Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Go For Broke

In a little bit of irony, I've been working on an oral history project called SOLDIER'S VOICES in which ten writers/actors interviewed soldiers from the past five wars and turned the interviews into monologues, scenes and stories.  We're performing it for the final time tonight, Veteran's Day, at the Actors' Gang as part of their WTF festival.

In a bit of greater irony, I'm also speaking at a fundraiser for the GO FOR BROKE Foundation, which is compiling videotaped interviews of Nikkei veterans of which my father was one.  They're going to play a few minutes from his interview and I had to view a 27 minute segment and give input on what my favorite portions were.  I've been really busy, and felt pressed for time, and when I went to the website, I had problems making it play, so by the time I actually started watching it, I was feeling like, "OK, let's get this over, I'm already way behind at work."  At first, I watched dispassionately, thinking thoughts like, "Man, he had the hiccups really bad during this interview," and "Wow, look how old he looks!  He must've only been 72 or 73 there, I don't remember him looking that old..." before it hit me:  I was watching and listening to my father, and seeing all the things that I loved/respected/feared about him:  The depth of his feelings, the stoicism with which he described his experiences, and his opinions, which included a potshot or two at the No No Boys, something about which we (needless to say) disagreed.

I was a little shaken up and wondered how he'd feel about my upcoming play, but when I think about what he did see of my work, I knew that he would tell me what he disagreed about but that he would be proud of the work itself.  Maybe wishful thinking, but I thought about it long and hard and I'm fairly certain that I know that much about him.

Anyway, since it's Veteran's Day, I thought I'd share the brief remarks I'm supposed to make on Saturday.  Happy Veteran's Day to all who sacrificed for their ideals.

Remarks for Go For Broke Foundation:

Probably every child of the Nisei soldiers would say the same thing that I’m about to say and that is, I could never get my dad to talk about the war in any meaningful way…he would be self-deprecating about his service, saying he got into the war late, after the worst fighting, that he just carried a litter for the wounded, and mostly said that there was nothing heroic about what he did, it was the other guys who faced the worst. Once my sisters and I learned about the internment camps and the exploits of the 442, we hounded him, and he’d just say all that stuff is in the past.

I was lucky enough to be visiting him and my mother in Seattle after his Hanashi interview and when he went bowling, my mom said, “Hey, someone interviewed Dad about the 442 and they gave us the videotape – you want to watch? He’s never let me watch it.” So we watched it and I was stunned by how many stories he had, the kind of fighting he saw, the thoughts he had about his service, the thoughts he had about war. The next morning, I asked him why he’d tell a stranger with a video-camera stories he wouldn’t tell us, and he said he just didn’t want to burden us with these stories. I told him these stories aren’t a burden, they are part of who he is and therefore part of who we are, and that started the last real conversation I’d have with him about his life because the next time I saw him was after he’d had a massive stroke.

I am so grateful to the Go For Broke Foundation because without this interview, there is so much I never would have known about my father. These videos are an invaluable tool for education and keeping the experiences of the Nikkei veterans alive. There’s no comparison between the facts that you can read in a book and the experience of hearing what happened from the men who experienced it. What they did for us should never be forgotten and with the help of these videos, hopefully, they never will be.

Before I came here tonight, I watched a part of my father’s video and again, I was so thankful for the fact that it exists. My father died in 2000, about a year or two after the interview, but for 27 minutes on that day, I got to visit with him again.
Thank you all for your support of this organization and thank you Go For Broke National Education Center.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Scan of a Xerox of a Photo of John Okada

OK, there are limits to technology, as this image will attest, but still, I think it's kind of cool.  I met with the woman who came to last Saturday's reading, the one who went to school with John Okada, and she showed me a class picture from their elementary school.  I was struck by how happy John looked (look at that smile!), and was also struck by the fact that he really stands out in this photo as the only child wearing black in a sea of white shirts. 

We had a really nice visit and now, we have this scan of a xerox of a photo to show you...and I share it with you because I kind of think it looks like found art.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yosh Kuromiya's Response to the No No Boy Reading

Yosh Kuromiya, one of the Heart Mountain Resisters, sent me this response to the NO NO BOY reading at the Center for the Preservation of Democracy last Saturday.  It's funny; I've been reading a book about the Heart Mountain Resisters and the author quotes a then 18 year-old Yosh extensively, calling him "unusually articulate, especially for an 18 year-old."  Well, he's still unusually articulate, and he gave me permission to post his note here; I hope you enjoy it:

Dear Ken,

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent reading of your play based on John Okada's "No-No Boy".

