Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reaching Across Time and Space

Some projects are just bigger than the people working on them and this is certainly one of them.  The book has been a marker in many people's lives and it shouldn't be a surprise that any project connected to it would touch various people's lives across time and space, but there have been moments that have startled me: 

One was "meeting" an Egyptian woman online who contacted us because she was doing her Masters thesis in Cairo on No-No Boy.  She was reaching out for information and conversation about the play and how it differed from the book; I sent her a copy of the script and asked her how and why she was compelled to do her thesis on a fairly obscure book about a fairly obscure (certainly in a global sense) subject, and she said she was moved by his search for justice and his questions about identity, things that touched her as an Egyptian woman scholar.  I mentioned that in the aftermath of 9/11, Japanese Americans were among the first to speak out against racial profiling and the scapegoating of Muslims and Arab Americans; she was aware of that as well and said maybe that figured into whatever impulse she had to pick up the book at the American University in Cairo.

Another was meeting a Japanese national, a journalist, and his colleague, a Professor of Asian American Studies at Kanda University in Tokyo.  Who'd'a thunk there was any such thing as an Asian American Studies program in JAPAN?  They had heard of our project through Frank Abe, who had done a couple of documentaries, including CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION (about the Heart Mountain Resisters) and IN SEARCH OF NO-NO BOY, an educational short about John Okada and the real-life basis for the story and some of the characters in the book.  He was gracious enough to let us post his study guide on our website on our For Educators page.  They flew from Tokyo to Los Angeles JUST TO SEE THE PLAY.  Can you believe that?  The journalist told me he'd been working on researching a book about John Okada but was beginning to think maybe he'd have to turn it into a work of fiction because he hasn't been able to find out enough to write a detailed non-fiction book about him - too many holes in the narrative because Okada died so young (at 49 in the early 70s).  I asked him what drew him to the book, and he said he'd found an old copy in a used bookstore in Tokyo and he was drawn to the cover - a sort of watercolor illustration of Mama looking through the dirty window of their grocery store that looked out onto a city street.  It was the anti-war sentiment that first struck him, and like the Egyptian scholar, the desire for justice denied, and surprisingly enough...identity.  He's about my age, and he says that his generation has felt a sort of questioning about identity having been raised after the war, and the next generation even more so wonders who they are, really.

There have been connections across time, as well:  While researching the play, I came across David Mura's FAMOUS SUICIDES OF THE JAPANESE EMPIRE in which a Sansei looks for the truth about his father, a No-No Boy who eventually committed suicide after years of depression.  I was so struck by some of the passages, I looked up his contact info and found him on Facebook and friended him there. 

One of his FB friends is/was Garrett Hongo, a Sansei poet who was a director at what was then the Asian Exclusion Act in the mid-1970s - Garrett had directed me in a production of Momoko Iko's THE GOLD WATCH, a production which awakened and cemented a life-long love for Asian American theater in me.  I friended Garrett after not having seen him in well over thirty years and he almost came to our play before a death in the family pulled him away.  When he apologized to me, I realized that HE was the one who told me in 1977 that I HAD to read this book, that it was shocking that I hadn't already and he was going to kick my ass if I didn't.



There are other small bits of synchronicity and tangential connections, but here's one final one:  On Sunday, several members of the Okada family came from all over the country to see the show.  Roy Okada, John's brother, asked me, "Were you originally from Seattle?"  Yes.  "Was your father an engineer at Boeing?"  Oh my God, yes.  "I knew him!  We were friends!"  Jane Okada (I'm not sure if she was Roy's wife or sister-in-law) said, "Oh, yes.  I know your mother.  I just saw her two weeks ago.  She looks GOOD." 

I had no idea.

If you believe in signs (I do), then maybe this was all meant to be.  Either that, or Asian America is really just a small town and there's really only one or two degrees of separation from us all.  But then, how do you explain Egypt and Japan?  Maybe it's just the power of John Okada's book, a book he wrote from his heart, a book that was written way ahead of its time, but a book that is proving to be timeless and perhaps without boundaries.

36 comments:

  1. Ken, I just love hearing these stories! What beautiful synchronicities, hidden like jewels for you to discover on your path to let you know you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, lovingly situated beyond the space/time continuum! I hope you allow these "happenstances" to encourage and cheer you and that you reflect on them in the face of discouragement (initials F.C.)

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  2. Constant dripping wears away the stone. 滴水穿石!加油!..................................................

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  3. 良言一句三冬暖,惡語傷人六月寒。.................................................................                           

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  4. 向著星球長驅直進的人,反比踟躕在峽路上的人,更容易達到目的。............................................................

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  5. 一個人的價值,應該看他貢獻了什麼,而不是他取得了什麼....................................................

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  6. Never hesitate to hold out your hand; never hesitate to accept the outstretched hand of another...................................................................

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  7. 人生有些波折,才能有些成長,所以不論順逆,凡是成長、成功的助緣,都應該心存感激。.................................................

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