Farewell To Manzanar

by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston

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What was the sign in Farewell to Manzanar to Jeanne of how to cross what she called "intangible barriers"?

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In chapter 20 of Farewell to Manzanar, right after Jeanne is made the lead majorette for the local Boy Scout drum and bugle corps, she receives “her first sure sign of how certain intangible barriers might be crossed.” This first sign is surprising and direct: Jeanne can make the Boy Scouts pay attention to her because being a majorette shows off her sexuality.

Invisible barriers are on Jeanne’s mind—even more than the tangible barriers of Manzanar—because they have been cropping up everywhere in her life. Ironically, when she is trapped behind these invisible barriers, it is she who becomes invisible.

Chapter 20 opens with a painful example: when her sixth-grade teacher asks Jeanne to read aloud, the teacher is surprised to discover that Jeanne can speak English. Her teacher’s reaction forces Jeanne to examine the fact that she doesn’t understand why she and her family have been imprisoned.

However, she begins to suspect that the real barriers of Manzanar are somehow connected to the invisible ones. If she can find a way to cross the invisible barriers, will that knowledge enable her to cross the visible ones?

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In Chapter 20: "A Double Impulse," Jeanne is only in the seventh grade when she realizes that her budding sexuality and femininity are a tool for crossing invisible barriers. By wearing a sparkly uniform with a short skirt and strutting in parades while twirling a baton, Jeanne experiences appreciation and acceptance from the Boy Scouts and their fathers. This is, significantly, after Jeanne has been rejected from participating in Girl Scouts on the basis of her race. She interprets the marching and the warm reception it receives as "the first sure sign of how certain intangible barriers might be crossed."

Looking back on these events as an adult with a mature understanding and the benefit of retrospect, Jeanne explains that her femininity could be a powerful took for breaking free from limitations placed on her due to being Japanese.

However, at the same time, Jeanne notes that this use of her physical charms is just another way of effacing herself as a person, as an individual: "this is usually just another form of invisibility," she explains. What she means is that, even though she is conspicuously marching in a parade in an attention-grabbing outfit, she's simultaneously invisible: the men watching her see her sparkles and her sexiness, but not her face or her personality. Acceptance, then, comes at a heavy price.

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