I realize there’s too much to focus on right now, between keeping kids safe from guns, the Russian indictments, and more, but February 19 is coming up. Please join Dale Minami and others in making this Day of Remembrance a Day of Resistance as well by signing this open letter. This is part of a national strategy for Japanese Americans who remember the camps to formally stand with Muslim Americans, led by the one-time coram nobis attorneys who are getting the band back together to file an amicus brief in the names of Korematsu, HIrabayashi, and Yasui as the Supreme Court rules on the Muslim travel ban.
Congratulations to Art Hansen for fulfilling the promise he made to James Omura before Omura’s death in 1994 — to get Jimmie’s memoirs published someday.
It’s taken a quarter-century, but thanks to Art and Stanford University Press you can now see how the journalist who called out JACL in 1942 for “selling Japanese America down the river” was shaped by his beginnings on Bainbridge Island and coming of age in the Pacific Northwest, his early work on Nisei vernaculars in California, and his showdowns with JACL and the US government in San Francisco and Denver.
Seventy-five years ago, University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi said enough was enough and simply refused to obey an 8pm curfew aimed only at persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. He got himself arrested and was held in a jail cell on the top floor of the King County Courthouse for nine months. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Continue reading Hirabayashi jail cell memorialized at King County Courthouse→
Curfew violator Gordon Hirabayashi was a draft resister too. He resisted the 8 pm military curfew placed only on Japanese Americans, when he saw it didn’t apply to his white classmates at the University of Washington. He resisted the mass incarceration all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And he resisted the draft when an induction letter was sent to him after his high court conviction was upheld
In her solo play on the lone resistance of Gordon Hirabayashi, playwright Jeanne Sakata shows that the truth of the Japanese American experience can work as powerful drama onstage, without violating the history or resorting to melodrama.
HOLD THESE TRUTHS, which is ending its longest run ever of four weeks at the ACT Theater in Seattle, uses nothing but the actual word and deed of the UW student and Quaker pacifist, based on Sakata’s hours of interviews with him. Where she compresses events or fictionalizes Gordon’s letters from jail, the words are always drawn from his actual writings, the minimum of dramatic license is taken, and the intent is always to illuminate the real nature of Gordon’s character.
Her approach succeeds brilliantly. Sakata brings Gordon’s inner life to the surface while retaining respect for the facts. She makes it look simple, but her craft is quite accomplished.
Having known Gordon through his visits to Seattle later in life, it’s odd to see him portrayed on stage by someone who bears such a striking resemblance. Ryun Yu captures something about the tilt of the head when Gordon would pursue a thought. He finds an expansive energy in the younger Gordon, while staying true to his pure convictions and measured speech. Yu holds the stage for 90 minutes, and earns a standing ovation every night.
At a pivotal moment in the play, Yu as Hirabayashi trembles at the gravity of his decision to violate the military curfew, and take on the government. He realizes his will be a test case, and the line he writes in a letter, “Therefore, I must refuse this order for evacuation,” precedes by two years the nearly identical stance of the draft resisters at Heart Mountain: “Therefore, we hereby refuse to go to the induction, or to the physical examination, in order to contest the issue.” The difference was Gordon had no organized resistance around him, no model for his selfless stand. He did it alone, and the Heart Mountain resisters had his example as a guide.
Seeing the play performed in Seattle is especially meaningful, at a theater just a few blocks from the federal courthouse where Gordon was first arraigned in 1942, and a few blocks more from the King County Jail where he served nine months. Hearing a stage voice announce the wartime exclusion order in terms of real Seattle territory – Roosevelt and N. 85th – made the history all too tangible for an audience that can visualize those streets today.
That federal courthouse was also the scene where Gordon in 1985 was given a chance to put the government on trial for withholding evidence that could have changed the outcome of his Supreme Court test case.
To promote the return to Seattle of HOLD THESE TRUTHS, I was pleased to moderate a July 20 panel at Town Hall Seattle featuring Jeanne and three of the Sansei attorneys who gave their time to back Gordon and Fred Korematsu in their attempt to overturn their high court convictions in 1985.
Rod Kawakami, Lorrie Bannai, and Daniel Ichinaga took us inside their legal strategy to refute the claim of military necessity used to justify the wartime incarceration. On the eve of the hearing, Kawakami described how the government offered Gordon a Presidential pardon in exchange for dropping the case; it was revealing of Gordon’s character that he rejected the offer, saying “We should be the ones pardoning the government.”
While preparing for the panel, I dug up an article I wrote for the Pacific Citizen in November 1985 that examined in detail the final written arguments in the “Clash of Legal Arguments in ‘Civil Liberties Case of the Century.’” It was remarkable that we could share our memories of being in the same place at the same time — Rod and Daniel representing Gordon, me covering the hearing as a reporter — and each of us feeling the weight of history being re-enacted in that courtroom.
See more pictures from the panel in this Facebook photo album. HOLD THESE TRUTHS runs through Sunday, August 16.
In her extended interview in our DVD special features, Gloria Kubota tells the story of how she and her husband Guntaro admired the courage of the young Gordon Hirabayashi, who contested the race-based military curfew in Seattle, and how if they ever had a son they would name him Gordon.The Kubota’s did have a son, in camp at Heart Mountain, and they did name him Gordon.
This month in Seattle, Gordon Hirabayashi is being remembered with the first local production of Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata’s play about Gordon and his principled resistance. After the performance tonight at the ACT Theater, August 1, we’ll talk about Gordon, his court case, and his draft resistance, in a post-play panel featuring Jeanne, University of Washington professor Stephen Sumida, and myself. See Lia Chang’s Backstage Pass blog post, and the story by Lori Matsukawa on KING-TV.
Then on Saturday, August 16 at 4:00 pm, ACT Theater and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Experience will co-host a screening of CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION in connection with the play, and with the Wing’s current exhibition, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.” For this program, “Acts of Resistance on Film,” I’ll also be present afterward for aQ and A. Admission is free.
Mako, Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, and extras recruited from the Bay Area Asian community prepare to recreate the Manzanar Riot for the 1976 NBC/Universal film, FAREWELL TO MANZANAR. Photo by Nancy Wong.
Nancy shot these on location on the grounds of the former Santa Rita state prison in the summer of 1975 while we were assembled to recreate the Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942. Mako played “Sam Fukimoto,” the character based on Harry Ueno, the fiery leader of the Kitchen Workers Union whose arrest for the beating of Los Angeles JACL leader Fred Tayama, played in the film by myself as “Frank Nishi,” sparked the Manzanar Riot.
Three of the editors of the groundbreaking literary anthology AIIIEEEEE! with the brother of the fourth, posing on location for FAREWELL TO MANZANAR: (from left) Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, and Michael Paul Chan, who went on to perform in the cast of The Closer. Photo by Nancy Wong.
In my youthful enthusiasm I did not know that first-time film actors should not try rewriting their own lines, but that’s what I did the night before we shot the big mess hall confrontation with Mako/Sam Fukimoto/Harry Ueno — much to the dismay of scene partner Seth Sakai, whom I’d failed to notify and who cursed me after our scene and hurled his gloves in my direction, to the applause of the hundreds of extras in the scene. I have to thank director John Korty for allowing me to make the change. Among the extras were writers Toshio Mori and Shawn Wong.
But I felt compelled to make the scene more specific reading this seminal essay by Art Hansen and David Hacker that reconstructs the actual events in “The Manzanar Riot: An Ethnic Perspective” [4MB], which had recently appeared in the fall 1974 issue of Amerasia Journal.
The piece reveals that one of the fundamental causes of the Manzanar Riot was not, as simplified in the film by Korty, simply a grumbling over sugar stolen from the mess hall. It was more, as mentioned in Conscience and told more fully in Jeanne Houston’s book, a revolt against the power conferred by the government and the camp administration to the Japanese American Citizens League. As documented in Art and David’s essay, Fred Tayama and internee security chief Kiyoshi Higashi had returned the day before from an emergency meeting of the JACL in Salt Lake City attended by two delegates from each of the ten camps. In that meeting National JACL, enacting its own policies without any ratification or popular vote of the people, resolved to urge the U.S. government to reinstate Selective Service for the Nisei as a means of asserting their U.S. citizenship and proving their loyalty. As Hansen and Hacker wrote: “For the internees — Issei, Kibei, and Nisei — the time had come when something had to be done to prevent the corrosive effects of the JACLers … The events of December 6 were but a logical culmination of developments originating with the administration’s decision to bypass the community’s natural Issei leadership to deal with its own artificially erected JACL hierarchy and to embark on a program of Americanization at the expense of Japanese ethnicity.”
Watch that scene in the film in this light. The revolt against the JACL prefigured the resistance at Heart Mountain and other camps that occurred a year later, when the JACL plea for a Nisei draft was finally granted.
In a somewhat related aside, Frank Chin now claims that Bay Area radical activist and early Black Panther Richard Aoki — recently named as an FBI informant, a charge that’s also been disputed — was there with us on location. I never knew Aoki, but in an email Frank writes, “Remember the first day at Santa Rita? There was a fattish fella in a mustache and tee shirt passing out lemonade. That was Richard Aoki.” He later speculates, “Why was Richard Aoki at the Santa Rita FAREWELL TO MANZANAR shoot? … Aoki might have been getting acquainted with Yellow actors in the parts of camp activists and victims.” Or, maybe he was just there to ladle out refreshments. We may never know.
Sen. Daniel Inouye was a highly-decorated combat veteran, the first Japanese American in Congress, and an icon in the Japanese American community — so people took notice when a decade ago he began to give interviews in which he compared the courage of the veterans to the courage of the Heart Mountain draft resisters for being willing to go to prison to stand up for their rights. Maybe he sensed, after the broadcast of our film and other works, that the time had come for the reconciliation long talked about between the veterans, the resisters and other camp dissenters.
He was big enough to recognize that, as he put it, “it took a lot of guts” for the resisters to stand up to their own government — and by saying so, he showed a lot of gut himself.
I’m sorry to learn tonight that Mr. Inouye passed away today at the age of 88. In 2002, he was gracious enough to grant us an interview that is exclusive to our new DVD. Shot at Seattle Central Community College by our principal videographer, Phil Sturholm, producer Carol Hasegawa squeezed in two questions on our behalf at the end of her interview with him on the day’s Civil Liberties Celebration. In the good Senator’s memory tonight, here is the full featurette as it appears on our DVD: