Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was surprised to have never heard of Mission Chinese Food. What I found interesting was that Bowien is a Korean American that was raised by white parents in Oklahoma, but was interested in Chinese food. He’s just published this past fall a new cook book – The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook.
Smart People, now at 2econd Stage Theatre in New York, takes an incisive look at the role race plays in our lives, from career to personal, and particularly when the two mesh. Written by Lydia Diamond and starring Mahershala Ali (House of Cards), Joshua Jackson (The Affair, Dawson’s Creek), Anne Son (My Generation), and Tessa Thompson (Creed,Dear White People), Smart People is a fast-paced, invigorating play.
Four Harvard intellectuals see their worlds collide as they deal with careers, love, and identity. Underpinning it all–the successes and failures–is the influence of race. How does it shape daily interactions? From microaggressions to blunt statements, Smart People strikes at who and what is “racist.” What is tolerable and what is not.
While none of the statements, jokes, and snappy comments made about race were particularly new and cutting, that is perhaps their beauty. To see these uncomfortable conversations play out on stage, for stereotypes to be made and broken, broken and re-made, is unspeakably valuable. It is largely artful, excepting some inevitable stumbles. Interracial relationships of all types abound (or as many as you can make with four characters). Specific lines — “I’m uncomfortable celebrating my marginalization with other disgruntled minorities,” for one — cut through. In the hands of an enormously talented cast, Smart People shines.
The story of Japanese American internment comes to Broadway in this new emotional musical about the Kimura family, starring Lea Salonga, George Takei, and Telly Leung. The tale unfolds at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, following a family ripped from their home by war and a community confronting injustice, facing doubts about their loyalty and patriotism. After premiering at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Allegianceopened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre November 8.
The Short Version
Do I think it’s worth seeing? Yes. Allegiance tells an important story both in terms of American history and in creating sympathetic characters who make conflicting and conflicted choices. It has flaws, both historical and otherwise (more on that later). And I don’t see it being the next big thing to sweep Broadway off its feet (I’m thinking Hamilton here) and personally I’m not about to go rushing out to buy the soundtrack.
BUT, it is gripping and emotionally compelling (I’m in good company in confessing to tears by the end) and I am glad to have seen it, to be able to talk to other people about it. Not to mention, it’s a major moment for Asian Americans on Broadway, audiences are incredibly enthusiastic, Lea Salonga is amazing, and recent events readily prove this history’s continuing importance.
The Long Version, in which there are SPOILERS, pictures, musings on historical content, and Asian Americans in musical theater…
As a reader of 8Asians, you’re probably aware of the Broadway musical Allegiance, currently running at the Longacre Theatre in New York City. Featuring the talent of George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, Allegiance opened on November 8th to positive critical acclaim. A show about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the musical is already making waves with original songs such as “Gaman,” “What Makes A Man” and Salonga’s uplifting and inspirational performance of “Higher.”
One part of Allegiance that captures an authentically American spirit of rebelliousness is the song “Paradise,” an energetic ensemble performance led by Michael K. Lee as the resolute draft resister Frankie Suzuki. A boisterous big band buster seething with saucy snark and swing, “Paradise” expresses the cynical sentiments of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee as they protested the government’s efforts to enlist them while their families remained incarcerated.
I know the show has changed considerably since San Diego, with a few changes since previews began on October 6th. Can you share with us some of the changes?
The show has evolved a great deal since San Diego– You know, the show has evolved a great deal since first preview! Haha… all done with the express purpose of streamlining the story. On Broadway alone, we’ve added a new opening number, “Wishes on the Wind,” a new community/baseball scene, a new victory swing, and a new finale, “Still a Chance.” Seriously. And I’m not letting the cat out of the bag here, because I think anyone who was able to see our first shows and have been lucky enough to see it after opening have been privy to these changes. And they’re all so great.
Since the San Diego production, I think all of the characters have really been given dimension. Kei (Salonga) is stronger, Sammy (Telly Leung) more resolute with his convictions. My character Frankie has also been given more form, focus, and determination. Also, in San Diego– I didn’t sing my proposal to Kei!
