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Farewell to Manzanar

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Theme: Justice and Rights
Grades: Grades 9-10

Farewell to Manzanar is the true story of a Japanese-American family's confinement in California's Manzanar internment camp during World War II. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was seven when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and created the hysteria that forced 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes. She remembers the stress of camp life—the stripping away of dignity and privacy, the withering of parental authority, and the divisive pressure to sign loyalty oaths. She also recalls what she took away from Manzanar after it closed—an odd sense of shame and a fierce determination to be accepted as American.

  1. Justice for All.
    Lead a class discussion focusing on justice and rights. You might pose questions like the following:

    • Which of people's rights should be protected by law?
    • Under what conditions, if any, might it be justifiable to violate a citizen's legal rights?
    • What should people do if they feel that the government is violating their rights? What if they feel that the government is violating the rights of others?
    • Elicit examples of recent legal decisions that students might consider unjust and of current situations in which governments are mistreating people.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: World War II.
    Invite students to share what they know about relations between the United States and Japan during World War II. Ask if they know how these relations affected the lives of Japanese Americans during the war. Have students record their responses and amplify or revise them as they read Farewell to Manzanar.
  1. History on Film.
    Invite interested students to compile photo essays about the internment camps. The National Archives house Dorothea Lange's photos from Manzanar and other camps. Using the Internet, students can view and download some of these photos. (Alternatively, they might xerox photos from books and periodical articles about the internment.) They can then organize the reproduced works into photo essays, writing an introduction, captions, and comments. Show them how to credit the photographers.

  1. Not Forgotten.
    Ask students what they would consider a fitting tribute to those who suffered and died as a result of their experiences in the internment camps. Challenge them to design a memorial, with sketches and notes outlining their ideas and their reasons. The memorial may be a physical structure; a work of art, literature, or music; or a program to be implemented.
  1. Civil Rights Today.
    Have students complete a research report on a person or group of people whose lives are disrupted by civil strife today. Tell students to read the international news each day for several days and to note current areas of civil strife. Have them make an annotated list of places where people face discrimination or loss of rights because of their ethnic background, religion, or political affiliations. Help students choose one place to target and provide research time and assistance in the library and on the Internet.

  2. The U.S. in 1942.
    Have students research U.S. political and social conditions of 1942 to gain a deeper understanding of the issues that led to the forced internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Ask them to present their findings in a report backed up with statistics shown in a table, chart, or other graphic format.