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Life Experiences in Farewell to Manzanar

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Life Experiences in Farewell to Manzanar

The book, Farewell to Manzanar was the story of a young Japanese girl coming of age in the interment camp located in Owens Valley, California. Less than two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which stated that the War Department had the right to declare which people were a threat to the country, and move them wherever they so pleased1. Since the West Coast had a large number of Japanese immigrants at the time, it was basically an act that authorized the government to remove Japanese residing on the West Coast away from their homes and put them in these interment camps. As harsh as it may sound, the interment camps were nothing like the famous Nazi interment camps of World War 2. The residents enjoyed relatively comfortable living situations compared to German interment camps, and lived fairly comfortable lives, when compared to the German camps. However, it was still rough, as many families were separated. Farewell to Manzanar is the story of one girl making the difficult transition to womanhood, at a difficult time, at a difficult location. Two of the main life lessons that Jeannie learned during her stay at Manzanar dealt with the issues of her identity of an American against her Japanese heritage, and also with school.

During her time at Manzanar, Jeannie was surrounded by almost exclusively Japanese people, and did not have much exposure to Caucasians, or people of other races. Therefore, she did not know what to truly expect when she went out into the "school world" outside of Manzanar. She had received some schooling while in Manzanar, however, the American schools were drastically different from the schools inside of Manzanar. While inside Manzanar, Jeannie learned more skills in the fine arts, such as baton twirling, and ballet. The "hard" subjects were taught, but she doesn't mention as much about them as she does about baton twirling, ballet, and Catechesis. The schools at Manzanar were not much until the second year. The first year, volunteers taught the schools, and resources were pretty scarce.1 However, in the second year, teachers were hired, and the number of available supplies increased. One key thing that Jeannie remembers about her Manzanar schooling was her participation in the yearbook, and also with the Glee Club1. The Glee Club gave her a sense of belonging, which is crucial to girls at her age. The psychological scars that the interment process left on Jeannie often left her feeling like she didn't belong with the crowds, or with the other children. Even more shocking was the fact that she accepted these feelings as perfectly normal. Also distinct about her schooling at Manzanar was the fact that she felt very prepared to enter American schools. This shows how she was eager to be a part of mainstream American cultures, even though she may not have been welcome.

Jeannie's experience in American schools was drastically different from her experience at Manzanar. She had problems making friends because the parents of the other children would not allow their children to befriend a Japanese girl.1 For Jeannie, the first thing an American girl said to her, "Gee, I didn't know you spoke English"1 defined people's attitudes toward her and other Japanese peoples at that time in history. However, most of the other children slowly accepted her, regardless of her race. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most of the parents and some of the teachers were very unreceptive to Jeannie for the simple fact that she was Japanese. This fact very much disappointed her, and she directly stated that when she said "From that point on, part of me yearned to be invisible. In a way, nothing would have been nicer for no one to see me."1 However, she was not excluded from all activities, as she was an active participant in athletics, scholarship, yearbook, newspaper, and student government. Her participation in these organizations made her feel like she was a small part of American culture, however she never truly felt like a part of American culture because of the fact that a few



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