The Desert Exile and the Concept of Holding on to Happiness and Optimistic View

Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family is a primary source written by Yoshiko Uchida. Uchida and her family were one of the many Japanese-American families who were forced to live in concentration camps within the United States during World War two. In these “relocation centers”, Uchida and other Japanese-Americans endured great injustices and dehumanizing acts at the hands of the U.S. government. In her memoir, Uchida stated, “The Army… had made no attempt to introduce even the most common of life’s civilities into these camps for us.”[1] Despite their setbacks, the Uchida family made the most out of their situation. In Desert Exile, Uchida tells a universal story of holding on to happiness and humanity despite being faced with great oppression.

Uchida’s father, Takashi, was a successful businessman and first generation Japanese immigrant. Immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takashi Uchida was physically stripped away from his family, friends, and business. Takashi, along with 90 other Japanese community leaders in his area were eventually sent to an internment camp in Missoula, Montana and labeled as “enemy aliens”. Later, Takashi would be able to join his family at their “relocation center” in California and then in Utah. Despite being completely stripped away from his home and having many – if not all- of his right stripped away, Takashi held onto what made him happy, and most importantly, what made him feel human. Uchida describes her father’s perspective on life perfectly towards the end of her memoir. “[his involvement] enabled him to keep busy and to help other people, the two essential ingredients in his life.” [2] By helping run organizations within the internment camps, Takashi continued to live his life how he wanted to while remaining in captivity. Takashi would work on projects ranging from funeral processions to communicating relations between the prisoners and the Army. He did this all without need for recognition or compensation. Takashi even completed these tasks despite threats from his fellow Japanese internees. By keeping busy while helping other humans, Takashi courageously held onto his humanity despite encountering dehumanizing oppression.

Yoshiko Uchida, the author of this memoir, also displays her amazing will to hold onto humanity and see glimpses of happiness throughout the dark, forsaken times of her internment. Uchida writes about her family being moderately wealthy and happy before their forced internment. She describes regularly having guests over to the house, having beautiful clothes to wear, and not noticing the effects of the great depression within the family household. These examples of happiness gave a strong contrast to the dreary conditions of the camp. It would have been easy for Uchida to become gloomy with her situation, but she did not. Instead, Uchida often found beauty in as many situations as she could. “Voices quieted down and the car became silent as we all gazed at the vast, glistening body of water, forgetting for a few moments our tired, aching bodies.”[3] This quote is one of many in which Uchida pauses her narrative to explain the beauty which she viewed amidst terror. Rather than becoming consumed with the negatives of her situations – such as the agitators did in chapter eight – Uchida found beauty in all that she could, leading her to remain hopeful throughout her time experiencing injustice.

In her memoir, Uchida offers to the reader a gripping story of how finding joy and holding onto humanity can help one endure a challenging situation. Her fathers “keeping busy and helping people” allowed him to not only better those around him, but also keep himself functioning, ready for what may come next. Uchida’s own recollections of joyous images and events assert her willingness to find happiness in times of hopelessness, generating strength for her to carry on with her journey. Uchida’s memoir is more than a story of a family surviving an internment camp, it is one of inspiration, hope, and humanity.

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