In December, a newly-arrived camp director issues every family a Christmas tree as an apology for all the hardship that lead up to the riot. For Jeanne, the holiday season is dispiriting—there are no good presents, the weather is terrible, and Papa is completely drunk.
Christmas trees represent “typical” American traditions, so it’s ironic that the internees receive them as they’re being actively excluded from mainstream American life.
In February, another period of uncertainty arrives with the Loyalty Oath—a document asking each person over seventeen to affirm their willingness to serve in the U.S. Army and their “unqualified allegiance” to the U.S. This becomes an even more “divisive” problem than the riot, because everyone is involved. Even Papa leaves his isolation to participate in the debate.
The loyalty oath brings anxieties about belonging in America to a boiling point. Internees have to either affirm their loyalty to a government that has treated them abominably or confirm the very disloyalty that they’ve been wrongly accused of.
Jeanne is too young to understand the quandary; she only knows that men are constantly coming and going from the barracks, and when Mama and Granny try to stop their arguing Papa shouts at them.
It’s important that Jeanne only fully understands these political events in hindsight. Through moments like this, she emphasizes the contrast between her youth at the time of internment and the maturity she’s cultivated over years before finally understanding the experience.
Papa also argues with Woody about the oath, telling his son that if he goes to war he must believe completely in what he’s fighting for, which he can’t do because internment has undermined his faith in America. Woody refuses to disrespect Papa by arguing with him, but he insists that as an American citizen he will sign the oath and join the army as soon as possible. Woody knows that his filial duty is to listen to Papa talk, even though he’s already made his decision.
Like Kiyo, Woody is committed to preserving the fiction that Papa is a powerful and competent patriarch, even if it’s inconvenient or annoying. Somewhat more independent to her brothers, Jeanne will be less hesitant to confront or disobey Papa as she grows up.
The Loyalty Oath stems from the desire to incorporate Nisei men into the armed forces. Japanese civic groups have been pushing for this, in order to prove Japanese loyalty; the U.S. government also needs more volunteers. The oath is supposed to “weed out the disloyal” in preparation for such a process, but it’s actually a ridiculous idea; no actual saboteur would admit his disloyalty, while the indignity of signing an oath against Japan after such harsh treatment in American makes many internees “militantly anti-American.”
The Loyalty Oath doesn’t actually serve any valid purpose. In fact, it seems more like an additional attempt to stigmatize and shame the Japanese-American population by reminding them that mainstream society refuses to accept or trust them. The brewing anti-American sentiments show that fear and intimidation are the wrong way to encourage immigrants to assimilate into American society.
Even though Papa rails against the oath, he knows he will sign “Yes Yes”—in other words, answer yes to all the questions. If he doesn’t, he believes he might be sent back to Japan, forever separated from his family. However, it’s hard to stick to this decision in the camp, where anti-American feeling is running high and some groups are trying to pressure people into signing “No No.”
Again, although Papa resents the methods of the U.S. government, he displays a high level of commitment to his life in the U.S., even if it means further distancing himself from his Japanese roots.
A block meeting is scheduled to discuss the oath and Papa decides to attend, even though he knows people will gossip about him as an “inu.” However, he wants to prevent people from bullying the whole block into signing “No No.” Woody wants to accompany him, but Papa insists the meeting is only for heads of households. He dresses up in his best clothes, sobers up, and walks out of the barracks alone.
Here, Papa represents the importance of free speech and independent thought, even though it often results in public censure—like the “inu” comments he will only exacerbate by arguing for signing the oath.
During the meeting, Jeanne plays hopscotch with other girls in the windy yard. Walking home, hears men yelling inside the mess hall and recognizes Papa’s voice calling the other men “trash” in Japanese. Suddenly, the door opens, and a man emerges, chased by Papa, who hits the man with his cane and jumps on top of him, fighting in the dust.
Jeanne’s childish game emphasizes her youth at the time of these events and relative distance from them as they occur. Even though everything is uncertain around her, she feels relatively secure in her new life.
As Jeanne later finds out, when Papa speaks during the meeting people begin murmuring and calling him an “inu.” The man Papa is now fighting is the one who made the accusation aloud. Jeanne has never seen him so angry; the fight only stops when some other men drag him away.
Even though he often does so in violent and impractical ways, Papa always shows Jeanne the importance of standing up for her personal dignity.
A minute later, a sandstorm hits. The men drag Papa into the barracks and Jeanne follows him. He sits silently inside while Mama pours him tea, and Woody and Chizu arrive to discuss the day’s events. A friend of Chizu’s also visits, and as Jeanne goes to bed she and Papa begin to sing old Japanese songs around the fire. Eventually, Papa begins to sing the Japanese national anthem as everyone else hums along; he makes the song into a “deep-throated lament,” and tears begin trickling down his cheeks. Jeanne has seen him cry only rarely, usually while listening to someone else play music.
It’s interesting that Papa sings the Japanese anthem just as he’s defended loyalty to the United States and fought with a man who sees him as a traitor to Japan. One of Jeanne’s recurring arguments throughout the novel is that her family’s mixed cultural heritage—both Japanese and American—augments its appreciation and love for each culture, rather than diluting it.
Later, Jeanne learns that Papa had grown up singing the national anthem every morning at school. Unlike other countries’ anthems, it’s not a martial song but actually an ancient poem which expresses hope that Japan will endure “until this tiny stone will grow into a massive rock” covered in moss. The endurance it describes is both national and personal, describing both the country and an individual’s life.
Outside the house where Papa grew up in Japan stood a large stone lantern. Every morning, someone poured a bucket of water over the lantern, so that over the years moss grew over the stone. As a boy, Papa learned that the anthem referred to the specific type of moss which grows over stones like these.
Throughout the memoir, stones will symbolize perseverance in the face of obstacles; they also show how traditional Japanese culture can be brought to bear on modern quandaries.