Being a draft resister myself, when I first read Okada's book back in the 60's, I was quite distressed with all the misleading innuendos and assumptions typical of those who opposed any type of protest against our government. I was greatly relieved at the reading where I discovered I could relate to each individual---albeit they were all playing assigned roles---with a degree of compassion as confused people caught-up in an insane dilemma, and not in terms of "friend or foe". Whether this was due to your expertise in presenting essentially the same plot, same characters, same dialogue, same message, but in a different media---or was it a matter of the improved perceptions of the players and the viewers (including you and I and the general public) in the 50 plus years that have elapsed since the book was published---I don't know. Perhaps it was a combination of all.

On a more concrete note, I appreciated the background narration of the story of Momo-taro in its entirety by the mother who, in spite of her delusions, maintains the courage and commitment few people ever attain. In the book, I could only feel sorrow for her. In your play she became my hero, even though I could never agree with her. (I must be a little crazy too!) The gathering of all the players with their thoughts at the conclusion was an extra bonus. Also, a question and answer session after the program may have been helpful.

Thanks for a great show and for reminding me there may still be hope for Japanese America and for this crazy world we live in.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Yosh Kuromiya

The Heart Mountain Resistor that I met after the reading last Saturday was Yosh Kuromiya.  He gave me his card and said I could contact him about the play, so I've sent him an email.  In the mean time, I googled him and came across this interview, done by his grandson for his Mount Baker High School U.S. and World History Class.  The teacher had her students interview people about World War II, so Yosh's grandson interviewed him.  Here's what they posted on their website:

Interviewed by Koji Kuromiya-Parker
The person that I chose to interview was my grandpa, Yosh Kuromiya. Yosh was nineteen at the start of the war and was (is) an American citizen. He had just started Jr. College but the evacuation put an end to his academic pursuits.
Yosh and his family of six were living in Monrovia, CA, a small town about 25 miles east of L.A. They got three weeks to store or dispose of all of their possessions and settle all financial matters in preparation for induction into an “assembly center.” They thought that all of this was a mistake and that they would be allowed back as soon as the authorities realized the absurdity of them wanted to destroy their own community. The “assembly center” was the Pomona County Fair Grounds where Yosh had previously enjoyed rides on the Ferris wheel. The cars in the parking lot had been replaced with rows of tarpapered barracks’ and the chain-link fence was now topped with barbed wire. Yosh and his family were held in Pomona for three months during the summer of 1942. Their anticipated “hearings” never occurred. In August, they were shipped on a train to a more permanent camp in northwest Wyoming. The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was on a desolate windswept prairie, far from civilization. There was barbed wire all around and guard towers. The prisoners were told that the fence was to keep out the wild animals and that the guard towers were to protect them from any irate citizens who didn’t want them in the camps. Yosh says, “Then why were the guns pointed inward?”
            In 1944, the government imposed the military draft into the camp. “We were to be inducted into a racially segregated combat unit to “prove our loyalty.”” Many went along with this out of fear of going to prison or being regarded as disloyal. Yosh was aghast at the irony of fighting for civil rights and freedoms that he and the other prisoners were denied. He refused induction under such unconstitutional and un-American circumstances. He was tried and convicted to a three year sentence for draft evasion. He was put into a federal prison. He was released on parole after two years. The war had ended and he was no longer a security risk. In late 1947, he received a presidential pardon reinstating all citizens’ rights and erasing all prison records. The nightmare was finally over but the scars still remain. Yosh feels no bitterness towards the United States, just a sense of awe that such a thing could happen in free America.
            Yosh’s reaction to Pearl Harbor was disbelief. Not just the magnitude of destruction, but the degree of political hysteria that followed. The Japanese bombed a part of him, yet he was being blamed for it.
In the camp, Yosh said it was a relief not to be constantly confronted with the righteous smirks of “White” oppressors; however, some people within the camp catered to the whims of the white administrative staff often at the expense of fellow internees. To pass time, Yosh found sanity in sketching. His favorite subject to draw was Heart Mountain, which was a 2,000 feet high rock outcropping that towered above the campsite and the otherwise desolate desert.
Yosh believes that the Atom Bomb was shameful. To him, the three greatest cowardly inhumane acts of the era were: The Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nick Pierotti's Facebook Comment

Sharon put an announcement for our NO NO BOY reading Saturday on her Facebook page, and a friend of hers posted the comment below.  It's pretty amazing and I figured I should share it here, in case it gives anyone any ideas for a possible screenplay: 

Nicholas Pierotti

This would make a great movie.

And also imagine what Los Angeles would be like today, if the United States had not instituted their intolerable internment policy.

