In times of war, misinformation and hysteria can lead to tragic mistakes.
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Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, one of 120,000 Japanese Americans placed in 10 internment camps during World War II, knows this better than most. The author of “Farewell to Manzanar” shared her experiences and strong belief in democracy last week at the El Dorado Hills Library.
“I used to think I dreamt those times in camp,” Houston said, explaining that it took her nearly 30 years to come to terms with her experience.
The youngest of 10 children, Houston said she thought her age made her more resilient but when her husband James Houston began helping her write her memoir the tears flowed. Most Japanese people quietly slipped back into society after the war ended, she said, and they never talked about what they had gone through and all they lost.
For “Farewell to Manzanar” Jeanne and James interviewed her family members. She called the discussions they had “therapeutic.”
The author’s visit was part of the California Reads: Searching for Democracy project. El Dorado Hills Librarian Carolyn Brooks said it was “an honor” to have someone who lived through an important part of American history.
Embracing democracy, Jeanne said it’s important for people to “learn about each other” and stand up for the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. She’s shared her story all over the world and said many people don’t enjoy the same freedoms.
“(The Constitution) really has an incredibly deep meaning, especially when you visit other countries,” Jeanne told the standing room only crowd.
While speaking in Korea, she recalled that audience members were not shocked by what had happened to her and her family in the 1940s; they were shocked that her country permitted her to share her story.
“Farewell to Manzanar” was published in 1973 and has become part of many school’s curriculum on the subject of Japanese American interment. An official apology from the U.S. government came 15 years later in 1988.