Dale Li vividly brings to life Japanese American tragedy in ‘Dust Storm’


Colorado’s first Asian American theater company, Theatre Esprit Asia (TEA), has launched its debut season with a pair of one-person plays in repertory, and I was fortunate to see one of them, “Dust Storm,” last week starring Dale Li. If you haven’t seen this or the other play, “Spirit and Sworded Treks” starring Maria Cheng, hurry — they run tonight through Sunday, and then close after next weekend.

“Dust Storm” is a monologue about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. It’s loosely constructed on a real incident, an attack on Chiura Obata, a celebrated artist, in Topaz, an internment camp in Utah.

The story is told from the perspective of Seiji, an angry teenager who’s imprisoned at Topaz (with his family, but he abandons them to hang with a bunch of tough teens). Like Obata, Seiji was rounded up in Berkeley, California after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed the camps to be built. Anyone of Japanese descent in the Bay Area, including U.S.-born citizens like Seiji, were told they could pack whatever they could carry, and were first sent to a temporary holding center before being transferred to Topaz.
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Rice and tea have been and always will be mainstays of Asian culture

15 cups of riceI’m not much of a churchgoer, but I’ve attended and volunteered at events at both the Denver Buddhist Temple, and the Simpson Methodist Church, which are both focal points of the local Japanese and Japanese American communities. A couple of weeks ago, I was part of the Mile High JACL‘s Fall Festival team, and spent a long day cooking (and cleaning) at Simpson Methodist Church.

Both churches hold lots of cultural events, and like any church or temple probably throughout the world, both have fully-equipped kitchens. As we prepped for the food orders to come in, I realized that even though I’m not part of either church’s community, I’m Japanese in my cultural DNA. When I was told to wash 15 cups of rice in one of the banks of rice cookers against one wall in the back room behind the kitchen, I knew what to do without anyone explaining.
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