Farewell To Manzanar

by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston

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In Farewell to Manzanar, why did some people refuse to leave the camp and what happened to them?

Quick answer:

All the Japanese families were forced to leave the camps at the end, but some were afraid to go outside. They did not have a place to live, and they did not have jobs or money, so they stayed in the camp as long as possible. When the camp closed, they all had no choice but to leave and face the world outside.

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The simple answer is that they were afraid of the future: whatever else life might have been in the confinement of the internment camp, at least it was certain. When the Supreme Court deemed the internment program illegal, it raised fear for many of those in the camps because, at the very least, in the camps the Japanese are owed certain rights (no matter how shoddy and makeshift the tangible indulgence of those rights might have been).

Outside, they would face discrimination and violence from citizens who had no strict protocol on their treatment of the Japanese. A guard regulating a camp might be far more disciplined than the average American citizen, who could possibly be more belligerent, be emotionally compromised, or fall into a mob mentality. It was also entirely possible that the Japanese citizens would never be able to find work. Regardless, despite delaying it for as long as they possibly could, when the camps closed, all the Japanese families were forced to leave.

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In such a dire situation, Japanese-American inmates of the internment camps have nothing left but each other. They've been systematically stripped of their freedom, their livelihoods, and their dignity by the authorities. Not only that, but their civic identity as American citizens has been severely compromised. They are as American as any other citizen, but ever since the attack on Pearl Harbor they have become targets of hate and suspicion, regarded by many as potential traitors.

Under the circumstances, then, it's not surprising that some of the people in Jeanne's camp should refuse to leave voluntarily. They know what awaits them in the outside world: the discrimination, the constant suspicion, and the ever-present threat of physical violence. The camp may be a horrible place to live in, but at least it's a place of relative safety in the midst of the turmoil caused by the war. Ironically, for Jeanne's family and for so many others, the "Land of the Free" has become more of a prison than the internment camps in which they've been confined.

That being said, they still have to live somewhere; they can't stay in the camps forever. So many of them choose to head out East—far away from the site of the deeply traumatic experiences they've had to endure.

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The answer to this question is one word: fear.  Mostly, those with Japanese heritage were afraid of racial discrimination and even violence against them simply due to their ancestry.  Due to the hardships they all faced, most of them were simply content at keeping their family units together and finding a little bit of happiness in whatever way they could.  My very favorite quote that exemplifies this is actually said by Mama:

Mama's first concern now was to keep the family together, and once the war began, she felt safer there [Terminal Island] than isolated racially in Ocean Park.

Therefore, even Jeanne's and Woody's family felt this same fear.  The fear was real in that many anti-Japanese groups were being formed by angry and disgruntled white Americans.  These groups were designed for everything from committing hate crimes, to taking Japanese American farms away, to making them move to another part of the United States, to actually petitioning for their citizenship to be revoked! 

These families, despite their desire to stay, were forced to leave the camps.  Some of them tried to return home, but most moved to the Northeast of the United States.  Why?  This was far away from both Pearl Harbor and from California.  It is almost like distance from the central attack locations of the war kept the Japanese Americans safe from more prejudice.

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Japanese Americans who refused to leave the camps voluntarily were mostly afraid of attacks. They had experienced racial discrimination even before attacks on Pearl Harbor from sections of the White population within their communities. They knew the situation would be worse because of the attacks and the public opinion against them. Several anti-Japanese groups were formed but most of these groups were formed out of selfish interests. One of these groups included sections of the community such as the White farmers who wanted to take over farms left by the Japanese. Such groups resisted attempts to relocate the Japanese Americans and some even went to the extent of petitioning the government to revoke their citizenship. This level of hostility proved a major challenge during resettlement for the Japanese Americans.

In the end the military remained adamant in their quest to close down the internment camps. Since there was no option to remain in the camps, they left. Some headed back home while most of them decided to settle in different areas in the East, especially New Jersey. They felt these areas were safer because the communities there expressed minimal prejudice against them.

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