It’s not everyday that you meet an icon but, recently at the Museum we did. The photograph of Fumiko Hayashida and her daughter Natalie is one that has become an iconic image so often associated with the telling of the history of the Japanese American incarceration. At 100 years old, Mrs. Hayashida is the oldest surviving person from Bainbridge Island, Washington who was incarcerated at Manzanar Concentration Camp.
Last Wednesday, Mrs. Hayashida and Natalie were part of a group that visited the Museum through the Only What We Can Carry Project, which I was very excited to learn more about. Through this project, Bainbridge Island educators are partnered with current and former residents of Bainbridge Island who experienced the World War II removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans. Together, they retrace the 1942 journey of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island to Manzanar. JANM was lucky enough to host this wonderful group for a couple of hours when they stopped by on their way to Manzanar.
As the group was lead through our Common Ground exhibition by the dynamic docent duo of Babe and Mary Karasawa, one of my most memorable moments was when they approached the large photograph of the Bainbridge Island community on the ferry dock as they were leaving the island in 1942. The Hayashidas, Frank Kitamoto, and Lily Kodama who were all in the group started to point themselves out in the photograph. “That’s me, right there.” This is a photograph I’ve seen hundereds of times since it is so prominently displayed in our gallery, but to see it with this group took it beyond being a historical image among many on our wall. It became a very personal photograph of an exact memory of very real people.
As someone who has the great privilege of working with educators and has witnessed what an essential part they can play in the teaching of the Japanese American experience, I was especially interested in meeting this group. We often think about how we won’t always have the first-person experience of camp but, watching our new friends leave the Museum to began their long car ride to Manzanar, I was reminded that in a way, first-person experiences of camp continue to be created today. The school teachers in this group will take what they’ve experienced on this journey back to their school and back to their students and they will share their own personal experiences of camp. What a wonderful way to keep the legacy alive through new personal histories.
In 1942, the first Civilian Exclusion Order issued was for Bainbridge Island and as a result, it was the first community of Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed from homes with just a few days to prepare. For more on Bainbridge Island, be sure to come by the Museum on Saturday, April 30 at 2:00 pm to learn more about this unique community. There’ll be a Bainbridge Film Festival featuring films by Lucy Ostrander, including Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol, a film about one of JANM’s most memorable visitors.