Arts

'Hold These Truths' Remembers Japanese Internment

Local playwright's one-man show looks back on one of America's most shameful actions
Playwright and Watsonville native Jeanne Sakata tells the story of an interned Japanese American's long fight for his rights in 'Hold These Truths.' Photo by Lia Chang

Jeanne Sakata's father never talked about his internment. He didn't want her to hold any resentment toward her country. He hoped his family could move forward and not look back.

Her father was in high school when President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066 to relocate more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including U.S. citizens, to internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

"My father would always give me short answers, and then he would change the subject when I would ask about it," Sakata, a Watsonville native, remembers. "After they got out of those camps, many of the nisei—second-generation Japanese Americans—felt that the best way to deal with the trauma was to not talk about it."

It wasn't until Sakata opened a textbook in high school that she understood what incarcerated Japanese Americans had gone through during World War II. Then she saw John de Graaf's A Personal Matter: Gordon Hirabayashi vs. the United States, which documents Hirabayashi's 50-year fight for equality. Hirabayashi challenged the constitutionality of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans all the way to the Supreme Court. He lost his case, and it wasn't until more than 40 years later that the charges were overturned.

Sakata wanted to bring more attention to Hirabayashi's story. Her one-man show Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi debuted in 2007 at East West Players in Los Angeles. Later retitled Hold These Truths, the play tells the story of Hirabayashi's fight for his rights as an American citizen. Actor Joel de la Fuente plays 37 characters in the 90-minute show, including Hirabayashi.

Hirabayashi died in 2012, at the age of 93, just before President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The play is experiencing a timely resurgence; its been produced nine times in the last two years. Though the political climate has changed dramatically since the show began, Sakata says she believes Hold These Truths continues to resonate with many people across various backgrounds who have experienced fear and mistrust of the government based on their heritage.

"There are so many of us that are feeling threatened," Sakata says of minority communities. "I am hoping that there will be a sense of empathy so that if one of us is threatened, all of us are threatened. That we will stick up for each other, and fight on behalf of everyone."

Hold These Truths
Thru Aug 5, $35+
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto
theatreworks.org


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