Jeanne says that as she comes to comprehend the enormity of internment, she becomes deeply ashamed of “being a person guilty of something enormous enough to deserve that kind of treatment.” In order to appease this sense of guilt, she tries to become someone “acceptable” to her accusers. But by the end of high school, she knows that trying to fit in this way is as unlikely and unsatisfying as trying to emulate her Aunt Toyo. She needs craft another kind of identity, but it takes her many years to do so.
As she nears the end of high school, Jeanne finally begins to understand that her desire to fit in at all costs stems from a feeling of guilt that is completely unwarranted. At the same time, she knows she can’t just retreat into Japanese culture, as her own identity can be encompassed neither by the culture of her heritage or her country.
Jeanne is the first person in her family to finish college, and to marry a non-Japanese person. Busy with her adult life, Manzanar gradually fades from her mind. Sometimes she talks about visiting the camp’s ruins, but there’s never enough time and Jeanne never has the courage. Sometimes she imagines she dreamed the whole experience—even her family rarely discusses this period.
Although these two milestones mark ways in which Jeanne’s life differs from Papa’s, they also reflect the independent spirit and disdain for convention that she inherits from him.
Jeanne compares the family’s inability to discuss internment to an episode she and Kiyo underwent. Waiting for the bus shortly after their release form Manzanar, they pass an old woman who says, “why don’t all you dirty Japs go back to Japan” and spits at them. Kiyo and Jeanne walk home without discussing the incident and never speak of it to their family. Even though they both remember it, it’s too painful to talk about.
This experience is a kind of bond between Jeanne and Kiyo, a moment of racism that they experienced together, unlike the high school discrimination Jeanne undergoes alone. However, because they are too ashamed to talk about it, it becomes something that drives the family apart, rather than bringing it together.
In 1972, thirty years after she first arrived there, Jeanne and her husband take their three children on a road trip to Manzanar. The highway is filled with hikers and bikers heading into the national parks, and Jeanne finds it hard to connect this scene with the isolation of Manzanar.
The crowded highway represents the changes that time has wrought not only on Manzanar’s physical setting, but the society that produced it and has now largely forgotten about it.
Almost nothing remains of Manzanar now. The barracks, guard towards, hospital, and parks are all gone. Only two gatehouses, a small graveyard, and some elms planted by internees remain. Standing in the wind among the ruins, Jeanne thinks of Mama, who has been dead for seven years. She believes in ghosts, and she feels that she’s in the presence of everyone who died at Manzanar and hears the murmur of their voices.
Even though Manzanar was a place of imprisonment, now it’s a landmark where Jeanne can feel close to family members who are now gone. Her feelings of reconnection are a reminder of the many ways in which Manzanar was a safe and comforting place for Jeanne as a child.
Jeanne walks through the camp with her husband, identifying the foundations of different buildings. In some places, rock arrangements are still intact. Papa once told Jeanne that even in Fort Lincoln the Issei men gathered stones and sorted stones that are beautiful. Jeanne says that this impulse is a “characteristically Japanese” method of coping with harsh circumstnaces, and she’s proud that the rock gardens have outlasted the guard towers. To her, each stone represents a family who had lived with dignity at Manzanar.
Again, stones represent the melding of Japanese culture and American society—rock gardens are something the Issei bring from Japan in order to survive in America. The rock gardens’ triumph over the guard towers shows Jeanne’s confidence that cultural complexity and diversity is ultimately stronger than the racist impulses that led to Manzanar.
Jeanne comes across the remains of a park, but it soon fades into desolate weeds. At the beginning of the visit, Jeanne felt able to detach herself from Manzanar’s history and view it objectively. Now, she feels her old connection to it more strongly. Crossing a firebreak where the camp used to hold talent shows, Jeanne remembers the glee club in which she sang and feels like a ten-year-old again, watching Papa and his friends smoking and playing board games.
Jeanne is torn between viewing Manzanar as a passive spectator and as an erstwhile inhabitant. She’s been able to build a satisfying adult life largely by detaching herself from Manzanar, but now she has to realize how central it’s been to her identity all along.
Jeanne and her husband look for the remnants of Block 28. Soon, they smell the few pear trees that remain. The children join them, bored. They know the basic facts about internment, but they don’t understand exactly what they’re seeing.
