Beyond the stage: The impact of Gordon Hirabayashi’s story

A showing of Holds These Truths and panel discussion to be part of upcoming human rights convention

Lauren Bannon - 20 November 2023

In May 2022, the University of Alberta premiered Hold These Truths, a one-man play touching on the extraordinary life of Gordon Hirabayashi, who served as the first Chair of the Department of Sociology from 1970 to 1975 and was recognized as a civil rights champion by US President Barack Obama. 

Written by American playwright Jeanne Sakata, performed by Vancouver actor Kevin Takahide Lee and directed by U of A Professor Melanie Dreyer-Lude, the play explores the courage of Hirabayashi as he stood against injustice faced by Japanese-Americans during World War II, leaving a mark on legal and civil rights history, having taken his stand against Japanese American internment to the supreme court in 1943 and having it overturned in 1987.

In a Folio article written when the play first came out, Dreyer-Lude stated that Hirabayashi's life shows a strong example of resisting in the right way — using the court system rather than violence.

“Eventually the justice system comes through for him,” she says in the article. “The message for me is that there is hope.”

Beyond the play's success, Hirabayashi’s story also sheds light on critical educational gaps. In Alberta, students are not mandated to learn about the internment of Japanese Canadians until Grade 11 social studies. Aside from its late introduction, the curriculum also lacks recognition of the contributions of Japanese Canadians. 

In response to this gap, Olenka Bilash, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education, and her colleagues compiled a Directory of Japanese Canadian Resources, providing teachers across various subjects and grades tools for essential knowledge and context for understanding the internment experience, realizing the contributions made by Japanese Canadians to Canada and fostering an informed learning environment.

Next month, the power of Hirabayashi’s story will reach new areas. On December 3, the Prince Takamado Japan, the Faculties of Arts and Education, and the Edmonton Japanese Community Association will host an event in conjunction with the international human rights convention, Ignite Change, across Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge. 

The event will feature highlights from the 2022 production of Hold These Truths, followed by a panel discussion featuring Sakata, Takehide-Lee and Dreyer-Lude, who will discuss critical themes explored in the play, including racism and human rights, as well as the continuing impact of Hirabayashi’s story.

Learn more and register for the upcoming Edmonton event:

Register Now