Much of what is now Santa Monica and West L.A. and a lot of the San Fernando Valley were Japanese truck farms prior to the internment.

The internment was an enormous land-grab scheme on the level of "Chinatown" (where's Robert Towne when we really need him?).

And who profited? American superpatriot superheroes like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, who bought up all that San Fernando Valley land, and land in West L.A. and in Santa Monica (Chandler was right in calling "Bay City" the crookedest town in L.A.).

Hope and Crosby were movie stars, sure (if you like their "Road-movie" dreck), but their real money was in property. Lovable Bob Hope alone owned about 8,500 acres in California, most of it in the San Fernando Valley, bought when it was fruit orchards and vacant lots, after that land's real tenants had been rounded up and interred. By his own estimate, he was one of the largest individual property owners, if not the largest, in the Golden State.

Actually, if you read the original short stories that Raymond Chandler built his novels out of, you will find Marlowe's precursor driving to the coast through Santa Monica (Bay City in the stories), through miles of Japanese truck farms.
Isn't it time for full restitution and accountability? How about the confiscation of the Hope and Crosby estates, and the redistribution of that wealth among the descendants of the internment?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Readings and Writings

We pounded out two readings in one week, and hoo boy, are my arms tired!

Actually, my adrenal glands are tired because I was so freakin' nervous before each reading (senseless, because at that point, I can't do anything about ANYTHING, but maybe that's why), and then afterwards, was high as a kite because the actors were all so awesome and the feedback has been great. 

After the first reading, the penultimate event of Ken Choy's BREAKING THE BOW Festival, I got to work on some restructuring.  The day before the reading, I told the director, "Man, I can't believe how 'on the same page' we are about the play!"  He said, "You say that now...wait until we talk about the text."  He's been after me to do some major restructuring, and while I've avidly instituted many of his suggestions, that's a big one.  Still, I took a fair-sized step in that direction after that first reading by moving a major confrontation from the start of the second act to the middle of that act, bringing a key moment of the play a little closer to its climax.  I think everyone agreed that it was a step in the right direction, and now the director's suggesting I do away with what is now the climactic event, replacing it with new writing and making the source of Ichiro's epiphany his Ma's death.  I'm resisting, but he hasn't steered me wrong yet, and his suggestions actually solve some thematic and historical/political problems of the play, so...I think I'll have to be brave and give it a try.

The reading at the Miles Memorial Playhouse was great because I could see that the play works, even in its present form.  This is actually a scarier moment than you might think because really, it isn't a play until there's an audience there, and great actors can fool a writer into thinking he's got something when he might not.  An audience, however, will let you know if you DON'T have something.  It was a friendly audience, but there were a lot of really smart people whom I trust, and they all felt the play captures the book and is a moving piece of theater. 

The reading at The Center for the Preservation of Democracy (that's a mouthful - I'm always tempted to say JANM, because it's way shorter) was great in many ways:  First off, the aforementioned changes worked, and seeing that was one of the most important aspects of this reading to me.  Secondly, the audience was great and even caught some added humor in the piece.  Folks like Prince Gomolvilas and Dorie Baizley were in the audience (they've always been incredibly generous with their time and feedback), and friends like Soji Kashiwagi were there, so I plan to talk to him as well when we get a chance.  But the most amazing thing were the Niseis in the audience:  One of them was a guy who looked to have been in his nineties - he loved the play and the actors, and said that it captured so many of the emotions that he remembers from that time.  And then he said, "You got the anger, you got the depth of feeling...because you got a soul!" 

Wow.  I mean, I don't want to post that to look like I'm bragging (and actually, I should've given the credit to John Okada, who was really the one who captured the anger and the angst), but you know?  That was an amazing thing to hear.  From an old Nisei guy, no less.

I spoke to a Nisei lady who was a classmate of John Okada's, and she offered to share some memorabilia with me, so I got her phone number and plan to call her one of these days to take a look at it.  I also spoke to a Nisei guy I recognized as one of the Heart Mountain resistors - possibly part of their Fair Play Committee.  He said he almost didn't come to the play because he had some issues with the book - he objected to some of the historical inaccuracies, and the self-hatred of the main character:  "We didn't feel self-hatred," he declared, "We were PROUD of what we did."  He was satisfied that some of the changes in the adaptation helped to correct the record, and he thought the play illustrated a broader range of how the war affected people, so he was happy with it.  He gave me his card and email and offered to answer any questions I might have (his wife said, "He'll send you pages!"), so I'm looking forward to that correspondence as well.

For today, I'll nurse my adrenal glands, have some chicken soup, and be grateful to have this project and these people in my life.