The novel Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp was written by Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey, a Japanese American woman and the novel is a collection of her writing, her art, and some photographs of her and her family or other aspects of her life, both from before going to the internment camps and of the camps themselves. Yuriko and her family were sent to Japanese Internment Camps during the Second World War, Yuriko was in the camp with her mother, father, and brother Sumiya. This book allows the reader to gain insight regarding what the experiences were light from the perspective of a young girl, who essentially was coming of age while in the Japanese internment camps during WWII. It was noted that this book gave the unique perspective of a young girl who had found herself “caught between two cultures” as a Japanese-American which is already a complicated situation and the internment camps further complicated the lives of all Japanese-Americans during World War II and in the many years following.
The novel begins with Yuriko and her family travelling to the camps but that for a while it was just Yuriko and her mother while she questioned the whereabouts of her father who they didn’t reconnect with until later in the night at Santa Anita. and her brother on;y appeared at the last moment and joined their mother and her on the bus. Early on Yuriko was excited for the adventure of “camping” and looked forward to this experience especially with her father who she did not often get quality time with but even as a child, she quickly realized that this was not going to be like camping she envisioned and begged to go home to her mother and eventually her father. I found it extremely difficult to read about the notions from Yuriko and her father and other members of the family and camp about the way that these camps seemed to have stolen their spirits, like everything about them was gone, a lost identity. I was extremely unsettled by the painting on page 12 titled “The Two Of Us” upon first impression it is a beautiful picture of a brother and sister as the sister wraps her arm around her brother and hold her teddy bear, a piece of innocence. Looking closer at the picture you notice the tired, lifeless eyes of the two children, and in the context of Yuriko discussing the way that these internment camps stole the life from these prisoners of these conditions you know that this is at the hands of the American Government. This may be because of my field of work with children but this picture so early on in the book made me unsettled and upset knowing that this was at the hands of the American military, government, and people.
Yuriko continues on to describe the rest of her experiences at the camp and the harsh conditions faced by her and her family, who were described as “lucky” at the assembly centers because they were in the tar paper barracks while the early on individuals in the camps were in horse stables and had to clean out and make their beds made of hay themselves. It is important to note that while in comparison they may have been lucky but in actuality, the family was in a small room with four small metal beds and still faced very difficult conditions. Yuriko notes that throughout the camps her father was distant, he had always been a reserved man as we learn from her stories but she referred to him as “an elusive shadow” (10) in the summer at Santa Anita. Her brother’s attitude also caught my attention as it was clear that as the older sibling he had more of a grasp of what was happening in these camps and his attitude showed this early on as he did not engage in the attempted nagging that Yuriko tried to provoke him with.
As the novel goes on Yuriko continues to write about her experiences in the assembly center and then moving to the internment camp in Amache and a brief insight of life following the camps. It was fascinating to see the lives that Yuriko and her family and the many other individuals in the internment camps created while in these camps. They had schools, jobs, and as we discussed in class groups like boy and girl scouts and people continued to get married and live their lives while in the internment camps and living in these harsh conditions. Within these camps, Japanese-Americans began their own lives despite the adversities put on them by the American government. In the book, we see Yuriko’s piano classes picture (186) and the autographs in her yearbook (191) these look like typical photos you would see anywhere during these time periods and it is fascinating to know the story and conditions and the way that these Japanese-Americans continued their lives in these camps. Yuriko noted that “By the third year in Amache, it became hard to remember that life had ever been any different.” (187) her young age clearly had an impact on her memory of life prior to the internment camps but the lives that the Yuriko family and others began in these camps while facing the hardships of being in an internment camp was interesting to me. While they started their own lives in these internment camps, including Yuriko’s mother who began to work in sewing independent from her husband as his depression had taken control of him during his time in the internment camp, it was clear that they had not forgotten about the outside world.
I noted that while on their way to Amache and upon arrival Yuriko asks her mother to sit back with her and listen to the wind as “it was singing” (66) her mother reluctantly gives in but says to her “Sometimes no one else can hear the same thing you do. You hear music. To me it’s the wind.” (67) I interpreted this as an aspect of the child, young, and in a way naive perspective of young Lily Yuriko while on the contrary, her mother knew how difficult the surrounding environment was and therefore could not find the music in the wind as she was “sad” and worried for Yuriko and the rest of their family. I am interested to know how you all interpreted this if you found significance in this and I am not just over fixating and emphasizing this more than anyone else.
I like how you bring up the part of the story where Yuriko says that she can hear the wind as a song. It stuck with me as well, and I think it emphasizes how young she was and how she was still innocent of what was happening to her. This moment highlights how she is younger and how after years of introspection she understands what her mother means. Quite a lot of the book is from such a young perspective and despite that the grim reality of what is happening is evident.
I also find it interesting how over time the people in the camps adjusted to life there but were still remembered how life was before. It was quite upsetting seeing how Yuriko in many ways could not remember how life was before and how a good part of her childhood years was altered by this horrific event.