George Takei’s “Allegiance” is a timely historical musical for today

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After a November performance at the Longacre Theatre in New York’s fabled Broadway district, AARP members were invited for a “talkback” with George Takei and other cast members answering questions about their powerful musical, “Allegiance.” (NOTE: This post was riginally uploaded to the AARP AAPI Community Facebook page.)

“I remember we started the school day, each day, with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I could see the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower right outside my school house window as I recited the words, ‘with liberty, and justice for all.’”

Takei recalled his experience as a child, sent with his entire family to a concentration camp along with more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent – including, like Takei, half who were born in the US and therefore American citizens – during World War II.

Now, at age 78, Takei is pledging again, making his Broadway debut in “Allegiance,” which tells the story of Japanese American incarceration inspired by Takei’s childhood. The parallels between the 1940s incarceration and the national mood today are striking. The news is filled with politicians speaking out against accepting refugees from the Middle East, and some are stoking a palpable fear within the public over Muslims.

Takei has spoken out eloquently on his vast social media networks in response to the hate-filled climate – he even invited David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia to come see a performance of “Allegiance” after the mayor announced he didn’t want any Syrian refugees in his city, and cited the Japanese American incarceration as a model. The mayor said the threat from ISIS via refugees is “just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Takei criticized the mayor for his “galling lack of compassion” and added, “…one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in ‘Allegiance’ is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.”

Educating the public about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, when 120,000 people of Japanese heritage (half were US-born American citizens) were removed from the West Coast and sent to nine concentration camps as far east as Arkansas, is one of Takei’s lifelong goals. His family spent the war years in Rowher, Arkansas.

“I’m always shocked when I tell the story (of Japanese American incarceration) to people that I consider well-informed,” he said, “and they’re shocked and aghast that sometime like this could happen in the United States. It’s still little-known. So, it’s been my mission to raise the awareness of this chapter of American history.”

“Allegiance” accomplishes Takei’s goal with Broadway grandeur that matches any hit musical, with songs that soar and tug at heartstrings, tight choreography and a storyline that is familiar to many Japanese Americans, but not to the public at large.
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RIP George “Joe” Sakato

Joe Sakato points to the name of his friend Saburo Tanamachi, who died in his arms during the WWII battle to rescue the "Tecas Lost Battalion."

Joe Sakato points to the name of his friend Saburo Tanamachi, who died in his arms during the WWII battle to rescue the “Texas Lost Battalion.”

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the passing of George “Joe” Sakato, a Denver resident who was a World War II hero, a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Battalion that fought in Europe during World War II. He was 94 years old. Adele Arakawa of 9News broadcast a moving tribute to Joe that’s worth viewing.

“We were fighting prejudice in the States … and fighting the Germans in Europe,” he told Arakawa in 2013.
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“Into the Badlands” brings Asians and martial arts full circle

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OCA just emailed out a brief statement from Daniel Wu, the star of AMC’s action-drama “Into the Badlands,” that’s worth reading:

“I grew up in America in the ’70s when there were no Asian Americans on screen. After a career of 18 years in Hong Kong where I didn’t have to think about race at all, coming back to America and thinking about when we’ve seen an Asian American lead on a show, I realized almost never.

AMC was adamant that the lead for Into the Badlands would be Asian American. It’s not our intention to transform Asian-American male masculinity across the country through this one show, but “Into the Badlands” is a great start.

Television and American media need to reflect American society. There is a very large Asian-American population in this country and we need to see that on screen. Times have changed, people have changed, and this is a different era than it was even just 10 years ago. “Into the Badlands” is breaking new ground, and that’s awesome.”

– Daniel Wu

It’s an awesome show if you like martial arts and violence, and Wu’s spot-on about the great step this represents for Asian American men on TV. His role joins Steven Yeun and Daniel Day Kim among butt-kicking AAPI hunks.

The show, which to me evokes both another series on AMC, “The Walking Dead” and the “Mad Max” movie franchise for its depiction of a bleak, violent future, brings the martial arts stereotype of Asians full-circle, starting with “Green Hornet” and “Kung Fu.”
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Immigration, refugees and the gift of citizenship

Denver's Mayor Michael B. Hancock welcomes the 100 applicants and their family members to the citizenship ceremony.

Denver’s Mayor Michael B. Hancock welcomes the 100 applicants and their family members to the citizenship ceremony.

I was born in Japan, but because my father was born in Hawaii when it was a U.S. territory, I am an American citizen. I didn’t have to take a test, and recite an oath of allegiance. After my family moved to the States in 1966, I remember helping my mother, who’s from a small town in northern Japan, study for her citizenship test. I was eight years old.

I don’t remember the ceremony when she repeated the oath and was given her naturalization certificate, but it was probably something like the wonderful ceremony I saw today, on the top floor of the Emily Griffith Technical College, a school that teaches English as a second language and gives many immigrants the skills for them to find jobs in America (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Emily Griffith Foundation‘s Board of Directors).

One hundred people became American citizens today in Denver. They came here from all over the world, from Bhutan to the Ukraine, Canada to Cote d’Ivoire. Some held small American flags in their hands as they waited, and waved them when they were asked to stand to represent their soon-to-be-former countries.
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Time machine re-post: Why can’t I be on TV?

NOTE: This is a slightly revised (added “Courtship of Eddie’s Father”) re-post of a very early column I wrote back in 1998, bemoaning the lack of Asian faces on TV shows.

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Like a zillion other people across the country, I tuned in to the final episode of “Seinfeld,” and I gotta say, I was only mildly impressed. Oh, I liked the show whenever I caught it, but I was a casual viewer, so the nasty humor that the characters reveled in didn’t connect with me the way they may have for diehard fans.

What the show did, especially with its segments making fun of foreigners, was get me thinking about Asian faces on TV. As a Japanese-American kid enchanted by American popular culture of the 1960s, it never occurred to me growing up that there were very few people like me on the shows I watched for hours on end.
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