Your character, Frankie Suzuki, was a rather rebellious character compared with Sammy. Knowing what you know about the incarceration, which side do you think you would have taken (Sammy, Frankie, maybe even Mike Masaoka)?
You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me as an American.
It’s a tough question. I was a social psychology major at Stanford, and one of the things I learned is that social circumstance dictates social behavior. If I were a young man in 1940s, wrongly imprisoned for my ethnicity, I think I would have done everything in my power to prove people wrong. I know when I was in high school, I did everything possible to fit in and be just like everyone else. My family was the only Asian family where I grew up in upstate New York. When the stakes are that high, I think the exuberance/naïveté of youth would have propelled me to fight and join the 442nd Regiment. But after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me as an American.
A month after Number One Son left California to start college in Boston, I asked him if he found East Coast Asian Americans to be different from those from the West Coast. He definitely did, saying that most of them did not grow up in largely Asian communities like the one from where he moved. That is just one of the differences mentioned in this recent Fung Brothers video, East Coast Asian vs West Coast Asian, one of a numberofvideos I found on the subject. Many of the observations about the differences between East and West Coast Asian Americans match those that John found when he moved to the West Coast, like being surprised at meeting older Asian Americans who spoke English without an Asian accent. Other observations from these videos were completely new to me.
Tanwi Nandini Islam’s debut novel Bright Lines is a coming-of-age story for three young girls in Brooklyn and a family trying to find itself. Ella returns home from college for the summer to see her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Brooklyn, her adopted family after her parent’s death. The girls–Ella, her cousin Charu, and their friend Maya–explore the city, boys and girls, their sexuality, their identities. Hashi and Anwar, the parents, immigrants from Bangladesh, try to balance their work and a relationship laced with the past.
The story is overflowing with plot which no overview could possibly give justice to and it is the plot that keeps the reader engaged as much as the characters who dominate. Of the several characters, Ella and Anwar are the most compelling and detailed. Their relationship also embodies the book’s thematic twists and turns about family, love, and how the past haunts the present and a search for home haunts each in a different way.
The first part of the story takes place in Brooklyn, a summer of exploration, confusion, and frustration. The girls bike around the city, seeking escape from their homes. The parents separately delve into their passions, business and otherwise. The pages are filled with friction, even amidst summer’s frivolity, and the complex web of character relations begins to emerge. The second part sends the family on vacation to Bangladesh, where the new setting refocuses the multiple identity crises in the family and they are reunited with Ella and Charu’s grandfather and uncle. With a lot packed into these pages, it is an almost overwhelming whirlwind with generations, couples, families, cousins, friends, lovers, immigrants, New Yorkers, all trying to untangle their selves and a complex web of relationships. Yet this active fervor captures the trials of growing up or growing in general in exactly that it does sometimes all happen at once.
While you may have already seen Joshua Dela Cruz’s surprise proposal to Amanda Phillips disguised as a dance video shoot, but I thought I’d share it for three reasons. First, it’s a lot more original than a flash mob proposal–those are so 2011! Second, it portrays an Asian-White romance where the genders are atypical. Finally, it features a guy who looks like my nephew’s son. They both wear the same kind of hat, and both are excellent dancers!
Dela Cruz and Phillips originally met while dancing. Using the pretense of filming another dance seems like a clever and fitting way to propose. Joshua Dela Cruz is currently appearing on Broadway in Aladdin and is an understudy for the title role. Amanda Phillips is a working actress, singer, and dancer.
Charlotte Brooks’ new book, Between Mao and McCarthy, is an impressive scholarly tome on the evolution of Chinese American politics in the years after World War II. It looks specifically at the evolution of politics in New York and San Francisco–the main Chinese populations in the United States. Brooks examines how Chinese Americans turned from a predominant focus on China politics to a distinctly Chinese American politics rooted in improving their livelihoods in the United States and partaking in Democratic and Republican party politics.
Brooks’ inclusion of the prominent voices in community newspapers and her detailed information about the power players within New York and San Francisco lend an insider’s view on a turbulent time for Chinese American communities–amidst red-baiting and the evolving conflict between the PRC and ROC. Such stories and voices showcase and shed new light on a dynamic and evolving conversation about the role of local, regional, national, and international politics in Chinese American life.
