Part 2

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was only seven when her Japanese-American family was forced to leave their home in Long Beach, California for an internment camp during World War II. This is her story.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. tolerable
    capable of being borne or endured
    That’s where we stayed until the end of the war, and those trees stand in my memory for the turning of our life in camp, from the outrageous to the tolerable.
    The adjective can also mean "about average; acceptable." This definition cannot describe sand-filled houses, diarrhea-causing food, overflowing bathrooms, and barbed wire. It is also too mild to be the opposite of "outrageous" which means "grossly offensive to decency or morality." But in the three years at Manzanar, conditions did get better and more tolerable.
  2. congestion
    excessive crowding
    One result was a gradual easing of the congestion in the barracks.
  3. vie
    compete for something
    Some families would vie with one another for the most elegant floor designs, obtaining a roll of each color from the supply shed, cutting it into diamonds, squares, or triangles, shining it with heating oil, then leaving their doors open so that passers-by could admire the handiwork.
  4. succulent
    plant adapted to arid conditions with water-storing tissues
    He hauled stones in off the desert and built a small rock garden outside our doorway, with succulents and a patch of moss.
  5. habitable
    fit to be lived in
    If anything made that country habitable it was the mountains themselves, purple when the sun dropped and so sharply etched in the morning light the granite dazzled almost more than the bright snow lacing it.
    The mountains did not literally make Manzanar a fit place to live. Rather, their beauty was a source of spiritual inspiration and symbolic reminders that helped the internees endure.
  6. subdued
    quieted and brought under control
    Subdued, resigned, Papa’s life—all our lives— took on a pattern that would hold for the duration of the war.
  7. confinement
    the act of restraining a person's liberty
    What had to be endured was the climate, the confinement, the steady crumbling away of family life.
  8. despair
    a state in which all hope is lost or absent
    In such a narrowed world, in order to survive, you learn to contain your rage and your despair, and you try to re-create, as well as you can, your normality, some sense of things continuing.
  9. mock
    treat with contempt
    He didn’t sing Don’t Fence Me In out of protest, as if trying quietly to mock the authorities.
  10. subside
    wear off or die down
    Once we settled into Block 28 that ache I’d felt since soon after we arrived at Manzanar subsided.
  11. semblance
    the outward or apparent appearance or form of something
    It didn’t entirely disappear, but it gradually submerged, as semblances of order returned and our pattern of life assumed its new design.
  12. restriction
    an act of limiting
    As restrictions gradually loosened, you could measure your liberty by how far they’d let you go—to Camp Three with a Caucasian, to Camp Three alone, to Camp Four with a Caucasian, to Camp Four alone.
  13. relentless
    not willing or able to stop or yield
    He would putter blandly along, then suddenly, unexpectedly, as if to remind himself he was still in charge of something, he would burst out like that, his intentions right, but his manner stubborn and relentless, forcing distances between us.
  14. dwindle
    become smaller or lose substance
    Our family had begun to dwindle, along with the entire camp population.
  15. asunder
    into parts or pieces
    Families were being further torn asunder, and those left behind knew no more about their own fate than they did of the loved ones moving on.
    The word can be an adverb or an adjective. Here, it is used as an adverb to emphasize the image that a family is supposed to be a whole unit that can be torn into pieces. The adjective's definition--"widely separated especially in space"--seems like a better fit for a description of loved ones moving away from each other, but it does not grammatically or dramatically fit the example sentence.
  16. lethargy
    weakness characterized by a lack of vitality or energy
    In the government’s eyes a free man now, he sat, like those black slaves you hear about who, when they got word of their freedom at the end of the Civil War, just did not know where else to go or what else to do and ended up back on the plantation, rooted there out of habit or lethargy or fear.
  17. taut
    pulled or drawn tight
    The introduction shows a page-wide photo of a forearm and hand squeezing pliers around a length of taut barbed wire strung beneath one of the towers.
  18. disintegrate
    break into parts or components or lose cohesion or unity
    All around, you saw these signals of neglect, as if the camp itself were slowly, deliberately disintegrating in order to comply with the administration’s deadline.
  19. deprive
    take away possessions from someone
    They cannot deprive us of our homes and our fishing boats and our automobiles and lock us up for three years and then just turn us loose into the cities again.
  20. extinguish
    put out, as of fires, flames, or lights
    The last hope that something might postpone our returning to the outside world was extinguished on August 6 when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.
    The chosen definition fits because hope is often connected with light. The verb also means "put an end to by crushing or killing" and "kill in large numbers"--these definitions are suggested by the image of the atomic bomb, which simultaneously extinguished lives on Hiroshima and hopes at Manzanar.
