One must approach this book knowing that the story is presented from one particular point of view. It is meant to be not a documentary of the period but a personal journey into the past by Uchida. The author shares the emotions and opinions that she had as a teenager who was suddenly deprived of the carefree life-style that she enjoyed as part of the Japanese-American campus community at Berkeley, including college classes, football games, and dates. Her world revolved almost exclusively around Nisei interactions, which she states was a “separate and segregated world.” Suddenly perceived by many as the “enemy” although she admits to being ignorant of world tensions, she found herself being thrust into the broad scope of a world at war and ejected from the security of her personal world.
Uchida condemns the United States government for its rash actions and for its lack of feeling for the Japanese-American people. Uchida recalls her first day at Tanforan, when she felt “degraded, humiliated, and overwhelmed with a longing for home.” She especially criticizes the government’s use of euphemisms to hide the true nature of the incarceration. She argues that the word “evacuation” was used because of the implication that it was for the Japanese Americans’ own good. In her opinion, the Japanese Americans were forcibly removed to concentration camps, not “relocation centers” or “assembly centers.” It is also interesting that she uses the...
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The Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s prompted ethnic consciousness in the United States and allowed Japanese Americans to seek redress for the government’s actions during the war. In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed a proclamation stating that the evacuation was wrong, and other attempts to provide monetary compensation have occurred. Uchida notes, however, that it is too late for many Issei. Nev-ertheless, the healing process continues. It is interesting to note that Uchida wrote two fictional versions of her experience, Journey to Topaz (1971) and Journey Home (1978), before she was able to write this autobiography. It took thirty years for her to compose her own story.
Uchida’s book is an important contribution to the social studies curriculum, as Japanese-American internment during World War II is not a topic extensively discussed in schools. Textbooks about World War II often mention the evacuation of the Japanese Americans from the West Coast for military security reasons, but they seldom discuss the ramifications on the lives of those dispossessed. To have a complete picture of history, students must examine diverse points of view. While Desert Exile is not an objective recounting and the story cannot be construed as representative of the experiences of all Japanese Americans during World War II, Uchida makes a significant contribution to understanding a time that must not be forgotten.