Remembering when Japanese-Americans’ allegiance was questioned

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Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe
Allegiance is both a play and a history lesson

The play Allegiance will soon be coming to your neck of the woods, because it’s a tour de force. And, it’s another shameful time in American history.

Allegiance is both a play and a history lesson of the forcible incarceration of 120,000 Japanese-Americans in 10 Federal internment camps during World War II. Allegiance is a musical with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. It’s now appearing in New England. It’s inspired by the true childhood experience of the brilliant and renowned George Takei.

If you’re a Baby Boomer, you may know Takei as Hikaru Sulu, the chief helmsman of the Starship Enterprise. Today we know Takei as one of the country’s leading LGBT activists.  He is especially well-known in the fight for marriage equality. What many of us are now learning about Takei is his childhood memories of being incarcerated in two Japanese internment camps.

George Takei remembers his childhood

“I was 5 years old at the beginning of our internment in Arkansas. I remember every school morning reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, my eyes upon the stars and stripes of the flag, but at the same time I could see from the window the barbed wire and the sentry towers where guards kept guns trained on us,” Takei wrote in a New York Times op-ed Internment, America’s Great Mistake.

Allegiance is also about the love of family and country, and the deleterious effects racial profiling has on innocent Americans.

The play Allegiance takes you into the harsh day-to-day life of the fictional Kimura family in the internment camps. It reveals some of the daily indignities many Japanese-American families endured. There were no private bathrooms, they were housed in horse stables, and if lucky, housed in barracks in uninhabitable swamplands like Rohwer, AR, and Tule Lake, CA.

As with all families, wars divide its members. Sam Kimura wants to prove his patriotism by fighting for his country, and his sister, Kei, is appalled by his decision.

The “Application for Leave Clearance”

Sadly, loyalty to the country for Japanese- American males rested solely on their responses to questions on the “Application for Leave Clearance” form that registered all male citizens of draft age. It was also used for volunteers to serve in an all Japanese- American combat team. This is an important plot in the play. Their responses on the form would seal their family’s fate in the internment camps.

And, these two highly divisive questions were designed to achieve this goal:

Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

Question 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attacks by foreign and domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or disobedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

A “no-no” response to the questions as Sam’s father gave sent him to one of the harsher and high-security internment camps, which happened to Takei’s family, too.

Because topics of race in this country is too often talked about in black and white terms, the history of discrimination against other minority groups gets overlooked. Case in point, the Japanese-American internment is not talked about and not often taught, if at all, in American history books. “Allegiance” is both courageous and dangerous: it speaks truth to power in this xenophobic-stricken political times of building walls, closing borders and banning immigrants of color from “shit hole” countries.

“I see ‘Allegiance’ as my legacy project. It’s my parents’ story and a tribute to them,” Takei told wickedlocal.com. “The whole ‘Allegiance’ experience has brought me closer to my childhood.”

Allegiance is a cautionary warning about today. It “challenges us to both understand what precipitated these events, and make sure these mistakes are not repeated,” stated Paul Daigneault, Producing Artistic Director in Inside Speakeasy.

Watching the play Allegiance one can easily see how President Trump’s Executive Order 13769, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which is referred to as the “Muslim Ban” is eerily reminiscent of FDR’s 1942 Executive Order 9066. The Order 9006 authorized the immediate incarceration of Japanese-Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Allegiance pulls at not only at your heartstrings but it also questions your moral compass. Had there not been both music and humor throughout the play, I would have bawled all through it.

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached via email at revimonroe@me.com