Wendy Yoshimura


Name Wendy Yoshimura
Born January 17 1943
Birth Location Manzanar
Generational Identifier

Sansei


Artist and fugitive who was arrested with heiress Patricia Hearst in a notorious 1970s case.

Wendy Yoshimura (1943– ) was born in Manzanar, where her parents, Frank and Fumiye, had been incarcerated along with all other Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Among those Nisei who had been embittered by their wartime treatment, her Kibei father renounced his U.S. citizenship and the family went to Japan after the war when Wendy, an only child, was three. The family spent the next ten years in the Hiroshima area, where Frank worked for the occupation as a translator. When the occupation ended, Frank lost his job, leading to the family's decision to return to the U.S. They settled near Fresno, California, and Frank eventually became a gardener. Speaking little English, Wendy was assigned to second grade as a twelve year old, but eventually gained fluency and graduated from high school. A talented artist, she entered the prestigious California Institute of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts) in 1965 and subsequently worked briefly as a commercial artist. She also became politicized and spent time in Cuba working in the sugar cane fields and also created feminist and anti-war posters.[1]

She became a fugitive from the law in 1972 when a garage she had rented under an assumed name at the behest of her then boyfriend, the founder of a violent political activist group, was found to contain bombs, bomb making material, and other weapons. While he was arrested, she escaped first to New Jersey, then to a Pennsylvania farm, where she met Patricia Hearst and other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who were hiding out there after a shootout with police and a subsequent fire had killed six SLA members. She later returned to California, where, SLA members, in the process of robbing a bank in April 1975, shot a bank customer to death. On September 18, 1975, she and Hearst, who had moved west separately, were arrested together.

In addition to the extensive mainstream press coverage she received—coverage largely focused on the kidnapped heiress Hearst—her case was also widely covered in the Japanese American media. Japanese Americans formed the Wendy Yoshimura Fair Trial Committee (WYFTC) and raised money for her defense. WYFTC members—among them redress activist Edison Uno—and her lawyers made her wartime incarceration a central part of her story, suggesting that her flight from justice may have stemmed more from a distrust of government authorities than any admission of guilt. As part of a study of prospective jurors, the WYFTC even ended doing a survey on attitudes toward Japanese American incarceration and redress in 1976.[2] She became the subject of a Hiroshi Kashiwagi play that debuted in November 1975 in San Francisco as well as a documentary film by Curtis Choy in 1976.[3] She eventually was found guilty by a jury in 1977 of three weapons and firearms charges and sentenced to a one-to-fifteen year prison sentence. She was released on parole in September 1980. Since her release, she has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where she paints and sells watercolors and teaches painting. In 2003, the acclaimed novel American Woman by Susan Choi was published, a fictional account of her and Hearst's time as fugitives.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Alexander, Shana. Anyone's Daughter. New York: The Viking Press, 1979.

Choi, Susan. American Woman. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. [Novel loosely based on Yoshimura and Patricia Hearst during their period as fugitives.]

Hearst, Patricia Campbell, with Alvin Moscow. Every Secret Thing. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1982.

Schmitz, Marlene. "Wendy Yoshimura." off our backs 7.2 (March 1977): 6, 22.

Wendy . . . uh . . . What’s Her Name. Documentary video directed by Curtis Choy. Oakland, Calif.: Chonk Moonhunter, 1976, 2005. 27 minutes. http://chonkmoonhunter.com/WWHN.html.

Yeh, Grace. "Wendy Yoshimura and the Politics of Hugging in the 1970s." Journal of Asian American Studies 13.2 (2010): 191–218.

Wendy Yoshimura Watercolor Paintings/Fine Art Prints website, http://www.wendyyoshimura.com/pages1/home.html.

Yoshimura, Wendy. "Wendy Masako Yoshimura: An Autobiography." Rafu Shimpo, Dec. 20, 1975, 6.

Footnotes

  1. Biographical details from "Wendy Masako Yoshimura: An Autobiography," Rafu Shimpo, Dec. 20, 1975, 6; Lois Armstrong, "Wendy Yoshimura Emerges from the Shadows of the Patty Heart Case," People, Oct. 6, 1975, retrieved on September 4, 2013 at http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20065713,00.html.; Marlene, Schmitz, "Wendy Yoshimura," off our backs 7.2 (March 1977): 6, 22; and Patrick Hoge, "SLA's Yoshimura Keeps Mum While Ex-Comrades Serve Time," San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 27, 2003, retrieved on September 4, 2013 at http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SLA-s-Yoshimura-keeps-mum-while-ex-comrades-serve-2524852.php.
  2. Paul Takagi, "Reparations Study," Pacific Citizen, June 4, 1976, p. 1. A survey of 600 registered voters in Alameda County found the 74% agreed that the incarceration was wrong and 64% favored monetary reparations.
  3. See Grace Yeh, "Wendy Yoshimura and the Politics of Hugging in the 1970s," Journal of Asian American Studies 13.2 (2010): 191–218; Pacific Citizen, Nov. 21, 1975, 4.