The true story of Lily Nakai and her family is a Jap-American living history of wartime, a wartime hysteria leading to the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the states, uprooting normal families, like Lily’s in their little, Californian (Los Angeles)Tokyo, and changed their lives and especially Lily’s developmental experience as a kid. Life goes us, but the life of an interned kid, imprisoned since the age of ten and experiencing tween years of suffrage, for her family too. Luckily, we see these disgusting truths of pain endured due to leadership-encouraged prejudice to the point of caging Japanese American humans, the second generation even citizens, fragmented together and represented through the art of Lily Nakai’s hopeful, reactionary paintings, and later photographs. Flashbacks to her mother’s life are constantly referenced to compare developmental life then, or normally lived family life before WW2 at least, in an era of freedom, to now, in a climate of brutal internment.
We see the story open with the immediate relocation of the family into unsanitary horse stalls, remodeled into a relocation center, attempted to be dressed up as a leisurely summer camp to encourage Lily and her brother’s compliance to the forced move. The father was drained of labor and health with the high demands of the camp. Their spirits withered and reminiscing of their previous Hollywood home was common as play here was now supervised by demeaning guards. Japan was firing its conflict with British imperialism across the globe and after Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7,1941. The interned were reduced to numbers to monitor closely, be searched by the guards, searching for Japanese sentiment was a high priority to destruct, but even dared to take every day, personal objects cherished by families such as the mother’s sewing needles or family portraits. The children were organized to pledge American allegiance and swear to American identity, encouraged for safety, surrounded by American influence, obedience urged for the sake of life, then forced into American norms in socialization and routines.
Life goes on, but with different painful ways expected, abandon babies to endure a romance, women work to support the American forces, dad drinks away the pain that all of Japanese ancestry is criminalized for bombing Pearl Harbor. Then, life was uprooted again, from California to Colorado, passing the time with sickness and pained with another soon-to-be daunting concentration camp, or relocation center on internment. Santa Anita was similarly criticized like their previous Californian relocation center, but competitive in resources and low capacity for hiring jobs, but both parents inquired work. Education was threatened by the reins of power and authoritarianism that ruled the camps. As Japs interned were immobilized by fear to even reproduce American traditions, or go back to normal life, such as Christmas with a tree and presents despite their Buddhist orientation, the anti-Jap hysteria left all actions up for judgement whether the interned would be further alienized, deported, etc. (107). The soldiers haunted the minimal celebration kindling in the mess hall as ‘tis the season. Bodily sex education, knowledge, and medical treatment was noticeably discounted at the camps. Despite internment, New Year’s Eve was hardly hesitated to be a full-blown celebration and nature gravitated to the warm populous within the barbed wired perimeter. Racism, religion, and the hope for another survived seasons pushed the interned forward in the camps. The dynamic of extended family was disturbed, separated, at loss in the chaos of war, and their closeness continued to change with the fluctuating of the climate and its demands, straining the durability of the interned, exemplarily the father. Memories were low-quality with low-quality resources and like our version of COVID, the interned were confined to what seemed like an eternal lock down. Boys and men in the camps were socialized and expected to take care of themselves while just like a free culture, interned girls and women are sexualized and objectified, often by guards, and internally constrained to gender-specific jobs/roles at the house and in primary school. The consistent, normalized life maintained in the camps took form of school and baseball communities rallying. Also, persistent: the unsanitary, nearly inedible food of the mess hall, but deliberately as the American public demanded the war enemy, still constructed as the Japanese Americans confined in internment camps, would suffer in their treatment.
It was after their third year of internment the Nakai family began to observe dismantling of the camps and integration back into the outside world they were so distanced from. The Jap-American 100th Infantry and the 442nd Combat Team, with special honors were idolized for Lily to aspire to as it seemed correlated the warrant of freedom was connected to the proven loyalty and harder, successful work of Asians compared to white, brought to light at the end of the war. Even upon release though, anti- American Japanese sentiment still flourished and barred the welcome of sparingly dispersed, previously interned Japanese Americans with great threat. Constant search for a safe, comfortable home, also paired with the necessity to relocate after every global anti-Japanese attack and Japanese initiated attack was publicized: Hiroshima being bombed, V-E Day, etc. 1945 was a year of still growing anti-American Jap sentiment as they are still pointed at for causing or being associated with the global contact, but at a paradoxical time they were being encouraged and shallowly supported by the government to integrate back into society. The adults in the camp were anxious and nervous to return back to life, but the children who group up in internment, such as Lily, had no idea what to integrate into or how as the life of confinement, prejudice, sexism, and danger implemented by guards was all she knew, so this “strange new life” being expected was really just another relocation of all the damage deeply done, but without guards to surveillance the new barracks, wherever they family finds safe to set up home. Amache, their last relocation facility was departed by the broken family: absent father, independent, lonely mother, American educated children confused as to what to expect, and how to find solace in a country with a betraying government, unsanctioned, maintained prejudice, and the expectation to heal the broken family, or the entirely broken race/ethnicity of Japs or Japanese Americans in America again.