COLUMBIA, Mo. — Walk into the Manzanar National Historic Site today in California’s Owens Valley, and a large photo of a little girl sitting on a suitcase is one of the first things seen. People stop transfixed by this iconic image and ask the staff, “Who is that little girl? What ever happened to her?”
That little girl grew up to be Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa Llewellyn. The photograph was taken by Clem Albers in March 1942 at Union Station in Los Angeles. Yuki and her mother, Mikiko Hayakawa, were being transferred from the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, where horse stalls served as a temporary detention camp for Japanese Americans, to Manzanar War Relocation Center.
In her life, Yuki Llewellyn would not let the 3½ years she spent in the camp hold her back; she paved her own way and became an inspiration to many.
Her journey ended on March 8 in Columbia, Mo. It began on April 22, 1939, in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she had a modest but happy childhood with her mom in spite of her parents’ breakup due to profound cultural differences from an arranged marriage.
Everything changed for the two after “the day that will live in infamy” — Dec. 7, 1941 — and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which required all American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry to relocate to internment camps.
Yuki and her mom, both American citizens, were some of the first people brought to Manzanar, where Yuki grew up without having even a toy. In October 1945, they were two of the last to leave when they were sponsored by a host family in Cleveland.
Miki earned a living as a seamstress, and Yuki went to school, where kids often called her derogatory names. In defiance of this, she earned an academic scholarship to Lake Forest College outside of Chicago. There she became a member of Alpha Phi sorority, met lifelong friends and graduated in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts.
Yuki continued her pursuit of education and of “the art behind the fourth wall” at Tulane University in New Orleans. It was there that she met her future husband, Don Llewellyn. They were brought together through their love of coffee darker than night, their mutual love of suspended disbelief, and a ferocious feline named Fang.
Their theses were on “Rashomon,” a production that Yuki directed. Don designed sets and lighting and Miki created the costumes. Yuki received her master of fine arts degree from Tulane in 1966.
She found her true home when the couple headed north to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Don taught in the Department of Theatre, and Yuki worked for the university, first as a secretary in public relations and then working up to be assistant dean of students and director of registered student organizations for 22 of those 37 years.
Their son, David Tatsuo, was born in Champaign, and when she and Don divorced, the challenges were even harder at home. Working two jobs to make ends meet, feeding an “eat everything in the house” hockey player, she plunged Dave into extracurricular activities. She became a devout hockey mom, filming many of the games, and redefined the meaning of “team parent” with all of her work.
She did so much for others as well, including campaign manager for local politicians, adviser to Alpha Lambda Delta honor society for freshmen, and adviser to Atius-Sachem leadership honorary for sophomores and juniors. As head of the UI Mothers Association, she compiled the “Mothers Association Cookbook” to raise money for band uniforms.
She made sure that important Asian Americans came to campus to inspire younger generations and was thrilled when the Asian American Cultural Center opened in 2005. She gave many interviews about growing up under Executive Order 9066.
“Yuki was a cutthroat bridge player who also enjoyed a round of the Japanese card game hanafuda, which she learned from her mom,” her family said. “She had a very funny, dry sense of humor, with a killer sense of timing. A voracious reader, she would devour books the way folks these days scroll through Facebook.
“When grandkids were born, she found herself smitten. She was so proud of little Midori (Madison), Kirin (Stewart) and Ozeki (Duncan). She loved all animals, but Tuggles, a shar-pei who was her fierce guardian, will be so excited to see her again. She loved to spoil her kids and grandkids, and she would do it in a way that made them feel as if they were doing her a favor to allow it!
“Yuki will be joining her mother, Mikiko, and a veritable flock of pets, including Fang, Tuggles, Roxy, Champ, Mo and Shama. Missing her dearly and waving from the station are her son, David; daughter-in-law, Mandy; and grandchildren, Madison, Stewart and Duncan.
“The photo taken long ago at Union Station has become iconic — it has been on book covers, on billboards to encourage civic engagement, in exhibitions about the internment camps and in other exhibits about triumph over adversity — gambatte — due to the forced relocation. Much happened to that little girl over the years, and nothing could hold her back.”
Memorial donations to the Humane Society or University of Illinois Asian American Cultural Center are requested. Online condolences can be shared with her family at morganmemorialhome.com.
In 2019, “Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit” was shown at the Japanese American National Museum. The exhibition featured contemporary photos taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. displayed next to images shot 75 years ago by War Relocation Authority (WRA) photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Clem Albers during World War II.
Each pairing in the exhibition featured the same individuals or their direct descendants as the subject matter. Kitagaki spent years tracking down the formerly unknown subjects in WRA-era photos. After countless hours at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and through tips from family, friends, and the public, he found more than 60 individuals or their descendants to photograph. One such pair of photos in the exhibition features Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa Llewellyn.
She was two years old in 1942 when she was photographed waiting at Union Station, not far from her home in Little Tokyo, for a train that would take her and her mother to Manzanar. In the photo, she’s holding a partially eaten apple in one hand and a tiny purse in the other. Peeking out from her corduroy jacket is is the paper family identification tags worn by those forcibly removed, serving as a reminder of their second-class status during this time.
Albers captured the far-off look in her eyes – a look of confusion and uncertainty. This now-famous photo has become representative of innocence lost during that time in history.
In 2005, Kitagaki traveled with Llewellyn on her first visit to Manzanar since her incarceration. He took her photo in a field near the camp’s Block 2, where she had once lived.
In addition to teaching about the camp experience at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Lewellyn was active in the redress movement. In the fall of 1986, she wrote to her congressman, Rep. Terry Bruce, and spoke with his staff about the movement. Through her persistence, the “little girl with the apple” helped win Bruce’s support.
She continued to educate others about what happened to Japanese Americans in the hope that it doesn’t happen again to someone else.