Her analysis, in showing how New York and San Francisco’s Chinese American politics developed differently, also provides intriguing insight into how to think about the differences between the Chinese American populations and politics in the two cities today.
I stumbled across Patricia Park’s debut novel Re Jane while looking through reading lists saying what should have been on this year’s (not surprisingly) all-white cast of New York Times recommended summer books. And I have to say, that it is a kind of ideal summer read — based loosely on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (which I confess to not having read) — it follows Jane Re, a mixed-race Korean-American orphan, as she steps into the “real world” after graduating from college. It’s a story about family, romance, friendship, choices, that kind of thing that we like reading about–and it’s written about in a fresh and lively style.
I may be a little bit biased because this is a very New York book, and I am writing this from New York, but I hope that the kind of endearing descriptions of the 7 train and the chaos of trying to find yourself in a big city are equally endearing to those without insider knowledge of New York City’s geographic quirks and layouts. And of course, this story is much more than location, as Jane tries to balance between her upbringing under her uncle’s strict tutelage and her desire to escape from that life. She takes a job as an au pair to a Brooklyn family with an adopted Chinese daughter, and suddenly finds herself in a new kind of family environment.
Shifting back and forth between different micro-worlds, Jane’s voice is full of thoughtfulness and spunk. As she navigates feeling out of place in nearly every situation she finds herself in, her characters shows resilience and humor.
A family death sees her leaving New York for Korea, faced anew with family and a culture she partially fits into. Throughout, Park’s writing pulls threads of Korean language and culture, mimicking Jane’s travels between Queens and Brooklyn, Seoul, and Pusan, and back again–be it jung or tap-tap-hae.
Re Jane was a pleasure to read, the perfect train, beach, or plane book (or plain book). The characters are complicated and relatable. Per an impressive array of author reviews, its an innovative take on Jane Eyre (I’m only sorry not to be able to comment on that, maybe next time). So take a ride on the 7.
Asian Americans Chris, 30, and Vickie, 27, met up for dinner at Café Serai in the Rubin Museum of Art, then provided post-game commentary for the New York tabloid.
Needless to say, the date was not a match made in heaven. These things rarely are. But this encounter was particularly bad, providing a glimpse into the sad state of affairs for Millennials, Asian Americans, or worse, Millennial Asian Americans on the dating scene.
In her account of their meeting, Vickie doesn’t pull any punches, immediately identifying that vulnerability familiar to so many Asian men: “My first thought when I saw Chris was that he’s not my type. I’m into tall guys, and Chris is about my height.”
Ramirez allegedly instructed his staff to serve Asian customers inferior scraps of meat at his three-Michelin star French-Asian eatery, and forbade Asians from being seated near him at the center kitchen counter.
According to the lawsuit, Ramirez once flew into a rage when Howard accidentally seated a patron of Asian descent too close to him, subjecting the waitress to “a wild verbal tirade.”
From then on, the chef allegedly took control of restaurant seating to “ensure that no Asians be sat next to his place.”
Troubling as this all is, the real kicker comes from this tiny little revelation: Emi Howard, the ex-server, is herself Asian.
“Only when he learned to read Chinese, as an adult, did Mr. Wu learn that his father had been a pioneer in the blacklisted Taiwan independence movement and had exhorted dissidents, in the extant documents, to oust the “thief” Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government. “They were revolutionaries who basically said, ‘Let’s organize!’ ” Mr. Wu said. “Maybe I am borrowing from that tradition.” For the last couple of months, Mr. Wu, a Columbia Law School professor, has waged a shoestring anti-establishment campaign for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary, which is scheduled for Sept. 9, alongside his top-of-the-ticket running mate, Zephyr Teachout. … Mr. Wu, 42, may actually have higher name recognition among engaged Democrats, especially in voter-rich New York City. An expert in Internet law and policy, he coined the phrase “net neutrality,” and is a best-selling author who has appeared on “The Colbert Report.” He has also picked up the endorsements of The Nation and the editorial board of The New York Times, among others.”