Gordon Hirabayashi–Post by Sam Nakahira

Gordon Hirabayashi was a Japanese American who, in college, resisted the WWII internment camps and served time in prison because of his resistance. He was a noteworthy protestor in that he was one of three Japanese Americans to present a case to the Supreme Court against the US government over the constitutionality of the internment camps; despite having few supporters, he spoke up for his rights in Hirabayashi v. United States, and his lifelong activism directly impacted efforts to right the great wrong of Japanese American internment.

As a college student, Hirabayashi deliberately broke the curfew set on Japanese Americans to be indoors from 8 pm to 6 am and refused to register for internment camps. He was conscious of his actions and stated he could not obey laws that were unconstitutional and violated his rights as a citizen born in America. Before taking his case to court, Hirabayashi quit college to work for the American Friends Service Committee to help fellow Japanese American families prepare for the internment camps by assisting with storage of their belongings. Later, he turned himself into the FBI. He challenged the constitutionality of the internment camps and curfew in Hirabayashi v. United States in 1943. Unfortunately, he was convicted by both a federal jury and Supreme Court and was subsequently held in prison for two years. Even though he lost his case, he still challenged the internments for the rest of his life. After the war, Hirabayashi’s case was featured in the Japanese American Citizens League’s The Pacific Citizen publication that inspired other Japanese Americans to foster pride in their community after going through such great persecution. When Peter Irons approached him 40 years after his first case with new information that the US government had hidden documents that verified Japanese harmlessness, he jumped at the opportunity to challenge his conviction. Finally, the Supreme Court overturned his case in 1987.

Hirabayashi’s willingness to take a stand had profound effects. His efforts helped push the US government to admit their wrongs, formally apologize, and give financial reparations to former internees. His activism was honored with the naming of the former Tucson Federal Prison Camp, where he was imprisoned, as the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. The Site preserves the memory of resistance toward Japanese internment and has brought many former internees together during the effort to change the name and also attending the naming ceremony itself in 1999. The Site allows visitors to explore the history behind the naming. In addition, research done on an interpretive kiosk added in 2001 to the Site has led to an oral history project that further keeps alive the memory of American’s great injustice towards the Japanese American community and of the brave people who stood up to oppression and racism.

What makes Hirabayashi especially inspiring was his strong conviction in his morals, especially considering the situation he was in during the 1940s. During his early life, Hirabayashi said he was unsure of how to end Chinese and Japanese discrimination that he saw in a farming community. The one thing Hirabayashi “felt he could personally” do was to “be a strong advocate of constitutional principles and vow to live by those principles” (3). Throughout his life, he stayed true to this simple yet noble mentality, even in the difficult conditions he fought for justice in. It was not like he was standing in front of a crowd of supporters protesting internment; he was largely alone in his stand. White America was scared of Japanese Americans and not many in the Japanese American community approved of his actions. In addition, Hirabayashi was never comfortable speaking up in front of large crowds. Yet he did not believe this should stop him for sticking up for his rights. In the end, his lifelong commitment to his values made a difference in the long run.

Works Cited

  1. Cherstin M. Lyon. “Gordon Hirabayashi,” Densho Encyclopedia, July 14, 2015. Sept. 6, 2016. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gordon%20Hirabayashi/
  2. Cherstin M. Lyon. “Japanese American Citizens League,” Densho Encyclopedia, Juy 25, 2015. Sept. 6, 2016. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Japanese_American_Citizens_League/
  3. Cherstin M. Lyon, Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.
  4. Elaine Woo, “Gordon Hirabayashi Dies at 93, Opposed Internment of Japanese Americans,” LA times, Jan. 5, 2012. Sept. 1, 2016. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/05/local/la-me-gordon-hirabayashi-20120105
  5. Hyung-chan Kim, Distinguished Asian Americans: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.
  6. Peter H. Irons, Justice at War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).
  7. Richard Goldstein, “Gordon Hirabayashi, World War II Internment Opponent, Dies at 93,” NY times, Jan. 3, 2012. Sept. 1, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/us/gordon-hirabayashi-wwii-internment-opponent-dies-at-93.html?emc=eta1
  8. T. Rees Shapio, “Gordon Hirabayashi, Japanese American who Defied Internment Order, Dies at 93,” Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2012. Sept. 1, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/gordon-hirabayashi-japanese-american-who-defied-internment-order-dies-at-93/2012/01/04/gIQAZEdfdP_story.html?postshare=8371472695209913&tid=ss_mail



My creative piece is a metaphorical depiction of the threat US government posed to Gordon Hirabayashi and other Japanese Americans, many of who were US citizens, during WWII. The menacing wolf represents the US government and is facing down the person who represents Gordon Hirabayashi. The person appears ordinary and undistinctive; he has no weapon or unusual clothing—this depiction reflects how I felt about Gordon Hirabayashi. He was not an iconic hero, but he still stood up to the wolf and made change.


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