SENIOR MOMENTS: Gordon Hirabayashi—An Inspiration

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By Phil Shigekuni
(First published in
 The Rafu Shimpo on Jan. 21, 2012.)

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E.O. 9066 Inc. was a redress organization formed in 1976 after a meeting held at the San Fernando Valley JA Community Center in April of 1975. Gordon Hirabayashi was the first person invited to speak at a meeting that was held at Keiro Retirement Home in Boyle Heights.

We flew him down from Canada, where he served as a university professor of sociology. Marion and I felt it a privilege to house him during his stay. Gordon was friendly, and easy to talk to. One story he told us was memorable, and was an account I saw repeated in the L.A. Times after his recent passing.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, Gordon was a student at the University of Washington. A curfew was imposed on only Japanese Americans, and he saw it as a violation of his rights as an American citizen. He deliberately violated the curfew and was arrested.

After spending a few days in jail in Seattle, he was told he needed to go to a federal prison in Tucson, Arizona, but there was no way to get him there. His sense of principle would not allow him to spend his own money to go to prison, so he hitchhiked down to Tucson.

When he arrived, the warden told him he had received nothing in order to book him, so Gordon went into town and took in a movie. When he returned, the warden said he found the papers he needed at the bottom of his basket and officially booked him.

The next part of Gordon’s story was not mentioned in the newspaper account. Gordon told us as he was led to his cell, he saw this small figure in the dim light being escorted to another cell. He said it turned out to be his father. Then, the strangely ironic part: It came time to interrogate this man, and, of course, there was no one there who knew Japanese, so who winds up translating for the interrogators? The Issei man’s own son, Gordon!

About two years ago, I met Dr. Lane Hirabayashi, Gordon’s nephew, who is professor of Japanese American internment, redress and community at UCLA. He listened with interest as I related to him the story his uncle had told me when he visited our home.

Gordon spent his detention time at a federal prison camp in Tucson. Shortly after this, he spent a year in a federal prison for refusing to be inducted into the Army. He was imprisoned because he refused to answer a loyalty questionnaire regarding his allegiance to the Japanese emperor. He claimed the question was discriminatory because no other ethnic group was asked the question concerning their loyalty to a foreign government.

Shortly after his retirement in 1983, he got a call from Peter Irons, a political science professor at UC San Diego, concerning Gordon’s original conviction on the curfew violation. Dr. Irons uncovered evidence that the government had withheld evidence from the Supreme Court that would have shown there was no military reason for the exclusion order. His case was reheard in appeals court, and in 1987 his conviction was overturned.

In 1999, the federal camp in Tucson where Gordon was imprisoned was named after him.

But, getting back to the top of this column: Paul Tsuneishi was founder and president of E.O. 9066. Our membership, at first, was composed of a few members of our San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter. Gordon Hirabayashi was our inspiration. He was someone who personified what we were about. We wanted to have as a model for seeking reparations someone who took his citizenship seriously, and was willing to do what was necessary to hold our country accountable to the Constitution.

On Jan. 30 we will celebrate the first anniversary of Fred Korematsu Day. Let us remember the dedicated work of the Sansei attorneys, led by Dale Minami, who successfully had Fred Korematsu’s conviction vacated, and Assemblyman Warren Furutani, who engineered the passage of legislation declaring the day a statewide holiday.

There are others we should remember as well: In 1944, Mitsuye Endo, who was interned in Topaz, filed a suit of habeas corpus, resulting in a ruling by the Supreme Court calling for the War Relocation Authority to investigate the loyalty of each prisoner and to release those determined to be loyal. Shortly thereafter, the WRA announced the closing of the camps.

So she, as well as Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui, and others, can serve as our models for future generations.

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Phil Shigekuni can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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