The truth was, at this point Papa did not know which way to turn. In the government's eyes a free man now, he sat, like those black slaves you hear about who, when they got word of their freedom at the end of the Civil War, just did not know where else to go or what else to do and ended up back on the plantation, rooted there out of habit or lethargy or fear. (2.16.19)
Is this a good analogy? On one hand, comparing Papa's dilemma to those of freed black people kind of makes sense if you just focus on the whole I-don't-know-what-to-do-now-that-I'm-free problem. But on the other hand, comparing Papa's plight with that of black slaves is kind of like saying Japanese-American internment was as bad as the long history of slavery in America… Is the comparison just?
About all he had left at this point was his tremendous dignity…. Ten children and a lot of hard luck had worn him down, had worn away most of the arrogance he came to this country with. But he still had dignity, and he would not let those deputies push him out the door. He led them. (1.1.17)
This happens at the beginning of the book when Papa is first taken by the FBI from his home. It's also a rare moment when Papa's brutal nature is channeled in a good way—his power and strength comes through as a final expression of his free will.
The name Manzanar meant nothing to us when we left Boyle Heights. We didn't know where it was or what it was. We went because the government ordered us to. And, in the case of my older brothers and sisters, we went with a certain amount of relief. They had all heard stories of Japanese homes being attacked, of beatings in the streets of California towns. They were as frightened of the Caucasians as Caucasians were of us. Moving under what appeared to be government protection, to an area less directly threatened by the war seemed not such a bad idea at all. For some it actually sounded like a fine adventure. (1.2.17)
A real quandary: What do you do when no place seems safe? Where do you go except with your captor, who's at least going to keep you away from all the other racists out there?
The people who had it hardest during the first few months were young couples like these, many of whom had married just before the evacuation began, in order not to be separated and sent to different camps. Our two rooms were crowded, but at least it was all in the family. My oldest sister and her husband were shoved into one of those sixteen-by-twenty-foot compartments with six people they had never seen before—two other couples, one recently married like themselves, the other with two teenage boys. (1.2.27)
Here's an example of what living conditions are like in the internment camps. Not pleasant are they? Maybe things would be different if everyone were single, but this was clearly not the case for the internees.
We woke early, shivering and coated with dust that had blown up through the knotholes and in through the slits around the doorway. During the night Mama had unpacked all our clothes and heaped them on our beds for warmth. Now our cubicle looked as if a great laundry bag had exploded and then been sprayed with fine dust. A skin of sand covered the floor. (1.3.1)
Apparently, even as confined as they are, the internees can't be confined enough from the sand.
"Those matters are out of my hands, Mr. Wakatsuki."
"Whose hands are they in?"
"I do not like North Dakota any more than you do. The sooner we finish these questions, the sooner we'll both be out of here."
"And where will you go when you leave?" (1.7.61-64)
This exchange is from the (possibly imagined) interview between Papa and his interrogator at Fort Lincoln. It's a good reminder that interrogators, guards, etc. had homes to go back to after their jobs were done. Which means they had an incentive to do their jobs quickly… and not necessarily well.
I couldn't understand why he was home all day, when Mama had to go out working. I was ashamed of him for that and, in a deeper way, for being what had led to our imprisonment, that is, for being so unalterably Japanese. (2.20.28)
Ouch. We're not entirely sure that the adult Jeanne doesn't still feel—on some deep level—that her father is to blame for everything that's happened to them.
When I first read, in the summer of 1972, about the pressure Japan's economy was putting on American business and how a union in New York City had printed up posters of an American flag with MADE IN JAPAN written across it, then that needle began to jab. I heard Mama's soft, weary voice from 1945 say, "It's all starting over." I knew it wouldn't. Yet neither would I have been surprised to find the FBI at my door again. (3.1.23)
What is freedom, especially when continued racism makes you distrust and fear your own country?
Some of the older folks resisted leaving right up to the end and had to have their bags packed for them and be physically lifted and shoved onto the buses. When our day finally arrived, in early October, there were maybe 2,000 people still living out there, waiting their turn and hoping it wouldn't come. (2.17.60)
Two thousand people left behind, not wanting to leave because they have nowhere to go… That's a daunting reality check. What is freedom worth if it means homelessness? Is that even freedom?
Watching Papa bounce and weave and shout in front of me, I was almost ready to laugh with him, with the first bubbly sense of liberation his defiant craziness had brought along with it…. Papa tooted the horn and yelled out, "No bus for us! No bus for us!" (3.1.52-53)
Papa decides to take the reins on his freedom and drive the family back to Los Angeles instead of waiting around for their scheduled day to leave. Think of his new car as his way of coming around to the American Dream again—the administration isn't in control anymore; Papa is.