When Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was finishing up his opening statements into the impeachment testimony of Donald Trump, he addressed his father: “Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.” In the US most would agree that telling the truth ‘will set you free’. In the Soviet Union, his birth country, not so much.
|Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi|
In “Hold These Truths” currently in an emotionally charged, oft times funny solo play written by Jeanne Sakata and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, a profile in courage by one brave American citizen, Gordon Hirabayashi, is played out at the San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown through Dec. 8th.
As a young man, and American citizen Gordon Hirabayashi (Ryun Yu) assured himself that he was protected by the Constitution (‘because we are all American citizens’) from an unconstitutional Executive Order, 9066 that all West coast citizens of Japanese ancestry be sent to off to internment camps as declared by President Roosevelt after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1942.
How wrong he was!
At stake in both instances, is the might of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights that proclaims, “We Hold These Truths” that all men are created equal”. On trial are the ‘self evident truths’ as they assure to protect the rights of the citizens of these United States. Both Vindman and Hirabayashi are American citizens: one by naturalization the other by birth.
In some instances it’s not enough to be assured of your rights. Oft times it take years of determination, push back and sheer willpower to make your case and live your life by having to prove them.
And so begins the sobering journey of Gordon Hirabayashi played beautifully by Ryun Yu. Yu’s Gordon reflects on his simple childhood days growing up on a farm in Seattle, when his father said to him, “The nail that sticks out is the nail that gets hit.” And hit he was, over and over again.
One might say his childhood was what he considered normal for him, a second generation, of Quaker beliefs whose parents ‘insisted on some culture’ as he relates that his mother saved enough to buy a phonograph where they listened to Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home”.
Later on, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he became a consciousness objector, defying a curfew after the president ordered it, and defied the order to be one of the hundred of thousands of Japanese Americans to be rounded up and sent to internment camps.
His aspirations to go to college prevailed and in 1937 he entered University of Washington, Seattle where at one point joining is friends for a late night coffee and study encountered signs on the cafe doors that read: “No Japs Allowed. Japs not welcome here.” And on campus “For White Gentiles only.”
Gordon: “Our faces are the faces of the enemy.” Newspaper headlines in bold: “The Japanese in California should be under armed guard to the last man and woman. Heard ‘um up, pack ‘um off and give them the inside room of the badlands. Let ‘um be pinched, hurt hungry and deep up against it…” And still, he believed that the constitution would protect them/him. “ We were born here.”
(Sound familiar? Yours truly lived through some of the same race baiting as a youngster. And just for you know what and giggles re- read “Gentleman’s Agreement” or just substitute one ethnicity for another.)
With it all, Mr. Hirabayashi went through some harrowing times: he was in jail for 30 days for disobeying curfew and the removal order. He served time at an Arizona Honor Camp and a state penitentiary. His lawyers appealed the convictions, the courts refused to hear any of the arguments and the case eventually wound up in the Supreme Court, where they found him guilty as charged.
Only 40 years later in 1987with a PhD in sociology and a teacher abroad in Lebanon and Egypt, an appeals court heard his case that was again referred to the Supreme Court, and weaving through the legalities of the case by his legal team and the ACLU, his guilty conviction was finally overturned.
Playwright and actress Jeanne Sakata a third generation Sansei (Japanese American) happened to see a documentary called ‘A Personal Matter. Gordon Hirabayashi vs. The United States’. Surprised that she had little knowledge about the case, she was determined to meet Gordon. On a trip to Seattle she met him for the first time. Permission to interview and later write a solo play was ‘gracious and welcoming’.
The production, originally titled “Dawns Light”: The Journey of Gordon Hirabyashi” was commissioned in 2004 by the Mark Taper Forum by Chay Ye, former director of the Taper’s Asian Theatre Workshop. In 2007 it made its world premiere at East West Players. From 2012 to 2014 and a new title “Hold These Truths” has gone on to be produced all over the country with various actors playing Gordon.
Yu has been in the role since 2007, and how lucky we are in San Diego to be part of his audience as he takes on the roles of a few dozen characters moving seamlessly from one to another on Ben Zamora’s bare bones set subtly lit to perfection by Zamora as well. John Zalewski created the sound, and Soo-Jin Lee the original costumes.
For a more riveting experience and exercise in humbleness and grace, head to downtown to see and be witness to what it looks like to have faith in our country’s democracy, the good the bad and the ugly of it.
Thank our lucky stars that patriots the likes of Gordon Hirabayashi, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, Fiona Hill, Marie Yovavovitch, whose family fled the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution and then to Germany and growing up under the Nazi’s before coming to the US and becoming a proud citizen. After all is said and done they still believe ‘that these “Truths Hold”.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Dec. 8th.
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Solo Performance
Where: 79 Horton Plaza Downtown San Diego 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Venue: Lyceum Space
Photo: Jim Carmody