This episode’s guest is Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. She is the author of Farewell to Manzanar.
This book was written in the 1970s when Jeanne was thirty-seven. It chronicles her family’s internment during World War II. It is one of the books that many American schools use to help students understand racism and prejudice.
Jeanne was seven when her family was uprooted from Long Beach and placed in the Manzanar internment camp in the High Sierra of California. In total, 120,000 Japanese suffered from the same treatment. It was done in the name of security. The fear was the Japanese and Japanese-Americans in America would sabotage America’s war efforts.
In this interview, she explains what happened to her and her family and her hindsights about the experience as well as how it relates to the racist environment in America today. However, don’t expect anger and bitterness–because she has come to terms with what happened.
In fact, she has traveled throughout America in order to educate people so something like this doesn’t happen again.
To fully understand her interview, here are some definitions and explanations:
- Shikata ga nai is the Japanese concept that something “cannot be helped” or “nothing can be done.” It’s not necessarily defeatest or angry–it’s more like “it is what it is, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and suck it up.”
- Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese to emigrate to America. Nissei is the second generation of Japanese-Americans. They were born in America, and she is one.
- Kibei describes Japanese Americans, that is people born in America, who returned to Japan for their education, and then came back to America.
- The 442 Regimental Combat Team was a part of the US Army. It was made up of primarily sansei Japanese Americans from Hawaii. The 442nd first fought in Europe during World War II. For its size and length of service, it is the most decorated unit in American military history. Much of the motivation of the members of the 442nd was to demonstrate their loyalty to America even when Japanese Americans were being interned.
- The JACL is the Japanese American Citizens League. It is the civil-rights organization whose purpose is to foster the progress of Japanese Americans and Asian Americans to fight bigotry and prejudice.
- Katonk is a term used in Hawaii and by people from Hawaii to refer to Japanese Americans born on the mainland. The interview discusses the difference in perspective between katonks and Japanese Americans from Hawaii–such as me. It’s not a completely negative term, but it’s certainly not positive.
I hope you enjoy Jeanne’s wisdom. The goal of this episode is to help prevent anything like this from happening again.
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Learn from Remarkable People Guest, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick for their awesome work in helping me deliver this podcast every week.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia: Cover photo – Manzanar War Relocation Center – photo Ansel Adams, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppprs.00276
Manzanar War Relocation Center, mid-1940s, Picture taken from guard tower, summer heat, view SW