By Maria Batayola and Gary Iwamoto
Northwest Asian Weekly
We always wanted to have heroes and she-roes who look like us to be inspiration not only for us but also for our children. We have them all around us, sometimes invisible, sometimes forgotten. Here is one American hero and patriot who made a tremendous difference in all of our lives.
April 23 would have been Gordon Hirabayashi’s 97th birthday. He was in his early 20s when he started his long courageous road to justice.
With the onset of World War II, Hirabayashi, a pacifist, defied military curfew and exclusion orders authorized under the 1942 Executive Order 9066, the Order that led to the incarceration of 120,000 plus Japanese Americans on the West coast. Hirabayashi was just a young man, a senior at the University of Washington.
Knowing that he violated the federally imposed curfew, he turned himself over to the FBI. He was convicted.
He then appealed his conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court where he lost.
Japanese Americans who were incarcerated did not talk about this extremely painful experience. They went about rebuilding their lives. Starting in the late 60s on, the emergence of Asian American identity and ethnic studies broke the silence, started conversations, and a quest for justice for Japanese American elders.
In the mid 1980s, 43 years later, young Asian American attorneys filed coram nobis cases for Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Min Yasui, alleging errors in the previous trials. For Hirabayashi, his legal team was led by Rod Kawakami, Kathryn Bannai, Camden Hall, and Arthur Barnett (one of Gordon’s original wartime lawyers). All three cases had successful results. More importantly, in Hirabayashi’s case, a finding was made that indeed the US government’s accusations were false.
A legal researcher found original government documents (which were thought to be destroyed) that proved the government’s military necessity argument for the massive incarceration was unjustified. The incarceration was based solely on Japanese ancestry.
Hirabayashi’s legacy of justice is now more relevant than ever. Extensive calls for Black Lives Matter against police racial profiling and targeted hate crimes against Arab American and Muslim communities after the 9-11 terrorist attacks tell us to be vigilant and remember the lessons of the past.
American amnesia and reduced civic education in our schools make it challenging to protect our civil liberties.
The APA community is working hard to have the Legislature allocate $250,000 to the KIP TOKUDA MEMORIAL Civil Liberties Public Education Fund to ensure that K-12 educational materials and activities about the unconstitutional incarceration and heroic military service of Japanese Americans during World War II can be developed and taught.
In Seattle, the struggles of Gordon Hirabayashi and the Japanese American community will be memorialized at InterIm CDA’s new 96-unit affordable housing development named Hirabayashi Place, on 4th and So. Main Street. Come see the education and art installation plans on Saturday, May 30th from 1 to 3 pm at the Addison Building Gallery Space right across the street from Hirabayashi Place on Main Street. So that we remember, so that we never forget. (end)
For more historical information, see resources below:
Maria Batayola is a long-time community activist and Hirabayashi Place Legacy of Justice Steering Committee Chair.
Gary Iwomoto served as a member of the Hirabayashi Coram Nobis legal team and is an Interim Community Development Association board member.
Maria Batayola and Gary Iwomoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.