A Trip to Manzanar

By Natalie Niles
Natalie Niles wrote this story as a sixth-grade student at McKinley School in Pasadena, California. This was the first-place winner (Middle School Division) in the Los Angeles County Creative Writing Contest for the 2009 Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month.

Mae sat cross-legged on the glossy wooden floor of her empty bedroom. An old carpet bag filled with her most prized possessions lay at her side. Their cream-colored walls had once been covered with pictures of cheery flowers and pristine ballerinas, but now, they stared blankly upon her. Mae glumly put her head in her hands and sadly thought to herself, “It's moving day.”

About a week ago, Mae had been happy in a normal sort of way. She had a nice home, and went to a school where she had been in fourth grade, and had kind friends and a cheerful teacher. But then, posters had been put up, changing everything. “All Japs in this area to report to the San Francisco train station on Saturday, April 26 for deportation to Manzanar,” they stated. The harsh, ink-black words had seemed cruel on the page, and made no sense. That night, over dinner, father told the family something drastic.

“The poster means that we're being moved to a camp for Japanese-Americans.” Father's eyebrows creased with anger and worry. That week, the family was forced to sell nearly all of their possessions for an unjust sum of money and pack what little else they could.

“Honey?” Ma poked her head through Mae's bedroom door. “Ten minutes until we leave for the train station.”

“Ma?” Mae asked, in her most grown-up voice. “I'm nine years old, and I'm not a baby anymore. I'd appreciate it if you could tell me more about why we're going to this camp.”

“You're right,” Ma sighed and stepped into the empty room, nervously twisting a strand of jet-black hair around her finger. When the finger turned purple, she told Mae about how, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, people became suspicious of Japanese-Americans and how it was unfair, but there was nothing that they could do now. They were leaving for an internment camp called Manzanar. There would be no way of communicating with anyone else, therefore, any spies would be isolated, in the camp, and not able to work undercover for Japan.

“That's not fair! We're just as loyal to the United States as anyone!” Mae said.

“But it's not up to us. A paper's been signed, and now we must go,” Ma explained tearfully. “Now come along; we've got to leave.”

The train station was loud and crowded, and the stench of body odor and rotten fish lingered in the chilly noon air. A tall uniformed man told the family their identification number, and they were pushed by the crowd into a dull steel train.

Mae realized that it was going to be a long, uncomfortable ride to Manzanar. Ma squeezed Mae's clammy hand and whispered, “Everything is going to be all right.”

But Mae knew that it wasn't. Salt tears gushed down her face, and she couldn't stop sobbing. She was too sad, too tired, too overwhelmed. She had to let it all out. Her friends were gone; her home was gone; everything that she had owned was gone. It just wasn't fair!

A few people had noticed and were staring at her with raised eyebrows. “Mae, Mae! Calm down,” Ma whispered in a kind voice as she put her arm around her daughter and hugged her close.

“Don't. Want. To. Go,” Mae gasp-sobbed. Ma began to stroke Mae's black hair and hum a nameless lullaby until Mae's crying ceased, and the only remains of her tears were the sticky traces left upon her cheeks.

Copyright © 2009 City of Los Angeles, California