Study Guide

Farewell to Manzanar Part I, Chapter 2

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Part I, Chapter 2

Shikata Ga Nai

  • Here's how things were before Papa got taken in:
    • They lived in Santa Monica, on Ocean Park (if you happen to know the area), in a big frame house.
    • They were the only Japanese family in the neighborhood because Papa didn't like labels and groups.
    • If the kids were bad, Papa would threaten to sell them to the "Chinaman" (3).
    • In fact, Jeanne was so scared of the "Chinaman" that, in kindergarten, she screamed and cried when she was sat next to a Caucasian girl with slanted eyes.
  • Yep—fears can be pretty irrational and deep.
  • So flash-forward to 1941, post-Papa:
  • Jeanne's mom has moved everyone to Terminal Island, where Woody and about five hundred other Japanese American families live.
  • It's the first time Jeanne's been surrounded by Japanese people, so she's constantly terrified.
  • Terminal Island is all about the canneries, which control the island—we're talking French's and Van Camp's and companies like that.
  • The men fish, and the women process the fish.
  • They live in a shack and are surrounded by yo-go-re, slang for "roughneck" or "dead-end kid" (5).
  • Everyone not only speaks Japanese, but they speak a specific dialect of Japanese called Kyushu—a language that's pretty much for Japanese fishermen. Think: sailor's mouth.
  • Bullying abounds for Jeanne and her brother Kiyo, both outsiders in the rough-and-tumble world of yo-go-re.
  • Let's be real though: None of these kids ever actually attack Jeanne and Kiyo.
  • It seems like forever, but the family only lives at Terminal Island for two months.
  • By late February, the Navy clears out Terminal Island because they're worried about all those Japanese families living so close together (even though most of them are American-born) and so close to the Long Beach Naval Station.
  • They have 48 hours to clear everything out, which basically means everything is sold for dirt cheap prices; secondhand dealers prowl the streets looking for steals.
  • Most of the family's stuff is still back in Santa Monica, but Jeanne's mother did manage to bring a lot of valuable family heirlooms, like her china set, which she's now forced to sell.
  • A dealer offers Mama $15 for her china even though it's actually worth about $200, which makes her really angry.
  • So the dealer offers her $17.50.
  • Bad idea.
  • Mama starts throwing dishes onto the ground, breaking each and every one of them. The dealer yells and runs off.
  • The family, with the help of the American Friends Service, move to a house in Boyle Heights, where a lot of Terminal Island refugees have gone.
  • There's all this talk now about internment or moving the Japanese inland since President Roosevelt has signed Executive Order 9066.
  • Jeanne's brothers are worried about keeping the family together since finding out that their father won't be back anytime soon (he's been imprisoned at Fort Lincoln, an "all-male camp for enemy aliens" (13)).
  • There isn't really anything for them to do except wait—in Japanese, they call this endurance Shikata ga nai (It cannot be helped; it must be done).
  • Mama and Woody start working for a Japanese produce dealer, while the young kids go to school.
  • Lucky kids, right? But no, all Jeanne can remember is how cold, distant, and unhelpful her Boyle Heights teacher is (especially in comparison to her Ocean Park teacher who was like a grandmother to her).
  • It's the first time Jeanne experiences racism from a Caucasian person, and looking back, it makes sense to her, what with the hundred-year history of anti-Orientalism in the United States.
  • Finally, Jeanne's family is told to move one final time—this time to Manzanar.
  • When it's time to move they're all actually kind of relieved, because by now there are all these stories of Caucasians beating up Japanese people in the streets. Moving away under government protection doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
  • Jeanne's even kind of excited, like it's a big adventure.
  • Everyone gets a tag with a family number on it; they all get lunch boxes; then they're off on the bus to Manzanar.
  • Almost everyone on Jeanne's bus is a family member because her mother and brothers strategized and had everyone included under the same family number; most families were split up in the process, but not Jeanne's.
  • By the time they get to their destination, the air looks red and orange from swirling dust and sand.
  • They pass barbed wire fencing and see lots of people milling around, waiting for buses to empty out with friends or family.
  • But everyone on Jeanne's bus is super-silent and solemn—that is until she yells out of the bus that their bus is "full of Wakatsukis!" (21). Kids: the perfect ice breakers.
  • The family settles into the camp in time for dinner, where they're served a lot of canned food, including canned fruit over rice—a huge culinary no-no in Japanese culture.
  • Jeanne's kind of horrified by the canned fruit on rice deal, but her mother shushes her since it would be "impolite" (23) to complain.
  • After dinner, the family goes to the assigned barracks in Block 16.
  • The family gets two barracks (each about the size of a small living room) because they have 12 people in the family. They also get army cots, two army blankets apiece, and some mattress covers stuffed with straw.
  • But at least they're all family.
  • Young couples have it toughest (like her sister and her sister's husband) because they get shoved into a barrack with a bunch of strangers. The only way to create divisions is to use an army blanket, which is tough to do considering two blankets for a person isn't enough to keep out the cold in their drafty lodgings.
  • Her sister and husband deal with the strangers and a bunch of nightly arguments about noise and light, until they decide to leave the camp and work on a sugar beet plantation instead. At least they get their own private cabin at the plantation.
  • Meanwhile, Jeanne gets crammed in with her grandmother, mother, and teenaged siblings.
  • This is cool with Jeanne because she's the youngest, which means she gets to sleep with Mama, which she does up until Papa returns (and that's a long time).