How did the manner in which meals were eaten and the lack of privacy affect family structure in Farewell to Manzanar?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The lack of privacy was one of the most dehumanizing aspects of the internment camps where Japanese Americans were detained during WWII. These camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers in case anyone tried to escape. Most camps were "constructed" out of whatever was available-in some cases, whatever was already there. At one camp, on the site of a former racetrack, the families lived in horse stalls. At other centers large families were assigned to twenty-by-twenty foot rooms and smaller families were put in eight-by-twenty foot rooms.

Each assembly center contained communal bathrooms and mess halls. It was difficult for families to eat together. Often children and adults would eat with their friends instead of their families. Sometimes family members would even go to different mess halls. This tore down the family structure because it took away time families usually shared to talk and bond together. Houston described the experience  in this way, “Now, in the mess halls, after a few weeks had passed, we stopped eating as a family. Momma tried to hold us together for a while, but it was hopeless.” Children did not even view mealtime as an occasion when families gathered together. When children played house, they would wait in pretend mess hall lines for food instead of pretending to cook and set the table. Their concept of home changed completely as a result of the camps.

Privacy for families and individuals was non-existent. Families lived with other families, sometimes in the same room. Sometimes young couples would be put in rooms with other couples, having only sheets hung up to separate the space. imagine the strain that would put on a new marriage, or even relationships between parents and teenagers. There would simply be no way to resolve disputes, because no one would be able to escape one another. In some camps, including Manzanar, the bathrooms had no doors or stalls.

In addition, internees had curfews, and families had to be at their barracks every morning for roll call. Families no longer existed according to their schedules; they now had to adapt to the camps schedule. Being in the camps also limited the families’ abilities to uphold their traditions such as holidays and gift giving. Many described the camps as a disruption of childhood, a destroyer of memories.

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