I'm only 32, relatively young in the full scheme of my life, and while I've done some exciting things with it, I don't exactly have lawyers knocking on my door offering to buy my personal story or my family's life story.
That's why it was so weird to see my life story played out in front of me on Broadway.
Well, not my story, but my family's story.
Well, not exactly my family's story either. Let me explain.
On my mom's side of the family, I'm 4th generation Japanese-American. (With Japanese-Americans, the first generation to arrive in America is seen as the first generation or Issei.) But as a Yonsei (4th generation) I'm a world away from the immigrant narrative. Outside of a couple kitchen/bathroom/curse words no Japanese was ever spoken growing up in my house, mostly because my grandparents never taught it to their kids. My mom, Aunts, and Uncles also grew up essentially Christian, eating mostly American food, with a Japanese dish being served sporadically.
But all of this American-ness in my family came as a direct result of world events they had no control over. Because of an armed conflict happening abroad, because of a foreign country's terrorist attack on U.S. soil, because someone decided people who looked like the enemy couldn't be trusted, my family history was changed. And it was that history, that story of my family that i saw on Broadway, and as a musical no less.
Allegiance tells the story of a Japanese family (the father an Issei immigrant, with children born in America, as full citizens, or Nisei) living as working class farmers in the Salinas Valley in the 1940s doing what they can, when suddenly their life was upended by a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
Immediately after that, America decided that these sneaky "foreigners" must be dealt with because it was war. The United States government, along with many of our grandmothers and grandfathers, rationalized the imprisonment of fellow citizens. All persons living in the western half of the mainland U.S. who were of Japanese ancestry were forced to live in "relocation centers" scattered across desolate locations in mountains and deserts.
It is impossible to imagine that happening now. But to the characters in this musical, and to my family at the time, I'm sure it seemed impossible then as well.
Allegiance is billed as "inspired by a true story", partly based on the experiences of George Takei who stars in the show alongside Lea Salonga. It is essentially my family's true story too. My Grandma and Grandpa were born to farmers in Lindsey and Sanger, California respectively. As teenagers, both them and their families were transferred to a camp in Poston, Arizona. They finished out their high school years behind barbed wire, under sniper towers while pledging allegiance to the American flag.
Similar to a character in the show played by Telly Leung, my grandfather decided to serve his country and enlisted in the Army. He never spoke to me about his experience when I was a child. It wasn't until after my grandmother passed away that he did, at which point he would talk about it often. He would tell me the same story in which fellow soldiers, always Caucasian, questioned why he would join the army of a country that imprisoned him without due process. However, he never told me his answer.
The struggles that faced my Grandmother's and my Grandfather's families during and after the war have shaped my worldview. When September 11th happened I already knew the fear and anxiety my grandparents felt on December 7th. In an instant, it was determined who was good and who was bad. Anyone who we perceived to look like the enemy in any way was complicit in that atrocity and couldn't be trusted.
Today, almost fifteen years later, Islamophobia is just as strong as ever.
Today, we still treat immigrant and migrant populations, and people descended from them, as less than American or suspect.
The stories of these past fifteen years, the stories of Allegiance and the stories of my family are one and the same.