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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
CHAPTER 2: Shikata Ga Nai
The neighborhood where Woody lives is a rough and terrifying place for seven-year old Jeanne. Her father's absence has already made her insecure, and now she must cope with the presence of unfamiliar people. In particular, young Jeanne is terrified of the other Oriental people in the neighborhood. Her father's joking threats of "selling her to a Chinaman" seem true to her now that unfamiliar Chinese faces surround her.
In Ko's absence, life in Woody's neighborhood is difficult for the Wakatsuki family. They must live in a cheaply constructed shack among Japanese people who speak only in a thick Kyushu dialect. All of their neighbors are ignorant of the English language, which makes the Wakatsukis, who normally speak in English, very uneasy. Money is also very tight. In order to make ends meet, Jeanne's mother goes to work in a cannery, along with Woody's wife Chizu. The only bright spot is when they receive a letter from Ko; unfortunately, the letter explains how he has been imprisoned in Fort Lincoln, North Dakota.
As the war rages on, anti-Japanese sentiment increases and finally prompts an order from President Roosevelt; it states that any Japanese posing a potential threat to the United States may be removed. Mama Wakatsuki decides that she must leave the Japanese colony where Woody lives, for it is too dangerous for her family. She decides to move with her children to Los Angeles; they settle into a neighborhood known as Boyle Heights. In order to exist, they try to sell some of their valuable belongings. With cruelty, the second-hand dealers offer humiliating prices for their china and lacquered furniture and scavenge like buzzards over their family heirlooms. Mama and Woody find work packing celery for a Japanese produce dealer. Quaker missionaries, called the American Friends Service, also assist the Wakatsukis.
As the months pass, the remaining Caucasian tolerance for Oriental people turns to distrust and irrational fear. The voluntary relocation program to government camps becomes mandatory for all Japanese- Americans. Jeanne and her family members are given numbers, which assign them to an internment camp at Manzanar, just outside the Mojave Desert. Jeanne, too young to understand what is happening, thinks of the relocation as an adventure.
Although no physical torture or punishment is inflicted at Manzanar, it is still a bleak place. The entire Wakatsuki family is stacked together into a small, crudely built barracks; it is scarcely lighted and offers no privacy. Jeanne quickly remembers her naïve delight in being moved to a new place; now in Manzanar she finds she must share a bed with her mother and be herded through the camp with other Japanese-Americans, as if they were sheep.
After Ko's departure, Mrs. Wakatsuki cannot afford to remain in the family home in Ocean Park. She packs her children up and moves to Terminal Island, where her oldest son, Woody, lives. The family has great trouble acclimating to the shack they must live in; they also find their neighbors coarse and frightening, for they speak no English and communicate in a heavy dialect.
Additionally, Mrs. Wakatsuki must work in a cannery to make ends meet. Matters grow worse for the Wakatsukis when they learn that they will be relocated to Manzanar, a detention camp created to hold Japanese- Americans during the war. Like all prisoners in wartime, the Wakatsukis realize that any resistance on their part will put them into unwelcome trouble with the officials. The only one that is excited about the relocation is Jeanne; too young to understand what is really happening to her, she thinks of the move as an adventure. When she sees the camp and the Wakatsuki barracks, however, she realizes her naiveté about the move.
The chapter is appropriately called "Shikata Ga Nai," which means, "It cannot be helped;" the title captures the mood of helplessness endured by all the Japanese-Americans during the World War II. In spite of their poor treatment, they dare not protest that their constitutional rights are being violated. After all, the President of their new country has issued the Executive Order about the relocation camps, so there seems to be no alternative.
To make matters worse, the Japanese-Americans feel cut off from Japan, for there is no communication with the native land during the war. Suddenly these transplanted Japanese feel lost, isolated, and insecure. They are resented in Japan for immigrating to America, and they are not accepted as Americans in their adopted homeland, which now questions their loyalties and treats them as enemies.
The scene in which the second-hand dealers take advantage of the Japanese-Americans is touching and painful. Knowing that the families must sell their possessions before going to the relocation camps, they undervalue all Japanese heirlooms, furniture, and goods. Mama is so upset at the indignity and insult of how she is treated that she systematically shatters every piece of her beautiful and expensive china rather than give it away to the second-hand dealers for a mere seventeen dollars. The scene is very telling about her character and determination.
Mama's indignity continues with the move to Manzanar. She is horrified that her whole family is crowded into a small, crudely constructed barracks, where there is no light and no privacy. She dislikes that she and her family are each assigned a number, symbolizing the dehumanization of the individual. Mama, like the other Japanese-American in camp, feels totally helpless to do anything about the injustices that she and her family are enduring.