The PR materials that arrived with this remarkable title contains one of the most effective descriptions of the Japanese American imprisonment during World War II I’ve ever read: ” … this bleak chapter in American history, when Japanese bloodlines overshadowed American birthrights.” What a concise, solemn reminder during this 70th anniversary year of Executive Order 9066 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the imprisonment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.
The powerful phrase is truncated from the book’s first chapter, “American Birthrights, Japanese Bloodlines” which introduces some of the imprisoned children – “more than 3,700 infants, toddlers, children, and teens” – who called Manzanar “home” from 1942 to 1945: “The civil liberties that should have been their birthright as American citizens were denied them during wartime. Their bloodlines marked them to be segregated from their non-Japanese peers and playmates. They left their homes, friends, and pets behind.”
Combining photographs culled from official government archives and personal collections with quotes from Manzanar’s children – most of them now in their 80s and 90s! – Children is richly dense with little known history in a single, slim volume. In addition to the Japanese American children are, surprisingly, photos and remembrances from some their Caucasian counterparts, the children of War Relocation Authority staff who lived mostly in a separate Administration Area. [Erica Harth, one of those non-Japanese Manzanar children, would grow up to become a lauded professor and author of Last Witness: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans.]
Caught in the chaos of sudden uprootings and bleak conditions, societal – especially familial – structures suffered and even disintegrated. Children, in all their innocence, quickly adjusted: “They sneaked past the barbed wire to go fishing, played marbles in the dust, and formed lifelong friendships. They also saw their parents become powerless, witnessed systematic injustice, and faced an uncertain future. … [Y]oung people experienced Manzanar very differently than their parents and grandparents.” And here, you’ll find glimpses of some of their remarkable, diverse stories …
In addition to the stories, editor Heather C. Linquist weaves in little known details (with photos, of course) about Manzanar, including its Toy Loan Library, Hospital School (for children with health conditions or disabilities that did not allow them to attend the regular camp schools), the Children’s Village (run by social workers Harry and Lillian Matsumoto and home to 101 children, many of whom had been removed from West Coast foster homes and orphanages), and even experiences of resettlement and relocation after war’s end. Perhaps the most touching of all is a special spotlight on the now-annual Manzanar High School Reunion which, with its aging student bodies, since 2004 “has been billed as the ‘last one’ but we haven’t stopped yet.” True testimony to the resilience of children … even when bloodlines overshadowed birthrights.
Tidbit: Small world moment I must share … editor Linquist has Smithsonian history! She interned at National Museum of American History where she “discovered a love of exhibit planning and writing,” training she later used to develop interpretive exhibits at the Manzanar National Historic Site!
And, I have to note one minor numbers-related discrepancy: page 122 uses ‘110,000’ as the number of Japanese and Japanese Americans relocated while page 133 uses ‘120,000.’ I’ve seen both numbers in various places … just not usually in the same book. Perhaps I’m reading something incorrectly … feel free to enlighten me!
Update: Ask and ye shall receive. And I did! Numbers answer kindly (expediently!) provided by Alisa Lynch, Chief of Interpretation at the Manzanar National Historic Site: “This issue is how the people are counted and when. More than 110,000 were ‘evacuated’ from their West Coast homes, but 120,313 were in WRA custody (i.e., in the ten camps). That includes nearly 6000 children born in camps, others who transferred in, 219 non-Japanese Americans, etc.” She even provides an easy-to-read visual on page 2 of the Manzanar/National Park Service handout which you can access by clicking here. Talk about oh so grateful, near-instant satisfaction!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult