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Where EAST meets the Northwest

PRINCIPLED PROTEST. Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata’s solo play about civil-rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi, a Seattle native who was posthumously awarded the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom, is featured through November 13 at the Gerding Theater at the Armory in northwest Portland. Actor Ryun Yu (pictured), who originated the role of Hirabayashi at East West Players in Los Angeles, plays the role in the Portland performances. (Photo/Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv)

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #20 (October 17, 2016), page 13.

One-man show highlights heroic story of civil disobedience

By Maileen Hamto
The Asian Reporter

During one of the darkest periods in the history of civil rights in the United States, more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent living on the west coast were ordered to leave their homes, farms, and livelihoods. In declaring war against Japan during World War II, the U.S. government also essentially declared war against U.S. citizens and residents by instituting a strict curfew and eventually, ordering the forced removal and relocation of people of Japanese descent to internment camps in remote areas of the western United States.

Hundreds of thousands followed Executive Order 9066 out of loyalty to the U.S. government and fear of further retaliation, but only a handful defied the federal order of forced removal, including Fred Korematsu of Oakland, California; Minoru Yasui of Hood River, Oregon; and Gordon Hirabayashi of Seattle, Washington.

The Supreme Court heard all three cases and upheld the internment orders, despite the fact that more than 60 percent of the internees were U.S. citizens. Many of those imprisoned died in the camps due to inadequate medical care, and several were killed by military guards.
Hirabayashi was only a college student when he made the principled decision to defy the curfew and evacuation orders. His story of civil disobedience and personal conviction is currently highlighted at the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland through Ryun Yu’s earnest and wholehearted performance of Jeanne Sakata’s debut play Hold These Truths, formerly known as Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi.
Hirabayashi, born and raised in Seattle, was a senior at the University of Washington when he violated the strict curfew imposed on people of Japanese background. He was jailed when he refused to submit to the exclusion order. He spent three-and-a-half years in county jails and federal prison, all the while drawing attention to the questionable military necessity of the federal order. His case brought together the resources of the American Friends Service Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The struggle also resonated with hundreds of people who opposed the war and supported his cause from afar. Hirabayashi appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately affirmed the internment orders as a necessary restraint on freedom during a time of war.
For Yu, diving deeply into the role proved the extraordinariness of Hirabayashi’s heroic act of defiance against racism, xenophobia, and injustice. "He was 20-something years old, he was going against the wishes of his mother and his entire community. He was going up against the entire United States government," Yu said. "It’s a pretty mind-boggling display of courage."

Yu, who plays 35 different characters in the groundbreaking production, said he has always considered Hirabayashi among his heroes. Gordon makes an incredibly heroic choice in the middle of excruciating circumstances," he said. "I think we all like to think that we would be the person who would stand up for what’s right when it comes down to it."

"But not only what he did, the way in which he did it encompasses so many things I admire. He acted so many times out of kindness and a sense of justice. He consciously tried to stay away from the anger and hatred," said Yu, who originated the role of Hirabayashi at East West Players in Los Angeles.

Hold These Truths is featured in the Ellyn Bye Studio at the Gerding Theater at the Armory, located at 128 N.W. 11th Avenue in Portland, through November 13. Tickets are available by calling (503) 445-3700 or visiting <www.pcs.org>. The production is directed by Jessica Kubzansky, who led the world premiere at East West Players.

"Gordon Hirabayashi lived his beliefs in the face of enormous opposition and adversity, and did so with humility and grace," said Kubzansky. "Today, more than ever, we need people like Gordon Hirabayashi, who, in the way they conduct themselves in times of extraordinary challenge, model courage and integrity for us."
 

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