“I remember the day I found out I was Japanese.”
Sometimes American history fails to educate us. Who hasn’t heard of George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Susan B. Anthony? Somewhere, a huge void was left wide opened that should have included more people who have dedicated their time and talent for a better world. For example, German publisher Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439. Teenager Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white person on March 2, 1955, 9 months before Rosa Parks made it a historical event on December 1, 1955. Somehow, these and other women who courageously fought the system were blatantly ignored. This makes Gordon Hirabayashi to be in pleasant company.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese and Japanese Americans became a racial target. Curfews were imposed and other constraints before being imprisoned to internment camps. Hirabayashi, nicknamed Gordie by close friends, was charged with a misdemeanor for not obeying the 8 p.m. curfew and purposely ignoring the evacuation order. “We were here,” he reminded the audience, “the Constitution protects us.” At his trial, the jury convicted him on two counts; curfew violation and disobeying the order to be sent to an internment camp. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 30 days for each breach. Times being hard and tight, bureaucrats refused to send Hirabayashi to prison or pay his way to get there. Besides, they didn’t have any paperwork of him to send him to Tucson, Arizona. He was told to go see a movie, have dinner and return to the office. So, he went. Interestingly enough, Gordy’s paperwork appeared. He requested to be sentenced to an outdoor camp instead of a prison. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943).
Fast-forward to 1987. Gordy gets the phone call of his life. Political science teacher Peter Irons from University of California, San Diego told Gordy that documents stemming from 1942 clearly stated that the government deliberately withheld information to the US that no reason was given to send the Japanese to internment camps. Hirabyashi was ecstatic. Finally, after 40 years, his name is cleared. He got a new trial and the previous conviction was overturned in 1987.
Playwright Jeanne Sakata does a phenomenal job in bringing to life a melancholic story with compassion, wit and humor. Director Jessica Kubzansky does a brilliant job in executing a sensitive subject with rich style and substance. Of course, actor Ryun Yu (Take Me Out) is mesmerizing to watch. His ability to convey Gordy’s story so effortlessly is fantastic. He drops in personal facts mentioning the woman, Esther Schmo, who would later become his wife and mother of their twin daughters. Or, how his friend Howie was his best friend at the University of Washington in Seattle. These insights are small but reveal the personal side of this private man. Yu is convincing, superb and a marvel to listen and watch.
Hold These Truths plays until Sunday, June 25 at the Pasadena Playhouse located at 39 S. El Molina in Pasadena, playing Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. For ticket information, call (626) 356-7529 or log on to www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.