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The Journey of Dawn’s Light: Telling the Story of Gordon Hirabayashi

I first heard about Gordon Hirabayashi over ten years ago, through a video I saw on PBS titled A Personal Matter. I was very intrigued by the story, and started to do more research on Gordon through resources such as Peter Irons' books The Courage of Their Convictions and Justice at War. The more I heard, the more fascinated I became. I wondered why, as a Sansei, I had never heard Gordon's story before. After all, as a child, hadn't I learned about Rosa Parks' courageous refusal to go the back of a segregated bus during the 1960s? Gordon had taken a similar stand against racism two decades earlier in the 1940s—and he was only 24 when he did so! Why didn't the history books mention him as well?

So I embarked on a journey to find out all I could. As fate would have it, I got a job acting in a play up in Seattle, Washington, where I met a young woman who had just interviewed Gordon for a term paper she was writing. She encouraged me to contact him, and when I did, he graciously agreed to meet me for some interviews. His alma mater, the University of Washington in Seattle, also had a wonderful collection of his letters, written to a friend during the wartime years. I also managed to track down several of his college friends, who shared with me some wonderful memories they had of Gordon. So, on my day off from performing the play, I'd bicycle over to the campus, and bury myself in the UW Special Collections Department, trying to absorb the story through his letters, and trying to envision the best way to convey it dramatically.

That was over ten years ago, and it has been an inspiring journey to bring Gordon’s story to the stage. Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi is based on the many hours of interviews I conducted with Gordon and several of his friends from the 1940s, by the numerous letters he wrote during his imprisonment, and by contemporary articles written by and about him. I feel it is a remarkable story about how one young Nisei man passionately journeyed toward a greater understanding of himself, his community’s sufferings, and of America’s failures and triumphs. And though it is a story rooted in the Japanese American community, I feel it is an important story for ALL Americans, as it underscores how vitally important it is to take the words of our Constitution to heart.

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi visiting Manhattan where JA prejudice has not yet hit.

Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayash opens at East West Players in Los Angeles, California on November 7, 2007 and plays through December 2, 2007. It is a one-person show inspired by the true story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a 24-year-old Nisei Quaker college student, who during World War II, openly defied and legally challenged government orders to forcibly remove and imprison all people of Japanese on the West Coast without trial or hearing. His trial went all the way to the Supreme Court, raising profound questions about the spiritual principles in the Constitution and our country’s struggles to live up to them. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the East West Players Web site at, or call 213.625.7000.

* Photos by Michael Lamont, courtesy of East West Players. The actor portraying all character is Ryun Yu.


© 2007 Jeanne Sakata

coram nobis east west players gordon hirabayashi Jeanne Sakata play theatre World War II