"Gaijin" Summary: With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he's sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII.
When I was ten years old, I read a big stack of books about children and the Holocaust. I was horrified at the thought of children like myself being locked up in those terrible camps. One day my mom told me, “You know, we have family members who were put in an American prison camp during World War Two.” I didn’t believe her. “America would never do something like that.” I said.
She sat me down and filled me in. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese navy, Americans became very frightened of all Japanese people, even those who were U.S. citizens. In 1942, the government took those fears to an extreme and imprisoned more than 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry in prison camps across western America. Over half of those interned were children and two thirds were U.S. citizens.
The camps were situated in extremely harsh country—mostly high desert, which was very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter. People were made to live in uninsulated tar-paper shacks. My mom told me that my great-aunt Adeline, her daughter, Mary, and Mary’s young children were a just few of those who were forced into one of these prison camps during the war—a camp called Manzanar.
I am not of Japanese descent; my ancestors came mostly from Ireland. So, I didn’t understand: How did my Irish American relatives end up in camps for Japanese Americans?
My mom continued: Adeline was the daughter of Irish immigrants (my great-grandparents). She traveled to Japan during the 1920s as a singer in a jazz band, got married, and had a child named Mary. Before World War Two, Adeline and Mary moved back to the United States where, after several years, Mary married and had children of her own. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mary was notified by the government that, because she was half Japanese, she and her children would have to go to Manzanar. Irish Adeline received no such notification.
Adeline decided then and there that she wouldn’t allow her daughter and grandchildren to go to some prison camp by themselves. As a family, they packed their things and, along with more than 10,000 Japanese Americans from the Los Angeles area, were sent to the Manzanar Relocation Center.
This was all very confusing to me. I’d been taught that the Nazis were the ones who had built terrible concentration camps, not us. Years later, as an author, I decided to write Gaijin: American Prisoner of War based on the concerns I had as a kid: how could we have done this, and could it happen again in the United States?
Matt Faulkner, Michigan, 2014
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