As early as ten years ago, I knew basically nothing of the forced internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans who had never committed any crimes during World War II. I don’t recall ever learning anything on the subject during high school or my time at university. This part of our history, the forced incarceration of innocent Americans due to their heritage, does not fit our narrative of how we see ourselves as a society. However, it happened. And in this age of political talks regarding “registries”, “walls”, and people who “aren’t like us”, I believe the story of these tens of thousands American citizens who had their rights violated needs to be talked about more than ever.
My interest in learning more about Japanese-American internment began years ago when one of my co-workers revealed to me that she had been sent to the camp based in Arkansas as a girl. As young as she was during that time, she still had vivid memories of what it felt like to grow up behind barbed wire and treated at such a young age as a prisoner. I was moved by her story and honored that she shared it with me. Most of all, I was shocked that I knew nothing about this part of US history.
Not long after, I began working as a teacher in California and part of the state’s high school curriculum included Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir “Farewell to Manzanar.” Manzanar, located about three hours north of Los Angeles, was one of ten internment camps set up by President Roosevelt’s administration after he approved Executive Order 9066 which cleared the way for Japanese-Americans to be sent to internment camps. Houston’s memoir is a moving account of her family’s experience of having to leave their entire lives behind for the stark, bleak desert in which Manzanar was hastily built by the government.
After reading “Farewell to Manzanar,” I was inspired to visit the remains of the camp itself which is now a national historic site. While most of the site was torn down decades ago after the war ended, what was the high school auditorium has been turned into a museum. Barracks, a guard tower, and a mess hall were also recreated to give visitors a better sense of what life had been like behind the confines of the fences. To say the visit was moving was an understatement. The National Park Service did an excellent job taking visitors back to that time.
I had written a number of gay-themed novels, and I knew I wanted to write a historical novel focusing on some of the struggles of the LGBT community prior to the Stonewall Riots. The more I learned about Japanese-American internment the more I knew I wanted to also set my story during this time period to further explore the ways we as humans can behave irrationally when we let our fears overtake out hearts.
February 17, 2016 was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 when President Roosevelt ordered the forced registry and relocation of thousands of Japanese- Americans.
For more on the Manzanar Historic internment camp site, please visit nps.gov/manz
Michael Holloway Perronne
About the Author
Michael Holloway Perronne is the author of eight books including: “A Time Before Me,” “Falling Into Me”, “A Time Before Us, Men Can Do Romance” “Gardens of Hope,” and”Embrace the Rain.” His debut novel, “A Time Before Me” won the BronzeAward, Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award in the Gay/Lesbian
Michael was born and raised in Mississippi. He received a BA in Film from
the University of Southern Mississippi and a MFA in Drama and Communications from the University of New Orleans.
He currently resides in Southern California and is working on his next novel, “The Other Side of Happy.”
His recent release is Gardens of Hope.
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