Lessons on equality, liberty shared in one-man play, "Hold These Truths"

by University Communications,

“Hold These Truths” tells a story rarely found in history books.

In this one-man play, Gordon Hirabayashi shares how he refused to obey a federal directive to relocate to a U.S. internment camp in the 1940s. He was one of only three Japanese Americans to do so.

The play was performed Oct. 25 by actor Joel de la Fuente at Willamette University. In it, Fuente portrays Hirabayashi during multiple stages of his life.

“He puts a human face on a period of history that is usually glossed over,” lighting designer Cat Tate Starmer says. “It’s great to hear one person’s account because then the humanity is there.”

Gordon Hirabayashi's story

Born in 1918 into a Quaker family in Seattle, Hirabayashi turned himself into the FBI in 1942 for violating a curfew set for Japanese Americans.

Released 90 days later, he refused to fill out the Leave Clearance Application Form — commonly known as the “loyalty questionnaire.” As a result, he was arrested again — this time spending a year in federal prison.

About 40 years later, Peter Irons, a political science professor from the University of California, San Diego, uncovered documents that proved the camps were not needed for military security.

Hirabayashi’s case was re-opened, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned his conviction in 1987. A public apology wasn’t given, though, until the Obama administration.

Set designer Mikiko Suzuki McAdams —who identifies as Japanese American — says she is angered by what happened.

“We are born into it and there is no way to change that,” McAdams says about one’s ancestry. “It is really scary to think that this could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It is happening.”

History lessons

“Hold These Truths”, which depicts Hirabayashi’s conflicting feelings about being an American, has been performed everywhere from Hawaii to New York during the past few years.

“This is more than a job for us,” Starmer says. “You can’t help but want to tell his story.”

After the war, Hirabayashi earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in sociology from the University of Washington. He worked as a university professor in Lebanon, Egypt and later, Canada, where he settled in 1959.

In 2012, at the age of 93, Hirabayashi died from Alzheimer’s disease and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Jeanne Sakata, who wrote the show, says the honor signaled that the time had come to share Hirabayashi’s story.

“I hope that ‘Hold These Truths’ will spread awareness of Gordon Hirabayashi,” Sakata says. “Gordon’s story is a vitally important one to anyone who cares about our country, and the principles of the Constitution.”

Theatre and Spanish major Joellen Sweeney ’14 agrees, saying the show’s message is important.

“Hold These Truths was thought provoking and exquisitely performed,” Sweeney says. “This show teaches that simply claiming to hold the ideals of equality and liberty is not enough.

“The Constitution is only as good and as just as the people who uphold it. It really holds the mirror up, and makes me think about who we are failing these days.”

• Article by Natalie Pate, politics major