Society is separated by divisions of people and throughout history there have been significant moments of prejudice and tragedy, such as the internment of Japanese in America during World War II.
These issues of race and democracy were discussed at an event hosted by the Fullerton Public Library’s Fullerton Reads program on Sunday, which welcomed Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, the author of the book Farewell to Manzanar.
Farewell to Manzanar is Houston’s personal memoir of her experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
The book is a recount of the events that begins at the young age of seven.
The event, hosted by the Fullerton Library, was made possible by their collaboration with the California Center for the Book and Cal Humanities, which aims to bring Californians together to explore important topics through reading and discussion.
“Searching for Democracy” is this year’s theme for the readership program focusing on what democracy means, strives for and requires for its success, said Maureen Gebelein, the Fullerton library director.
The choice of Farewell to Manzanar focused on democracy, as citizens of Fullerton engaged in an intellectual conversation about Houston’s experience.
“I came out because I teach Asian-American studies and Mrs. Houston’s book is the first book that I read that: one, talked about this internment or incarceration experience and, two, that talked about the great anti-Asian racism that occurred during the war as well as the entire 20th century,” said Jennifer Yee, an assistant professor of Asian American studies at Cal State Fullerton.
Yee said the book was one of the reasons she became an educator.
At the event, Houston discussed how her family and other Japanese people had to make the most of living in a confined space for years.
“We were rounded up, lost our property and put into concentration camps because we looked like this… this was a violation of the Constitution of the United State of America,” said Houston.
She also talked in depth about issues that continue to take place in today’s modern society.
Houston explained how politicians, as well as many others, blame immigrants for things that may not be their fault.
Problems immigrants continue to face include the blame they receive for the shortage of jobs and a depleting economy.
Houston calls this blaming game “scapegoat thinking.”
Houston made it a point to discuss how difficult it was to share her story, which is why she didn’t write her book until she was 37, she said.
Many Japanese-Americans, like Houston, hid this part of their lives to forget the terrible times they had to endure.
The mother of a former CSUF faculty member, Kiyo Young, who was also in an internment camp, kept quiet about her experience.
“We really knew nothing… my mother sat us down, she laid out maps and everything on the bed and wanted to show us, but at that time we weren’t interested… so when I see Japanese people here they think I know certain things and I don’t,” said Young.
Her lack of interest came from her parents raising her to assimilate to the American culture and not talk about anything that would make them stand out. They were taught to blend in.
The Fullerton Reads program successfully gathered a roomful of people for the two-hour event. The experience was one of a kind for fans of Houston that were not only able to speak with her, but get their books signed and picture taken as well.
Even though not everyone at the event had family or some type of attachment to this certain chapter in history, they still had one thing in common, the appetite for expressing their thoughts on the subject.