That was my first history lesson on the Japanese internment experience.
Fast forward several decades later and I'm getting my latest reminder of the internment. Thanks to George Takei (known to many as Mr. Sulu on "Star Trek" and as a social media master), audiences can immerse themselves in the history and impact of that time in the new Broadway musical, "Allegiance."
My husband Archie and I flew from San Francisco to New York for the musical because it felt essential for a first-generation Japanese and Filipino couple to see a show produced by a Japanese American about the internment. It was also refreshing to see a stage performance featuring a predominantly Asian cast with Filipina star Lea Salonga (the original "Miss Saigon" and the first actress of Asian descent to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine in the musical "Les Miserables") in the lead role. We send a special thank you to Philippine International Aid for putting the trip together as an auction item for its annual fundraiser last November.
Salonga's talent was beautifully showcased in this musical. The music, costumes and set design brought the time period to life. The emotion from the cast in the storytelling and music helped deliver the message of the musical. Salonga's voice conveyed both the misery of the internment and the enduring hope of the persevering people.
In song, the show introduces the Japanese word, gaman, meaning enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. The theme of patience then moves to action, through both serving in the armed forces to prove one’s loyalty (to the US) and staging demonstrations in the Heart Mountain camp to demand the return of civil rights.
After the performance, Takei told me that, surprisingly, many Americans don't know about the Japanese internment.
“Allegiance” is a timely reminder of that dark period in the country’s history. US-born citizens were ordered to leave their homes with only the possessions they could carry and were bused to remote, desolate locations. American citizens were forced to live in dusty barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. American citizens were asked to sign a pledge of allegiance to their own country. Many American families were torn apart by the experience. And these same American families rebuilt their lives after everything had been taken away.
In a thank you letter to the audience, Takei wrote that "Allegiance" has a modern-day message. "This is especially important now as I hear echoes of the past, with politicians once again stoking public fears about whole groups of people, and calling for databases, IDs, and even internment camps as solutions. These worrisome developments only strengthen my resolve to keep telling our story and remembering the past so we do not repeat it."
"Allegiance" is scheduled to run on Broadway until mid-February. Hopefully, Takei can bring the musical to the West Coast.
While going to New York is a long way to travel, the personal learning journey is a wonderful reward.
For more about “Allegiance,” visit http://allegiancemusical.com/
Joyce Ibardolasa is currently the Director, Performance and Inclusion with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). In this role, she leads the strategy and execution of performance management, succession management, and diversity and inclusion programs at the company. She is a human resources professional with over 25 years of experience leading innovative talent programs.
Joyce grew up in Santa Maria, California. Her experiences as a first generation Japanese American sparked her interest in diversity and inclusion and ensuring equal opportunity. In addition to her professional career, Joyce supports her passion through involvement in the community. She is currently the board chair for the PG&E Employee Community Fund which provides scholarships to students from Northern and Central California. She is on the executive committee for the Equal Employment Advisory Council, a nonprofit employer association which provides guidance to its member companies on understanding and complying with their EEO and affirmative action obligations. Joyce was previously a member of the board of the Contra Costa Crisis Center whose mission is to keep people alive and safe, help them through crises, and connect them with culturally relevant resources in the community.