Farewell To Manzanar

by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston

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In Farewell to Manzanar, what reasons might lead the government to label all Japanese people as "saboteurs" and "sinister"? How is the term "ghetto" used differently in the book? How can the author's father's Japanese ancestry be both a "burden" and a "virtue" in the internment camp? How can Manzanar be her father's "end" and the author's "birthplace"?

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There are two factors that would have been likely to cause the government to label all Japanese as saboteurs or to say that they were all “sinister.”  One factor is discussed in the book and has to do with the Pearl Harbor attack.  The other factor has more to do with racism and is not explicitly discussed in the book.

On page 7 in my edition of the book, we are told about the government’s suspicions about the Japanese in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.  The government is afraid that any Japanese person might be planning to commit acts of sabotage.  The author tells us that

…during the turbulent days right after Pearl Harbor … (the government) seemed to be acting out the general panic, seeing sinister possibilities in the most ordinary household items…

In other words, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor had everyone panicked.  They worried that people of Japanese descent on the West Coast would in some way help to bring about attacks or other forms of destruction in that area.  Because they were afraid, the government labeled all Japanese as possible saboteurs and felt that they were “sinister.”

However, racism clearly plays a part in this as well.  Americans had long stereotyped Asians as sneaky and inscrutable.  Americans felt that Asians could not be trusted.  This contributed to the government’s attitudes towards Japanese right after Pearl Harbor.  The attack simply confirmed (in the minds of many Americans) the stereotypes that they already held about Japanese people.

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