In some ways, the children’s indifference to Manzanar is positive—it shows how Jeanne’s life has ultimately transcended internment. At the same time, it underlines the poignant distance between Jeanne’s childhood and her current life.
Jeanne’s husband walks the kids back to the car, and Jeanne watches her eleven-year-old daughter walk away. She was about the same age during her time at Manzanar, and it’s because internment happened at such a critical point in her life, between childhood and adulthood, that everything else since has “referred back” to Manzanar. Until now, Jeanne hasn’t been able to acknowledge that while “Papa’s life ended” at camp, hers began there. She no longer wants to lose Manzanar or erase it from her memory. She just wants to say farewell.
Watching her daughter develop into an adolescent helps Jeanne understand her own journey—and perhaps feel more kindness towards herself than she did at the time. Because of Jeanne’s age when she was interned, the experience of living at Manzanar and re-entering society is synonymous with coming of age—she grappled with cultural and personal identity simultaneously, and the two will always be intertwined.
This visit has helped Jeanne finally jettison the shame and guilt that she’s always associated with internment. These days, she rarely feels out of place in America. However, earlier this year she read about anti-Japanese sentiment rising because of fear of the competitive Japanese economy. She doesn’t truly feel threatened, but she also realizes that she’ll always be prepared for the events of her childhood to repeat themselves.
While Jeanne has largely overcome the discrimination that characterized her childhood, Manzanar has left her with an indelible awareness of the dark potential of racist sentiment left unchecked—the same awareness that the reader should derive from reading her memoir.
Jeanne slowly walks back to the car, finding another collection of stones on the way. It could be the one that lay outside her own door, or it might not. She hears Mama’s voice and almost smells the cork that Papa used to heat up and place against her back when it hurt.
It’s unimportant whether the rock garden actually belonged to Jeanne—she’s able to relate to it whether it was built by Papa or another Issei, because of the communal experience all internees shared.
Jeanne imagines an episode right before the family’s departure from Manzanar, which she now realizes is Papa’s “final outburst of defiance.” Mama is packing when Papa announces his intention to buy a car. She says this is a crazy idea that they don’t have money to buy a car, but he runs out of the house with his cane before she can protest more.
Here, Jeanne retells an episode from earlier in the memoir. At the time she was consumed with fear and reluctance to leave Manzanar. Now, she’s able to perceive this moment in terms of its significance to her family life.
Late in the afternoon, Mama, Jeanne, Chizu, and May see Papa proudly returning with the new sedan. He smells like whiskey; laughing exuberantly and revving the engine and says he will give all the women a ride. Everyone reluctantly piles into the car and Papa drives the car as fast as possible, even though there are two flat tires and he’s drunk. All the passengers are flopping around in the back, and Mama screams that Papa is going to wreck the car. Jeanne starts to cry and the others are shouting. Papa swerves into a street and drives past barracks where people are packing their things; as they pass one family heading towards the gates, Papa leans out the window and shouts merrily that they shouldn’t miss their bus.
Right now, Papa seems to embody his worst characteristics—his capacity to make impractical decisions and his alcoholism. He’s even exposing the family to danger by driving drunk. However, he’s also reclaiming his pride by making sure the family doesn’t have to depart Manzanar as they arrived, on a bus. Although this gesture doesn’t mean much to anyone else, it shows Jeanne the importance of preserving dignity in one’s own eyes, rather than striving for social acceptability.
Papa pulls off the street and drives along some deserted barracks, eventually plunging through a firebreak. By this time, the women have stopped shouting. From this angle, Jeanne can’t see the barbed wire fence; she knows she should be afraid, as she normally is when considering life outside the camp, but for once she feels Papa’s contagious “craziness” and “liberation.” She believes completely in his ability to shepherd the family safely into the future.
Jeanne and the reader know that her life after Manzanar will be characterized by shame and alienation, especially with regard to Papa. Here, she’s able reclaim a moment of family togetherness and confidence from that painful narrative.
When he reaches the barbed wire fence, Papa turns sharply and drives back towards the bus stop, where he honks the horn and shouts, “No bus for us!” The people standing there are astonished but amused. Slowly, Papa drives back to Block 28, where the remainder of the packing awaits the family.
Empirically speaking, Jeanne’s family—and especially Papa—never completely recovers from internment. However, Jeanne’s retelling, and her decision to end on this moment, means that her evocation of their pride and strength is what emerges most strongly from the experience.