Farewell to Mazanar, Jeanne Houston’s 1973 memoir, opens with a haunting image of the 7-year-old Jeanne watching her father’s sardine fishing boat sail off into the waters off Long Beach, California. On this day, however, the boat did something it had never done before; it turned around and began sailing back toward the wharf. Adding to the strangeness of the situation is the sight of a man running out of nearby building in tears as he cries out something about Pearl Harbor, the Japanese and an attack. It is a snapshot of those rare moments frozen in time when everything that follows will be different from what came before.
Written in tandem with her husband James, Farewell to Manzanar offers a glimpse into one of the lowest moments in American history: the forced interment of thousands of American citizens who had committed no crime other being of Japanese ancestry. The book is not just the story of Executive Order 9066—Pres. Roosevelt’s executive order which stimulated what were essentially prisons for those never accused much less convicted of a crime—it is also the lesser-known story of what to the families interned in these camps when they went back to their homes and tried to rebuild their lives. In most of these cases, the lives being returned to included loss of jobs and homes, but also a society still resistant and suspicious but now also having to deal with the guilt and shame of being party to such anti-American activities.
In 1976, Farewell to Manzanar was adapted into a made-for-TV movie by the Houstons.