Saturday, November 15, 2008

Help Wanted: Allies -- all races encouraged to apply

I am a firm believer in allies. When I teach the novel Donald Duk, I point out how Frank Chin, a man renown for his ethnic-nationalism (as well as his misogyny) and one who is quick to bash white racists, has carefully crafted the character of Arnold Azalea, the rich, white best friend of the eponymous protagonist, Donald Duk. That Frank Chin, of all people (Mr. Yellow Power himself) recognizes the importance of white allies in the fight against discrimination should be a signal that allies are seriously needed and wanted for all types of reasons, causes, movements, and paradigm shifts.

And I have written about allies elsewhere in this blog. And I want to return to the topic of allies because I think for some people, the idea that you can cross lines of affiliation, be they ethnic, racial, sexual, gender, class, or religion is impossible. In other words, as a straight woman I can't possibly understand the discrimination that a queer person experiences. True. I probably can't. But that doesn't mean I can't fight on behalf of queer people. And really, it's not so much, for me, fighting on behalf of queer rights as it is fighting on behalf of my own rights as someone who embraces a social justice worldview. Their fight IS my fight.

Let me also be clear--I'm not talking about appropriating someone else's cause or speaking FOR a community (I don't know that I could even speak for Asian American female academics, a community that I do identify with, but who am I to make pronouncements for my peers?). I am talking about being an ally. On educating yourself on topics, not because you want to fetishize or save the world (and here I'm thinking in particular of the disturbing narrative that emerged at the RNC in September of Cindy McCain "rescuing" a poor little orphan girl in an impoverished third world country, saving her from a life of destitution by bringing her to the bountiful bosom on the U.S.), but because you feel you are part of the larger world and because your commitment to being a world citizen requires you to understand others regardless of your subject position.

Which brings me to a little plug I want to make on behalf of a playwright who recently left a comment on my post on Yuri Kochiyama. The commenter has written a play about Kochiyama and other Japanese American girls who wrote letters to Japanese American soldiers fighting in the 442nd/100th battalion during WWII (largely on the European front in Italy, although there were other Japanese American soldiers involved in intelligence and translation in the Pacific theater during this time). The commenter noted that she was hesitant to write about the history of the Japanese American internment due to her distance from the subject as a Russian-American-Jewish woman, but then she was inspired by the example of Yuri Kochiyama herself, because she had expressed similar apprehensions before meeting Malcolm X, and certainly Kochiyama's life is an exemplar to us all of how to be an ally across multiple lines of affiliation.

So. If any of you are reading this and live in the Bay Area, let me share some information with you about the one-act play Bits of Paradise (click here for original notice in Asian Week):
Play Excerpts to Honor Freedom Fighter Yuri Kochiyama

San Francisco’s Marsh Theatre will host excerpts from the one-act play Bits of Paradise, based on the letter-writing campaign between Japanese American girls and women in U.S. concentration camps and Japanese American soldiers during World War II, at their Monday Night Series Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Known as “The Crusaders,” the internees were led by then-20-year-old Mary Nakahara, who went on to become a prominent civil rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama.

Together they proved the saying that “Occasions do not make heroes, they simply unveil them.” Playwright Marlan Warren directs the young, all-Asian American cast that includes Chanelle Yang, Pisha Wayne, Linda Wang, Connie Kim, Wesley Cayabyab, Jean Franco, and Wilton Yiu. Kochiyama will attend, along with other original octogenerian Crusaders. Tickets are $7.00. No reservations. For more info, contact 415-202-0108.

Go out and see it--and write back and leave a message for all of us who aren't able to take in this performance.


Regina Wohansky said...

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for helping spread the word about this show that will honor Yuri Kochiyama and the women who joined her in keeping up the spirits of the JA soldiers as they fought WWII while their families were interned.

I incorrectly named one of the actresses: "Pisha Wayne" is "Pisha Warden." Her grandparents met on the way to a concentration camp. (P.S.-I love your blog. Thank you for "getting" this mixed race stuff. - Marlan Warren)

Jennifer said...

You are very welcome Marian--I really appreciate the work YOU do, as a playwright and as an ally.

I'm sorry I don't live in the Bay Area anymore, but I do hope a lot of folk go to see your play and get to know Yuri Kochiyama and others who made important contributions so social justice.