Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp by Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey details Yuriko and her family’s experiences within two internment camps: Santa Anita in Arcadia, California, then for a longer time, Amache in Colorado. Yuirko enters the camps when she is ten years old with her father, mother, and older brother, Sumiya; they spend close to three years altogether in the internment camps. Yuriko starts by discussing her brief stay at Santa Anita, where some families were forced to sleep in unsanitary horse stalls at a racetrack. Each family member was allowed to carry one bag, on which a number was placed so the luggage could be identified; the owner of the bag wore this number as well. When Yuriko and her family left Santa Anita and traveled to Amache, she expected to ride a glamourous train like her mother promised. In reality, the prisoners were loaded onto buses and shuttled to Amache, Colorado.
Her father was depressed and extremely distant from the family, forcing her mother was to take on his responsibilities on top of her own. Yuriko constantly laments that her father never really loved her because she was a girl, and heavily favored her brother Sumiya. He told her that his ears hurt because she spoke so much, and discouraged her curiosity in subjects such as electricity or carpentry because she was a girl. Regardless of her father’s attitude towards Yurkio, she remembered the good times in which he showed her some affection. When her family went on a beach day prior to internment, Yuriko remembers spending actual quality time with her father; he even moved his legs to give her more space in the car during their drive to the ocean. Secondly, she recalls a trip she went on with her father and brother to Mexico. She remembers the laughter and splashing in water as fond memories with her father, hoping one day to recreate them after escaping internment.
Upon arrival to Amache, the passengers were told to stay on the bus until the morning, but overwhelming protests forced the bus driver to open the doors. Yuriko and her mom ventured very far away from the bus, and Yuriko asked her mom if they could run away together, and what would happen if the successfully escape; Her mother disregarded the idea and went back to the buses, leaving Yuriko alone. Throughout Yuriko’s time at Amache, she recalls in detail the changing weather conditions and their effects on the prisoners. She tells the story of a violent, windy hurricane, torrential downpours, icy cold nights that produced snow of the inside of windows in the barracks, and unbearably hot days that reached over one hundred degrees. She told the readers that Colorado switched from one season to the next with little time in between. Throughout Yuriko’s experiences at Amache, she includes many flashbacks to her previous life. She details specific experiences such as the time she left school for a week because of infected mosquito bites, the times she went to the Harrington’s house and received birthday cakes, and the times her mother removed her shoes and sunk her feet into the luscious soil while gardening at their Los Angeles home. She also tells the story of her grandmother passing away in the night due to a fever that her grandfather refused to bother the doctor with, and how her mother took on the responsibility of raising her siblings, one of whom died rather young. While living at Amache, Yuriko’s mother started a sewing class that many of the women utilized in their periods of boredom; her mother received a salary for her job as well. Yuriko also details the poor quality of food at both camps, even though she didn’t particularly mind it, and the frightening alarm bells that signified each meal. She explained that the barracks contained four metal beds and a brick floor with beige walls; Yuriko and her mother later freshened up the space with decorations such as hand woven carpets and pictures from magazines. Yuriko participated in the High School Orchestra at Amache, even though she was in elementary school; played the piano along with a friend of her who played the saxophone. These details, among many others, made this novel extremely intriguing to me, as I felt personally connected with Yuriko’s struggles through her personable writing tactics. Her use of flashbacks to her pre-war life helped paint a picture of an average, hardworking family who lived in Los Angeles, California, aggressively plucked from their usual existence and imprisoned for their race alone.
As the novel came to a close, Yuriko explained her families final struggle as Amache was ending; they did not have enough money to buy shelter. Miraculously, the Nakai’s former employers, the Harringtons, sent the family a check to place a down payment on a small home. Yuriko’s parents planned to move the group to Salt Lake City, Utah, to live near relatives. Personally, Yuriko was slightly frightened to re-enter the new world. She had spent about a third of her life in these camps, and they were almost all that she knew of life. She questioned the excitement of adults to leave the camps and resume what they believed to be normal life, when Yuriko only recognized the camp as home. She knew that her family was still considered to be enemies, yet America portrayed them as hardworking, dutiful citizens when convenient. The entirety of this book, Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp, tells the intricate, detailed stories of Yuriko Nakai and her family who endured endless hardships solely for being Japanese in America during World War II.
It is hard to read that the US government instituted such harsh punishments for people who did nothing. Wherever it is the family discord that spawned from the moving to the camps in the form of her father’s depression or it is the real disregard for humanity that the guards felt, they both are horrible. To think that after all, they went through these people who just dropped off on the side of the street and just asked to figure it out for the rest of their lives as if nothing happened. It is fortunate that her family found a way out of their bad situation, but for thousands of others, they did not have such luxury. The larger American-Japanese community would never be the same after this tragic event.
I agree with you in that when they were being released from the camps she was worried because they were still considered enemies. Although, she was young she understood that the racism and the anti-Japanese sentiments would still persist even if they were no longer in the camps, I think that it must have been daunting for many Japanese and Japanese Americans to return to the “normal” world because they had lived enclosed for many years and they didnt really know what they were returning to.
I thought it was interesting that the author described the last night there like the first night there in terms of the uncertainty she felt. I also appreciated that we got the perspective of a child going through this, although obviously it was extremely hard on everyone in the camp, Lily had childhood innocence going into the camp. When she left, living in the camp felt like such a large part of her life that it was strange to leave.
Your summary and highlighted themes are so well-said here. In your conclusion, I found it particularly interesting the family’s former employers sent them money when it was unheard of to receive wealth unearned as a Japanese immigrant, or a general Japanese American. Despite how grateful I’m sure the family was, could this money really get them that far in their integration, anywhere in a society that is so unwelcoming? What do those interned immigrants do who don’t have such a supportive web, beg for the same empathy?
You also make an imperative discussion on how normal life was aggressive plucked away and how this is so strongly displayed in the prevalence of memories, reminiscing, and reflections applied to compare life to her mother’s own nostalgia of good immigration life consisted of, maybe the last standing of the American Dream was still upheld then. I feel it’s nonetheless necessary to add that after these interned had whatever they have tangibly left of their culture stolen, burned, garbaged, etc., the American lifestyle in education, tradition, norms in social life were then the only institutionally, acceptably socialized factors for those developing second generation kids in the camps, often granted citizens, whether defined enemy aliens or not. This is ironic because despite the Jap Americans being outwardly excluded from American culture, they still regulate and force it to be reproduced by the segregated citizen generation within the segregating camps. The soldiers stripped the Japanese Americans of anything tangible to express more Japanese than America, to eliminate their undesirable characteristics associated within the hysteria to their race/ethnicity.