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Where EAST meets the Northwest


ICONIC IMAGE. Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol, a documentary tracing the story behind a 1942 photo (pictured) of Fumiko Hayashida taken during the relocation of Japanese Americans, is airing Thursday, August 19 on Oregon Public Broadcasting. (Photo courtesy of Stourwater Pictures)

RETURN TO MINIDOKA. Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol traces the story behind a 1942 photo of Fumiko Hayashida taken during the relocation of Japanese Americans. The documentary follows Hayashida (right), who, at the age of 97, took a bus pilgrimage to Minidoka with her daughter Natalie (center), the child also pictured in the 1942 photo. The pilgrimage marked the first time either had returned to Minidoka in more than 60 years. (Photo courtesy of Stourwater Pictures)

From The Asian Reporter, V20, #22 (August 16, 2010), pages 15 & 16.

Documentary explores story behind an iconic internment photograph

Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol

Directed and produced by Lucy Ostrander

Stourwater Pictures

Airing Thursday, August 19 at 10:00pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting

By Julie Stegeman

The Asian Reporter

An iconic photograph of American history: A Japanese-American woman, her face devoid of expression, holds her young sleeping daughter in her arms, both dressed in fine clothing with tags hanging off them as though hanging from luggage.

This photo and the woman pictured in it have come to represent the court-sanctioned internment of American citizens of Japanese descent in the racially tense time period following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Filmmaker Lucy Ostrander explores this point in American history from the perspective of Fumiko Hayashida, the woman in the picture, in Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol, a short documentary film.

Hayashida was born on Bainbridge Island in 1911 to Japanese immigrant parents. Her close-knit family farmed strawberries on the island, working hard and establishing roots in the community. She married in 1938 and her husband, along with his two brothers, owned the largest strawberry farm on the island. As the narrator of the film unfolds the details of Hayashida’s story, pictures of Hayashida and her family are shown, many of them giving the appearance of relaxed and happy times.

Similar to thousands of other Japanese Americans, Hayashida’s life changed radically in the spring of 1942. Three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, people of Japanese descent were ordered to leave Bainbridge Island by the U.S. government.

Given only one week to settle all their affairs, the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American community was assembled at the Eagledale Ferry dock under armed military escort on Monday, March 30, 1942. The iconic photo of Hayashida and her daughter was taken at this time, by a photographer from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"I had two children — two and a half and 13 months old — … and another one on the way. And I was concerned with children more than ourselves," recalls Hayashida in the film. "They were all wearing diapers and we could only carry what we could carry. Suitcase was full of diapers and children’s clothes and we just wore the best clothes we had."

Adding to her worries was the bumper crop of strawberries expected in a few months, the lack of information on where they were going and how long they would be gone, as well as never before having left the state of Washington or travelled on a train. In the photograph, none of these fears are reflected in her expression; she appears stoic and resigned.

The film details her experience in the internment camps: First at Manzanar in California’s high desert, here she gives birth to her third child, and later at Minidoka in Idaho’s brutal climate. Hayashida and her family were released to return to Bainbridge Island in August of 1945. Too late in the year to plant berries, her husband was forced to seek employment elsewhere and the family moved off the island.

Hayashida did not talk publicly about her experiences in the camps until her photo was used as part of the exhibit "Strength and Diversity: Japanese American Women, 1885 to 1990," which toured the country. She began to recount her internment experience and was inspired to keep the history of the camps alive.

Footage in the film shows a 95-year-old Hayashida in 2006 giving testimony before a congressional committee to designate "Nidoto Nai Yoni" (Let It Not Happen Again) — a memorial of the internment on Bainbridge Island — as a unit of the Minidoka National Internment Site. In addition, the film follows her (at the age of 97) and her daughter, Natalie, on a bus pilgrimage to Minidoka in 2008 — the first time either had returned in more than 60 years.

The documentary offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Japanese-American internment through the experiences of a young mother, making the historical event very real and documenting its human cost. Sadly, the film is a short 15 minutes long, leaving viewers wanting to learn more about Hayashida and her family.

Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol airs on Oregon Public Broadcasting as part of Oregon Lens, a showcase of Pacific Northwest independent filmmakers, on Thursday, August 19 at 10:00pm. To verify showtime, call (503) 293-1982 or visit <>. To learn more visit <>.

Editor’s note: Fumiko Hayashida, currently age 99, lives in her home in Seattle, Washington. She turns 100 in January.