American concentration camps

Truth to tell: American wrongs and rights

Portland Center Stage's "Hold These Truths" spins a fascinating real-life tale of World War II incarceration camps and a Japanese American hero

The United States Constitution has been coming up regularly in this most fractious and ridiculous of political seasons.

We’ve had the “pocket constitutionalists” of the Sagebrush Rebellion taking over a bird sanctuary in Eastern Oregon because (if I have their line of reasoning straight) all government beyond the county level is illegitimate and the Constitution proves that nothing in the Constitution actually applies to them.

We’ve had, amid an epidemic of mass shootings and more private gun-related tragedies, a hunkering-down on an antiquated and nonsensical interpretation of a few confusingly punctuated words in the Second Amendment that are alleged to guarantee the right to carry military weapons openly in houses of worship and kindergarten classrooms.

We’ve had the presidential candidate of an actual major political party loudly declaring he will build a wall across the southern border of the United States and make the Mexican government pay for it – an act that would be at once so environmentally irresponsible, morally reprehensible, patently unconstitutional, and impossible to achieve that I really don’t know where to begin talking about it.

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in "Hold These Truths." Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in “Hold These Truths.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

How refreshing, then, to run across a piece of theater that tells the story of a true hero of the never-ending battle to protect the Constitution, and thus the American people in their everyday lives, against the ever-present forces trying to chip away at it for selfish or ideological reasons, or because of bouts of paranoia or sheer fright.

The title of Jeanne Sakata’s play Hold These Truths, which opened Friday night in the Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage, comes not from the Constitution but from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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