Though Asian Americans of all backgrounds should embrace this show by purchasing tickets and the cast recordings – simply because it is the first Broadway Musical show written since MISS SAIGON
that deals with a story in which Asian people play Asian people – the good folks at the JACL – The Japanese American Citizen’s League have quite a different take on embracing ALLEGIANCE.
They think the show should be changed because there is a character that is named and is representing a real person.
Priscilla Ouchida, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Moy, Vice President for Public Affairs, email@example.com
As the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is proud of our legacy, the important contributions of our leaders, and the unique opportunity we have to continue educating people around the world on the Japanese American incarceration experience during World War II and its relevance to civil rights work past and present.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and into incarceration camps located in remote locations throughout the country. This disturbing event, ignoring the principles of due process and equal protection set forth by the Constitution, serves as one of the darkest chapters in American history as well as an important reminder of the need for continued advocacy to ensure that the rights of American citizens are never violated again.
Originally founded in 1929, the JACL strives to secure and safeguard the civil rights of all communities affected by injustice and bigotry, in large part by reflecting upon and educating others on our own history. As an open and inclusive Asian Pacific American civil rights organization, it is not difficult to find a myriad of opinions of the work and positions the organization has held, especially regarding the World War II incarceration. In such a tumultuous period of time, the feelings of those affected and their positions on what the JACL could have or should have done cannot be understated. But with wartime hysteria creating rampant and violent racism, it is also not hard to understand how a relatively young organization and its leaders would have done whatever they could to navigate an impossible position with the best interest of their members and the community in mind.
Allegiance, which originally debuted in San Diego in 2012, is a fictional musical inspired by the life of George Takei, who also stars in the performance opening on Broadway next month. The JACL appreciates the effort by Mr. Takei to bring the story of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II to a wide audience. However, it is important to keep in mind that this musical is an artistic interpretation of events that provide a backdrop for a love story. Although most of the characters, which are loosely based on individuals, have fictional names, the JACL is disturbed by the play’s use of the names of the Japanese American Citizens League and of Mike Masaoka. The JACL is concerned that by using actual names, audience members may forget that they are watching a historical fiction.
The JACL hopes that those who see Allegiance will see this as the start of a conversation, and an opportunity to be better educated on this horrific event, consider the implications of how this struggle has affected the Japanese American community, and recognize how it may relate to issues within their own community. These considerations are the reason the JACL has been a staunch supporter of all those affected by discrimination, such as our positions on LGBTQ rights or our support of Arab American, Muslim American, and Sikh American communities in the wake of September 11th. We invite anyone interested in learning more to access the resources available on our website and work with us to ensure such a tragic event is never repeated.
TFP is a bit confused – because, well – they have not seen the current production.
In point of fact, other than in small previews specifically designed for Press (which BTW TFP has tried repeatedly to get access to as she has ‘covered’ this show since San Diego, and to which she tried to gain access to for other API Bloggers and Journalists and has, as of this writing, has had no real response) – no one has seen this current version of the show.
Who has seen it?
Just the paying audience at the first Broadway preview which happened a day or so ago.
And they are still making tweaks and changes.
To sally forth waving the flag of ‘you don’t know jack’ about Mike Masaoka based on whatever the JACL saw in a previous production in San Diego to TFP, seems misguided.
The Actor playing the role is different. the script has changed, and there has been – according to inside sources – vast amounts of change.
Now, having seen the production in San Diego, TFP can tell you that Mr. Masaoka was treated, as a character, as a person who was constantly trying to lead while working with the Roosevelt Government to try and gain some sort of security for Japanese Americans at the time – those in the camps and those that were not. In retrospect, yes, those choices made do not seem…they would not seem to us, as modern Asian Americans, to be effective.
TFP is not saying that Mr. Masaoka was a villain or a monster – and she does not believe that ALLEGIANCE is saying that either – what she thought when she saw it in San Diego was a man, who was as flawed as all men are, who was in a difficult situation with very little guidance, who made tough decisions that in hindsight, were not as helpful as he had intended.
Just as any other historical character whose life makes it to the Broadway stage. Like LBJ in ALL THE WAY, or Richard Nixon in FROST/NIXON, or any of the Kings and Queens in Shakespeare!
In fact, she rather liked it because there was no aspect where she felt that the book writer was trying to cover up or rewrite history, the show was very much dealing with what the people in the show would have been dealing with. Also, they have in the cast, George Takei, who is playing his own Great Grandfather, as a source – and regardless of what the JACL would want everyone to believe, there was disagreement about Mr. Masaoka amongst the community, and there is a character or two that represent that opinion.
Now, TFP does want to write about the double-edged sword of API performers constantly being called to the carpet for roles that they perform and why this happens, but frankly, she has to get to rehearsal.
Rather than give her ‘take’ on things – she asked Greg Watanabe, who is playing Mike Masaoka on Broadway – to answer this charge by the JACL. This was what he responded to via email.
“Well, I agree with them in that I hope people who see the show will seek out more information, not only from JACL, but Densho, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Japanese American Historical Society, resisters.com or other resource organizations.
I’m not sure how you could fictionalize the JACL in a story about the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans…. I suppose you could not talk about them at all, as other stories about the incarceration have. But in a play (or musical), it’s possible to be historically factual, and still express an opinion. That is to say, FDR was president. He signed executive order 9066. The US military dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. All facts in mentioned in Allegiance. Opinions about those facts are many and varied. Was FDR racist? Did he actually believe in the military necessity of incarcerating Japanese Americans? Was there military necessity for the use of atomic weapons on civilians?
I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to create a fictional narrative based on actual events, and reference actual organizations and public historical figures like the JACL and Mike Masaoka.
As with any narrative, not everyone is going to agree. I think it’s entirely possible that the JACL doesn’t agree with the narrative being created in Allegiance, but you’d have to ask them. Also, the narrative is still in flux and won’t be set til Allegiance opens November 8.
I believe this is a pretty balanced representation of Mike Masaoka and the JACL. I’m interested to hear more opinions from JACL and their membership.
And again, I share their hope that audience members seek more information.
And there you have it.