Remembering Gordon Hirabayashi, from one resister to another

GORDON HIRABAYASHI RECREATION SITE Groundbreaking — The 1999 groundbreaking of the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site near Tucson, where Hirabayashi and other Nisei resisters were sentenced to during World War II. Hirabayashi is at center, while Nisei draft resister Yosh Kuyomiya, a member of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, is at far right. photo courtesy of Mary Farrell

It was through a news report in the early nineteen forties that I first became aware of the remarkable Gordon Hirabayashi. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he had surrendered to the authorities and asked to be imprisoned for violating the curfew order that was imposed on all those of Japanese ancestry.

He apparently disagreed with the order and hoped to initiate a test case on the constitutionality of what appeared to him as a blatantly racist edict. He had to practically grab the keys and put himself behind bars because the police in the small town was yet unaware of such a law.

He appeared to me as an extremely conscientious person of uncompromising integrity, or perhaps a modern day Don Quixote about to do battle against the windmills of oppression and bigotry — single-handedly! In any case, I was curious to meet him, but in those days of uncertainty, other matters soon overwhelmed us.

But, the seeds of destiny had already been planted. In a few years I would meet him — in the McNeil Island Federal Prison; he, as a Conscientious Objector and I, as a constitutional draft resister. I guess we were both a little nutty.

Our paths would cross again 54 years later at the former Catalina Mountains penal camp site near Tucson, Ariz. where he and several draft resisters from the Granada (Amache) camp had previously been imprisoned. Gordon had been there as a result of the curfew violation. The occasion was the renaming of the former prison camp to the “Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site.” I was honored to join in the ribbon cutting ceremony with Gordon and several of the Amache resisters.

I was also honored to discover that Gordon and I shared the same birth date, even though he was five years my senior. I always sensed there was some intangible connection between us beyond our commitment to human rights issues, but never felt confident enough while in his presence to raise such personal matters.

I will, however, celebrate both our birthdays come next April 23rd.

Yosh Kuromiya writes from Alhambra, Calif.

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