Wednesday, February 26, 2014

One of the more rewarding experiences I recently had was to participate in a special reading at the annual Day of Remembrance event in Chicago this past February 16.

In case you are not familiar with it, Day of Remembrance commemorates the Japanese American internment during World War II.  Japanese American communities across the country hold events on or near February 19, which in 1942 was the date that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the internment of all Americans of Japanese ancestry (including those born here).

In Chicago, the Day of Remembrance event is co-hosted by the Chicago Japanese American Service Committee (JASC), Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and Japanese American Historical Society.

This year, the program featured a staged reading of Heart Mountain: Conscience, Loyalty and the Constitution (The Trial).  This piece was put together by the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY), and tells the story of the Heart Mountain Resisters: 63 nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) who were imprisoned at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming for draft evasion.  When the U.S. government gave authorization that Japanese Americans could serve in the U.S. armed forces (eventually leading to the formation of the 442nd) and men in the internment camps found themselves subject to the draft, these 63 refused to serve unless their rights as citizens were fully restored.

The internment has always struck a chord deep within me, being half Japanese American, though it does not have the same directness for me as for some of my fellow Japanese Americans.  My Japanese family were living in Hawaii during WWII, and the majority of Japanese Americans there were not interned during the war (it would have been logistically impossible to do so).  However, I do feel kinship and sympathy for those whose families had to endure this national tragedy.

I have to admit that I did not know of the Heart Mountain Resisters prior to working on this piece.  I did know that there were those who refused to acknowledge loyalty to the U.S. in questionnaires given to internees, leading to their labeling as "No No Boys," and even some who chose to be sent to live in Japan.  I was to learn that this group has long had a controversial position within the Japanese American community, especially to those who elected to serve in the 442nd.  In a classic case of the Confucian belief that "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down," the fact that the 63 were attempting to take a patriotic stand against the interment was not appreciated by many.  It was seen as making unnecessary waves for some, and even an insult to those who chose military service.

The director of the reading was an old colleague and friend of mine, Keith Uchima, who graciously gave me the chance to participate in small role.  My wife and I were and still are in the midst of preparing for our first child; in addition I was scrambling for work due to some problems with clients (I freelance as a Japanese-English document translator to make ends meet).  Thus, I couldn't be as involved as I would have liked.  So, I'm grateful that he was able to find a part for me.

I joined a mix of old friends and new, including Cheryl Hamada, Gary Houston, Jin Kim, Ed Kuffert, Paul Moy, Gene Mui, Stephanie Park, Cary Shoda, Jason Williams and Joe Yau.  I had seen Cheryl over the years on stage, as well as on film (way before I ever was an actor, she appeared in Steven Seagal's first movie Above the Law).  I had worked with Joe a couple of times before.  Paul is Joe's cousin, and both of them have been friends of one of my cousins since high school.  Jin, Cary and Stephanie I all knew from the local theater seen and some small projects.

The audience on the day of the reading turned out to be huge.  I think there was some 200 or more in the room, filling up the space at the Chicago History Museum where the event took place.  The response was very gratifying, as many of my and my family's friends and acquaintances in the community thanked all of us afterward.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On the basis of blogging for my acting website, I am definitely a terrible actor.  Logging in after an extremely long absence, I was disheartened to find that I had not made a new post since October 2012.  So, I definitely have a lot of catching up to do.  Funny enough, this new period of posting is occurring during one of the busiest times of my life personally: My wife and I are expecting our first child in July of this year (2014).  Exciting, but also one of major life changes.

Going backward through recent history, I recently had the opportunity to work with my friends at Silk Road Rising again on a staged reading of the new work Rumi: Love, Madness & Ecstasy.  We had a week of workshopping with the playwright, Sherri Winkelmann, who is also an actress and choreographer (and, like my wife Czerina, studied hula), together with my old friend Helen Young as director, followed by the reading, which took place on three nights from February 7-9.

The piece is an interesting one: a memory play based on Sherri's own life experiences married to a Tibetan √©migr√©, who unfortunately, became emotionally and physically abusive over the course of their relationship.  Interwoven into the narrative are the words of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi,whose writings on spirituality prove to be a source of healing and solace for the play's protagonist.

Whenever I have an opportunity to work on something like this, it always strikes me, on one hand, how ignorant I feel about certain aspects of the world.  Between the dramaturgical information provided to the actors and the script itself, I realized that I know very little about the lives of the exile Tibetan community in India, the immigrant Tibetan community in the U.S., and never heard about Rumi before in my entire life.  On the other hand, what a great opportunity to immerse myself in new worlds and new and unfamiliar cultures.

I'm curious to see what sort of life the play has past this reading.  It was great to be part of its development.