The Films “Picture Brides” & “Syngman Rhee’s Thirty Years in Hawaii”

E'Mia Hawthorn, Contributing Writer

The film “Picture Brides” is definitely worth the watch as it portrays the incredible history of not only Korean Culture but also the island of Hawaii. The first wave of immigration for Hawaii was when the Koreans immigrated on a ship in 1903. They soon began working on the sugar and pineapple plantations earning little a day for 10 hours of labor. However, as more immigrants flooded in and began working, the hardworking Korean men became bored and soon requested for wives. 

This was the beginning of picture brides. The men would send a picture to a woman and the women that accepted the marriage proposal, would board a ship on their way to Hawaii with just a picture of their future husbands. This short film showed how these young women with dreams of an education were deceived, disappointed, discouraged and yet extremely devoted. 

As the women soon came to realize they wouldn’t be getting the education they hoped for, they began devoting their lives to their children and building their families. Women began working only earning about less than half the men a day, but would save up their money which was soon used to build a church and further on a school to give their children the education that they didn’t get to have. 

What my classmates and I all took from this documentary is that despite the hardships and continuous obstacles that you may face, if you find a single thread of hope, grab onto it and live on. 

The second film we watched was “Syngman Rhee’s 30 years In Hawaii,” which told the story about a noble man who became The Republic of Korea’s first president. When Japan gained rule over Korea, the country became dispirited and was said to believe that they lost their country because they were uneducated. 

Syngman did his very best to contribute to the cause of Korea’s independence by uplifting those around him and encouraging them to fight for their country and support each other. He began with just a speech, then built a church, then finally built the first Korean Christian Institution School in Hawaii. You may now know this school as Aliiolani Elementary School. However, there were some complications, as there was only a school for boys so he moved to a different location to build for girls. This then led to the first co-ed Korean Christian institution where Kalihi Elementary now stands. 

Also because of the lack of knowledge about what’s going on in the world, Syngman Rhee put his newspaper scrap-booking skills to work and wrote pages and pages of weekly news from all around the world and sent it to Korea. Fighting alongside the leaders of the Korean National Association of Hawaii, he helped bring so many people together that on April 12, 1919 the whole Korean community that lived on every island in Hawaii celebrated the March First independence movement. In 1948 he then became South Korea’s first president where he served from 1948-1960 until he returned to Hawaii where he passed five years later, never getting to return home.

This man has inspired me to confront my obstacles and work hard for what I believe in. But also not to forget the people who came with me on my journey and to continue to help build my community, because as the saying goes “we are stronger together”.  A Princeton and Harvard graduate, a leader, an educator, a fighter, a supporter, and an inspiration to many, Syngman Rhee’s story was told through this film and it won’t be forgotten. 

Edited on 12/14/2022