Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Date: October 25, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-06-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

Q: Did you discuss the evacuation with your parents, with your family?


GH: The, my parents and I on visits that I had to the home would discuss the implications of the restrictions, curfew and the uprooting orders that were coming shortly after that. And my early visits with them, we would be decrying the unfairness of it, and the impracticality of it because war production, you know, food production and so on was a significant contribution that these people could be making and were making. And we're continuing to do productive work, even though they didn't know when they would be uprooted. And as it turned out, many of them were uprooted just about the time the harvesting work would start, which was, you know the orders were given by people in an office far away from farms and no concern to that aspect. Our discussions did not center on any kind of steps that I would be taking subsequently, because those things had not occurred to me then.

Q: You had discussed the impracticality of the evacuation, and no one thought it was a good idea, but why do you think the majority of Japanese Americans followed the evacuation orders anyway?

GH: Well, I find it a little bit inconvenient, but I don't use the word "evacuation" on this because "evacuation" is a humanitarian term for earthquake, fires, floods, other kinds of catastrophes, and usually the movement of the people is for their benefit, at their request and so on. This thing that happened to the Japanese was anything but that. So I think the word "evacuation," which the government used as a euphemism to cover this is a misnomer and we ought to stop using it. I used words like "forced removal," "uprooting" and so on. And in terms of your question about why, if they felt this was the wrong action, did the Japanese cooperate with it and go along with it? I think you have to know something about the Japanese society in general, and the way the Japanese, our parents, your grandparents' group, learned to cope in their survival in North America. It was, they came in as an alien group to a country where a lot of the people felt was a white man's country. They still think that. You ever review the story of Columbus? "Columbus discovered America," and details sometimes describe as Columbus and his men came ashore, kissed the earth and so on, "lightly-clad dark-skinned people hovered around with curiosity and later brought them food," and so on. That didn't change at all their conception that Columbus discovered America. 'Cause they weren't, they weren't humans that counted, and so they're ignored. And this, this viewpoint sort of psychologically continues, and I think that's part of the atmosphere that our parents had to confront, and some of us in our early years had to do the same. And you must remember that this protest era, in its outward form, really began in the '60s. So not only the Japanese, everybody was fairly placid about going along with directives. And when it came to minorities like the Japanese, their main intent was not confrontation or injustice, but how do you cope with it? They expected injustice and discrimination one way or another, and how do you cope with it and so on. And so when this order came, there's another thing that they had to cope with. And so objecting to it, you know, even though they felt it was totally unnecessary and totally wrong and it's a discrimination, it wasn't their first line thought to, "I'm going to confront this, battle it."

Q: When you went to the FBI office to surrender, what was it like, the feelings inside of you?

GH: No real feeling. It's like going to a registrar's office or social security office or something. I stayed after the University District had to move. We were the last district, so in effect, when the last of Seattle had to be moved, I stayed one day extra. That made me, according to their decree, illegally there.


Q: What was your family response to the stand you had taken and the fact that you had been arrested?

GH: Well, the discussion with the family was before I was arrested. When I told my mother over the phone what I was about to do, and my mother's reaction supported my dad, by my dad, was one that, you know, acknowledged the arguments I had. That wasn't their concern. They said, "We agree with you, and there's no question there. But we're headed for we don't know where, and if you do this, we don't know what's gonna happen to you or where you'd be sent. We may never see each other again." This was her, her concern was family. "And in this emergency, let's get together and you go with us." I said, "I'd like to do that." She used tears, everything she could, but I didn't, I just couldn't go with that. And I was fairly free not to, because I had fairly young, healthy parents, and I had a high school brother, just graduated, and another one that was second-year, that was Jim. And so I wasn't physically necessary there like some families. So in a variety of ways, I was relatively free to follow this strong feeling. And I said, "I'd like to be with you, but I can't." And as it turned out, which I could explain later, I wouldn't have been very good if I went with 'em. And I think in the long run, it was very evident to me that I did the best thing for my parents even, by sticking to my guns here, so to speak.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.