were displaced from their homes into Internment camps following World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Comparing the fictional account of Julie Otsuka's novel, When the Emperor was Divine and the historical accounts of Japanese American women reveals the many different ways in which women handle themselves, not only through the events mentioned, but also through themes that both accounts share such as adversity, prejudice, and perseverance. The novel's account of the evacuation and imprisonment of Japanese American is a subtle and understated retelling of the horrific experience of the Japanese Americans. While the historical accounts describe the evacuation of Japanese Americans as one of the most horrifying experience anyone could have been through. According to Valerie Matsumoto, author of "Japanese American Women during World War II;" "the bombing of pearl harbor on December 7, 1941, unleashed war between the United States and Japan and Triggered a wave of hostility against Japanese Americans" (7). This hostility led to the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "[this order ] arbitrarily suspend[ed] the civil rights of American citizens by authorizing the removal of 110,000 Japanese and their American- Born children from the western half of the Pacific Coastal States and the southern third of Arizona"(Matsumoto 7). The novel When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julia Otsuka is a heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental poetic and detailed description of the travails of a Japanese family living in an internment camp during World War II, raising the presence of wartime injustice in a bone-chilling fashion. After a woman whose husband was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy sees notices posted around her neighborhood in Berkeley instructing Japanese residents to evacuate, she moves with her son and daughter to an internment camp, abruptly severing her ties with her community (3-4, 8). The next three years are spent in filthy, cramped and impersonal lodgings as the family is shuttled from one camp to another. They return to Berkeley after the war to a home that has been ravaged by vandals; it takes time for them to adjust to life outside the camps and to come to terms with the hostility they face (108-111). In her novel Otsuka gave a detailed account of the mother's preparation and what the family was allowed to take with them. They were allowed to "take with them: bedding and linen, forks, spoons, plates, clothes
" (9).They had to leave their house and all the possession behind and go off to these evacuation camps. Otsuka showed how the women gave away their cat, killed the dog and had the chicken for dinner (9-12). The article "Japanese Women during World War II" by Matsumoto states "Families received a scant week's notice in which to "wind up affairs
close up their homes
Each person was allowed to bring only as many clothes and personal items as he or she could carry to the temporary assembly centers
" (7).The hasty evacuation and lack of awareness of what to expect had a great impact on these women. Some women gave accounts of being numbed and overwhelmed by the entire situation. The women were afraid to come to the realization that they were leaving their homes, friends and neighborhoods behind. Otsuka in novel relates the plight of the family; the little girl's father was taken away from the home late in the night wearing his bathrobe and slippers (140). In Donna K. Nagata article, titled " Expanding the Internment Narrative," she relates the story of young girls between the ages of 9 and 24 years old "[who had] their fathers arrested and separated from their...
Cited: Girder, Audrie, Anne Loftis. "The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of The Japanese- Americans During World War II." Toronto, Ontario: The Macmillan Company, 1969.
Kashima, Tetsuden. "Japanese American Internees Return 1945-1955: Readjustment and Social Amnesia." The Phylon Quarterly 41 (2) (1980): 107- 115.
Matsumoto, Valerie. "Japanese American Women during World War II." JSTOR 8 (1) (1984): 6-14.
Morishima, James, K. "The Evacuation: Impact on the Family." Asian- Americans Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Stanley Sue, Ph.D., Nathaniel N. Wagner, Ph.D. California: Science and Behavior Books, Inc., 1973. 13- 19.
Nagata, Donna, K. "Expanding the Internment Narrative: Multiple Layers of Japanese American Women 's Experience." Women 's Untold Stories: Breaking Silence, Talking Back, Voicing Complexity. Ed. Mary Romero and Abigail J. Stewart. New York: Routledge, 1999. 71- 82.
Otsuka, Julie. "When The Emperor was Divine: A Novel." New York: Random House, Inc., 2002.
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