When I first heard of Gordon Hirabayashi in the late 1990’s, I was enthralled — and shocked. Shocked that I had never heard of his story before. Born and raised in a thriving Japanese American community in the Bay Area of California, I had studied Japanese American history as a college student and later became actively involved in the Asian American community as a theater artist.
And yet Gordon Hirabayashi’s fascinating story was entirely unknown to me. Gordon was only a 24-year old college student during WWII, when he had defied and legally challenged US government orders to mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast without trial or hearing, including thousands of American citizens —Americans like my own father and aunts and uncles and cousins, who, as children and teenagers, had been forcibly removed from their homes and schools, and penned up behind barbed wire during WWII.
My family never spoke about those years, as it was such a traumatic experience. But as I grew up and became fully aware of what had happened to them, I absorbed that pain as well.
So when I discovered Gordon’s story in the late 1990’s – so full of heartbreak, but also his irrepressible humor and zest for life — it was a life- changing experience. I knew I had to try to bring his story to the American stage, not just as an act of healing for myself, my family, and my community, but also to inspire and give hope to any American citizen who has been denied equal treatment under the law promised by our Constitution because of factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and who must battle constantly to make those promises a living reality.
Gordon’s story is a vitally important American one that all of us can draw hope from, and his tenacious quest for freedom echoes those of all who hunger and fight for justice — who “hold the truths” of the Constitution, and refuse to let go.
Jeanne Sakata, Playwright of Hold These Truths