George Takei’s Allegiance let me see my history — American history — in a new way
By Taron K. Murakami
I don’t remember when I learned that Japanese Americans were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. My mom taught me about it so early in my life, that I have always known about it. It was important to her that our family’s history gets passed down through the generations.
From 1942 to 1945, my great-grandfather, Isoo Kato, was forced to leave his home in Hawaii and live in internment camps in various locations, including Lordsburg, New Mexico. He was a Japanese school teacher and a leader in the community. He left behind my great-grandmother, six children, and a coffee farm. Though I never knew my great-grandfather, these years had a profound effect on the entire family.
Several years ago, I read that George Takei was producing a musical about the internment, and was trying to bring it to Broadway. I casually followed the progress of the show on social media, and hoped that when it opened on Broadway, I would be able to see it.
When Allegiance finally opened in October, I made a special trip up to New York City, and seeing the show was a truly emotional experience. The story and the characters felt so personal and real. In the Kimuras, the family played by Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, I saw my own family and my own community. I thought of the struggles that all Japanese Americans endured during that period and the agony of the choices they had to make. Allegiance is a tribute to them.
But though Allegiance depicted the darkness and misery of this shameful part of American history, I still left the show feeling inspired and hopeful. First, given the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in film and television, it was amazing to see an Asian American cast perform on Broadway. I was in awe of the talented actors in the show; not only were the performances enjoyable, but performing such a deep and emotional story must be exhausting. Seeing the incredible Lea Salonga perform in person was an achievement on my Asian American “bucket list.” The many Asian faces on stage gave me hope that Asian Americans can and will be more present in entertainment and the media.
And second, Allegiance is a reminder of the strength of Asian Americans and the communities they built and sustained in this country. Allegiance showed how the internment divided the Japanese American community and forced American citizens to declare whether they would fight for a country that imprisoned them based solely on the fact that they were Japanese; how they fought to maintain their culture and keep families together; how the pains of that period continued long after World War II ended. I marvel at the resilience of the Japanese Americans that lived through that experience, how they endured, and how they rebuilt after it was all over.
Because I have such wonderful historians and storytellers in my family, I will be able to teach my kids about our history. But our stories need and deserve to be heard by a larger audience, especially by those in leadership positions so that this never happens again. As time goes on and the generation of Japanese Americans who experienced the internment passes, it will be more important for this story to be shared. As its Broadway run comes to an end tomorrow night, I am grateful that I had a chance to experience Allegiance, and that it reached so many and educated them about this significant and tragic chapter of American history.
Taron Murakami is on the Board of Directors of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.