The Supreme Court has heard several cases related to internment in the past years. In the first case in 1942, a university student objected to the evacuation order and army curfew, but the court upheld the army’s decision out of “wartime necessity.” The second case challenged the “racial bias” of the exclusion acts that forced Japanese-Americans inland, claiming due process violations. The court struck down these objections as well.
The Supreme Court’s support for internment, although it seems obviously unjust in hindsight (and although subsequent Presidents have formally apologized) shows how deeply seemingly illogical prejudices can take root at the highest levels of government.
The final case, Ex Parte Endo, challenged internment itself, and this time the Supreme Court rules in favor of internees, saying that “the government cannot detain loyal citizens against their will.” As a result, the army retracts its exclusion orders and announces that all the camps will close in the next year.
While legal support for internment is waning, the internees are well aware that this does not guarantee their social acceptance or even safety when they return to their homes.
The Wakatsukis are far from overjoyed at this news. They don’t even have a house to return to, since their property is surely occupied by others now. Moreover, Mama and Papa—and to a limited extent, Jeanne—know that throughout the war American society has been permeated by “racist headlines, atrocity movies, hate slogans, and fright-mask posters,” all maligning Japanese-Americans.
For decades, racist “civic” organizations like The Native Sons of the Golden West have stoked anti-Asian sentiment; now they’re joined by newer hate groups like “No Japs Incorporated in San Diego,” and even farmers’ associations that worry about competition posed by the return of internees.
Racism isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon but rather a philosophy stoked by different groups for economic and political gain.
Moreover, the Wakatsukis are now used to living only among other Japanese. Jeanne notes ironically that before the war, Japanese-Americans were often accused of being “clannish” and reluctant to assimilate; now, after years of isolation, these tropes are becoming a reality.
Segregation and exclusion only hinders Japanese assimilation and loyalty to America, rather than encouraging it.
In January 1945, internees begin leaving and trying to recover their old homes and land. Frightening stories return to the camp—one man is assaulted in Seattle, while a mob opens fire on a Fresno farmhouse. When Jeanne’s sister May leaves for the East Coast with her husband, armed guards escort her to the train station for her own protection. As she goes to sleep, Jeanne hears her elders discussing the Ku Klux Klan much as her brother discussed the prospect of internment before the war.
Clandestine hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan are different from internment programs in that they don’t have a legal basis—but they are similar in that they hinder Japanese-Americans from living freely and accessing opportunity. The implicit comparison to a famously racist organization highlights the essentially racist goals of internment.
All this is very confusing to Jeanne, as she’s always imagined the world outside as “inaccessible yet wonderfully desirable”—she conjures the outside party through her vague memories but mostly by flipping through the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. In her catechism days, she always prayed for the arrival of things that only exist in the outside world, like dried apricots.
One of the hardest things for Jeanne as she matures into adolescence is reconciling the amazing world of her fantasies with the actual society to which she returns—and eventually realizing that complete acceptance in that society is not only unattainable but not worth the effort.
Jeanne isn’t worried about physical violence—she can’t actually make herself believe that such things would happen. She’s more apprehensive of the prospect of being hated and humiliated. On some levels, Jeanne feels that she won’t be able to respond to people’s hatred because she deserves it. She would rather remain at Manzanar forever than face it.
It’s clear that Jeanne has inherited Papa’s extreme aversion to—even fear of—shame. At the same time, she’s also inherited Mama’s unwillingness to confront those feelings head-on.
Many of Jeanne’s older siblings are more restless at Manzanar than worried about racial hostility—they decide to relocate to the East Coast, where there’s less history of racism against Asians. Billy, Tomi, and their baby boy move to work for a frozen food company in New Jersey; Jeanne’s sisters Frances and Martha, along with their husbands, soon join. The family tell each other that once they have settled, Mama and Papa and the younger children will join, but everyone knows that Papa is too old and weakened to start life again in a new place.
The family is further fractured by Jeanne’s siblings’ relocation. Although it’s inevitable for children to move away from their parents, the fact that this decision is explicitly inspired by the desire to avoid racism shows the part that prejudice and internment play in the dissolution of family unity.
In fact, now that Papa is free to leave Manzanar he has no idea where to go. Jeanne compares his paralysis to that of black slaves at the end of the Civil War who stayed on their plantations for lack of anywhere else to go.
Here, Jeanne puts the Asian-American experience in the context of other white-supremacist systems that have dominated America’s history—namely, slavery.