Gasa Gasa Girl goes to camp is a memoir written by Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey recalling her time in a Japanese internment camp. Lily explains the book was a result of her writing about her pieces of art and she decided that it would be convenient to write a book around the art pieces so viewers could have a better understanding of her story. The book is a collection of artwork with her story written around it, Lily explains that her memory has faults and sometimes she writes about dreams, but she has made the effort to recall the most accurate story.
Lily describes how when her family was first forced to move, she was under the impression she was going camping, an activity that only white children really did at the time. Lily explains the confusion and excitement she faced on her journey to the camp, however, when she got there it was not at all what she imagined. A woman who had been at the camp for a longer time explained that they had been sleeping in horse stalls. The account follows Lily and her family as they change camps and combat the day to day fears they face in the camps. The story also focuses on Lily’s relationship with her parents, she explains that her father and her are not very close, he has a drinking problem, and she feels that he likes her brother more. Lily’s mother is a practicing Buddhist and a very independent woman, as she takes education into her own hands and spends a large part of the story away from her husband.
My favorite piece of art in the book was “The Lights Searching.” Something about the simplicity of it but also how it depicts both the fear she was experiencing, and also show a little bit of hope. I thought the story around the picture was interesting. Lily had to get up at night to use the restroom and on her way there the lights turned on, she was afraid she would get in trouble with the guards, even killed. Lily explains that later on, she thought maybe the guards just turned on the light to allow her to see her way back to her bed, but at the time the fear was very real and not unwarranted.
At the end of the story Lily explains that the night before leaving the camp felt like the first night they got there, she was not sure what lied ahead. Lily explains that her mother had found herself and was ready to move ahead with life, despite the difficulties she faced, but she contrasts the view of her mother with the state her father was in after being in the camp and how he had sunk into an even worse state than previously in the book.
I really liked “The Lights Searching” too! It seems so eerie and clearly was a traumatic memory for her. I can practically feel her anxiety from the artwork alone. When she mentions her unease with bright lights in the preface, I wonder if spotlights are part of the reason. The caption of the work, in which she mentions her husband “commented that the guard could have been helpfully lighting [her] way” (36) made me feel really sad for all the fear and anxiety she felt in that moment, and, perhaps, afterwards. As a child, it’s difficult to sometimes piece together a situation, and undoubtedly more so when you have been removed from your home and taken to an internment camp, as if a prisoner, and live in fear that the guards may kill you. I wasn’t sure, initially, whether I would like the artwork in the book, but I think they added a lot to the reading experience.