  21. prospect
    the possibility of future success
    Whoever had prospects on the outside, and the energy to go, was leaving, relocating, or entering military service.
  22. volition
    the act of making a choice
    A few days before we left Manzanar Papa decided that since we had to go, we might as well leave in style, and by our own volition.
  23. resignation
    acceptance of an unpleasant but inevitable situation
    I had heard Mama say with lonesome resignation, “I don’t understand all this hate in the world.”
  24. bleak
    offering little or no hope
    It was a bleak and awful-sounding word, yet I had no idea at all what shape it might take if ever I confronted it.
    The adjective also means "unpleasantly cold and damp" and "providing no shelter or sustenance." It is used in the example sentence to describe the sound of the word "hate" as well as its shape and nature. All the definitions can fit: 1) so much irrational hate leads to Mama's bleak mood; 2) young Jeanne saw hate as a dark, bleak cloud that she would not want to be wrapped in; and 3) hateful stories, murmurs, and headlines reflected a bleak world for the internees to return to.
  25. amorphous
    having no definite form or distinct shape
    I saw it as a dark, amorphous cloud that would descend from above and enclose us forever.
  26. indication
    something that serves to suggest
    Indeed, if the movements of this city were an indication, the very existence of Manzanar and all it had stood for might be in doubt.
  27. intervening
    occurring between events, spaces, or points in time
    And yet, on our six-hour drive south, we seemed to have passed through a time machine, as if, in March of 1942 one had lifted his foot to take a step, had set it down in October of 1945, and was expected just to keep on walking, with all intervening time erased.
  28. maintain
    keep in safety and protect from harm, loss, or destruction
    To maintain some hold on his self-esteem Papa began to pursue his doomed plan for setting up a housing cooperative among the returning Japanese.
  29. premonition
    a feeling of evil to come
    But those premonitions proved correct, in a way I hadn’t been at all prepared for, on the first day back in public school, when the shape of what I truly had to deal with appeared to me for the first time.
  30. overt
    open and observable; not secret or hidden
    I wouldn’t be faced with physical attack, or with overt shows of hatred.
  31. yearn
    desire strongly or persistently
    From that day on, part of me yearned to be invisible.
  32. acquiescence
    acceptance without protest
    Of course, for such a thing to happen, there has to be a kind of acquiescence on the part of the victims, some submerged belief that this treatment is deserved, or at least allowable.
    Compare with "resignation" in this list. Because the nouns both connect to acceptance, they can be used as synonyms. But as the definitions and example sentences show, a feeling of resignation is often a deeper, sadder, individual acceptance of a hopeless situation. Acquiescence is often a show of acceptance, and the lack of outward protest can sometimes be due to resignation, but it can also be due to agreement, social pressure or an unfavorable situation.
  33. impulse
    a sudden desire
    From that day forward I lived with this double impulse: the urge to disappear and the desperate desire to be acceptable.
  34. prevail
    be larger in number, quantity, power, status or importance
    I also learned that outside school another set of rules prevailed.
  35. declare
    state emphatically and authoritatively
    I wanted to declare myself in some different way, and—old enough to be marked by the internment but still too young for the full impact of it to cow me—I wanted in.
  36. affirm
    declare solemnly and formally as true
    At the same time I wondered why my citizenship had to be so loudly affirmed, and I couldn’t imagine why affirming it would really make any difference.
  37. intangible
    incapable of being perceived by the senses, especially touch
    It also gave me the first sure sign of how certain intangible barriers might be crossed.
    The intangible barriers outside of Manzanar were the racial attitudes that prevented young Jeanne from entering houses or organizations. They contrast with the tangible barriers at Manzanar (barbed wire, guard towers, and searchlights) that prevented the internees from leaving the camp.
  38. strive
    exert much effort or energy
    While I was striving to become Miss America of 1947, he was wishing I’d be Miss Hiroshima of 1904.
  39. thwart
    hinder or prevent, as an effort, plan, or desire
    Easy enough as it was to adopt white American values, I still had a Japanese father to frighten my boyfriends and a Japanese face to thwart my social goals.
  40. ambition
    a strong drive for success
    Surely her example spurred me on to pursue what now seems ludicrous, but at the time was the height of my post-Manzanar ambitions.
    The definition sounds positive, but the word also has a negative connotation that can be traced to its Latin roots. The prefix "ambi" means "around" and an ambitious person had to go around to get votes to gain favor, honor or popularity; thus, ambition was often connected with vain pride. The example sentence suggests this, because young Jeanne's ambition (which she now sees is ridiculous) was to be "admired by everyone, men and women both, myself included."
Created on December 21, 2014 (updated September 5, 2018)

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